SALT LAKE CITY — When “A Wrinkle in Time” hits the big screen at theaters nationwide on Thursday, a new vision of the story will take hold. For the past 50 years, that vision has existed largely in the minds of readers, of which there’s been no shortage: At its 50th anniversary in 2012, Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” book had sold more than 10 million copies, according to The New York Times.
Indeed, it’s been a staple in elementary school curriculums for generations now. The Deseret News spoke with a few local elementary school teachers who’ve either read “A Wrinkle in Time” to their classes or had the students read it themselves.
The teachers discussed their favorite portions of the classic book.
Gloria Holmstead, fourth-grade teacher at Morningside Elementary, Salt Lake City
“A Wrinkle in Time” has its share of creepy moments. Through it all is a powerful and mysterious villain, a sinister something known only as “IT.” These moments, Holmstead said, are her favorite to discuss with students.
For most of the novel, readers learn of IT only through secondhand information. It isn’t till the book’s final third that readers finally see what IT really looks like:
“A disembodied brain. An oversized brain, just enough larger than normal to be completely revolting and terrifying. A living brain. A brain that pulsed and quivered, that seized and commanded. No wonder the brain was called IT. IT was the most horrible, the most repellent thing she had ever seen, far more nauseating than anything she had ever imagined with her conscious mind, or that had ever tormented her in her most terrible nightmares.”
Holmstead said that before the students start a new chapter, she has them look at the chapter title and share their thoughts. Then they start reading. Every reader has his or her own image of the scenes and characters, and Holmstead said she keeps hers to herself. She wants to know what connections her students are making, and what kinds of images the book conjures for her young readers. These images, she explained, have changed considerably through the years.
“I think it’s because of media, and a lot of different movies that have come out,” she said. “You’ve got all your ‘Transformers’ and ‘Avengers,’ and all these different movies. I didn’t have that growing up, so they see the Earth and they see beyond. It was such a foreign, far-reaching concept when I was their age. It’s not to them.”
Sierra Ainge Charlesworth, sixth-grade teacher at Alpine Elementary School, Alpine
Space travel is a central component of “A Wrinkle in Time.” Instead of flying by spaceship, the book’s character’s become swept up in a mystical kind of inter-dimensional travel.
How does traveling between dimensions actually work? Modern sci-fi movies/shows have developed a boilerplate explanation of sorts — you’ve probably seen it before: a scientist pokes holes in opposite ends of a sheet of paper, joins the adjacent dots together by folding the paper, and voila! The quickest kind of space travel. (See: “Déjà Vu,” “Interstellar,” “Event Horizon,” etc.)
These explanations weren’t so common in 1962 when L’Engle released “A Wrinkle in Time.” In the book, Meg’s younger brother, Charles Wallace, explains it to her. The first dimension is a straight line; the second, a square; and the third, a cube. The book includes illustrations of each. The fourth dimension is time, and the fifth dimension is what makes their space travel possible. Charles Wallace explains it thusly:
“‘Well, the fifth dimension’s a tesseract. You add that to the other four dimensions and you can travel through space without having to go the long way around. In other words, to put it into Euclid, or old-fashioned plane geometry, a straight line is not the shortest distance between two points.’”
“I think it’s so interesting for these kids to even fathom it — to understand that this one is like a straight line, and this one is like a box, and this one is like a cube,” Charlesworth said. “I just thought this was so profound, especially for middle grade fiction.”
Elizabeth Sagers, fourth-grade teacher at Morningside Elementary, Salt Lake City
When Meg is sent to rescue Charles Wallace from IT, Meg doubts her abilities. She barely escaped IT once before, and doesn’t know how she’ll remove Charles from IT’s mental grasp.
As for how she’ll do that, the shaky-voiced Mrs. Which doesn't give Meg an exact answer.
“Then, seeming to echo from all around her, came Mrs. Which’s unforgettable voice. ‘I hhave nnott ggivenn yyou mmyy ggifftt. Yyou hhave ssomethinngg that ITT hhass nnott. Thiss ssomethinngg iss yyourr only wweapponn. Bbutt yyou mmusstt ffinndd itt fforr yyourrssellff.’ Then the voice ceased, and Meg knew that she was alone.”
Later, when Meg confronts IT and a possessed Charles Wallace, she realizes what Mrs. Which meant: “Love. That was what she had that IT did not.”3 comments on this story
“The whole story is essentially about the uniqueness of the kids … and that they were viewed as different,” Sagers explained. “We spent a lot of time (discussing it) in the class. We spent a lot of time talking about conformity, and how there are times when it’s important to conform — when you go to school, and there are certain rules in the classroom that you are expected to follow — but there are other parts of the day, and other parts of your life, where conformity is not what you should do. And there are times when you celebrate your differences.”