This post provides a rough draft of a book talk that you can re-purpose for your classroom, for the book A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.
How does this work as a book talk for you? How would you do a book talk on A Wrinkle in Time? Is there a best way to do a book talk?
Sleep. Rest. Darkness. Dreams. The science fiction and fantasy novel A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle tackles all these inscrutable and fascinating things in surprising ways—ways that might make you see the world differently, much like dreams will do.
There’s also interstellar time travel to save someone you love, and high stakes for the whole universe, including tentacle-waving beasts and fabulous winged creatures. This classic book that’s inspired a range of adaptations since its birth in 1962 is worth checking out.
Is it your teeming brain? Are you ever like the heroine, Meg Murry, who at the start of the novel isn’t just perturbed by the hurricane-force winds rattling her windows—more because she can’t turn off her mind?
Heroes often know by intuition that something wicked this way comes, well before it’s manifested. For Meg, it begins with her not able to erase the rotten day at school where she and her little brother—often called “morons”—get ostracized. Meg’s already thrown some punches for the sake of her sibling. Every day she’s reminded how she and Charles Wallace, both highly gifted, are the proverbial square pegs in the round hole.
Meg is a math whiz and always sees the shortcut to solving problems. Charles has a sixth sense, a prodigy at four with his critical thinking skills and massive vocabulary. Likewise Calvin, their new friend, is a kindred spirit driven by an overactive imagination and spiritual intuition to seek answers, even though from all outward appearances he seems “normal.”
“Just be glad you’re a kitten and not a monster like me,” Meg tells her cat.
“I think it will be better if people go on thinking I’m not very bright,” Charles Wallace says. “They won’t hate me quite so much.”
Calvin, who is a popular scholar athlete, confesses to them, “There hasn’t been anybody, anybody in the world I could talk to. Sure, I can function on the same level as everybody else, I can hold myself down, but it isn’t me.” But now he’s got Meg and Charles Wallace.
All three gifted kids don’t fit easily into social circles, so it’s hard to rest easy at night. In fact, parts of these youth have “gone to sleep,” in a sense, as they hide their true selves from the world.
What they don’t know when the story begins is that they’re three perfect heroes to tackle the fifth dimension—a tesseract—which means “you can travel through space without having to go the long way around.”
Keeping people in the dark
They have to “tesser” because their mission is far bigger than saving Meg and Charles Wallace’s father, who’s mysteriously disappeared—they need to save the world from a terrible darkness, worse than they ever imagined. It’s a terrifying void.
Stepping carefully around spoilers: the most harrowing part of their journey is to a place in thrall to this darkness, where all people of a society share the same sleep if not dream. It’s a trance of obedience and deep, deep fear.
Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin must find a way to wake the sleeping. Which is hard, because what if those sleeping are convinced they’ve got a really good deal—a chance to step away from the “pain, responsibility, burdens of thought and decision?”
Let’s get real: Wouldn’t it be nice not to have to worry or work all the time? Are there things you like to do because it’s a great escape—and you can zone out? Ever catch yourself behaving in ways where you’re so preoccupied with something, it’s like you’re sleepwalking—and you really don’t want to turn off the dream?
Technology has a way of lulling us into that space, such that real people and real experiences right nearby seem, well, kind of dull, right? But in those moments of rest, are we really alive? And who—or what—is running our minds in the process?
If everyone else was jumping off the cliff into what looked like a pretty awesome place of rest, would you go, too?
We all feel discomfort at the idea of feeling discomfort. That drives us to seek that sleep.
But “maybe,” Meg says, “if you aren’t unhappy sometimes you don’t know how to be happy.”
So let’s agree: not all sleep is good. People asleep are like zombies or drones, right—not good for much but following. Meg and friends need to find out if they can fight the human tendency to submit—to be controlled—by the desire for pleasure and rest.
L’Engle said she wrote this book for many reasons, including this one: “These are forces working in the world as never before in the history of mankind for standardization, for the regimentation of us all, or what I like to call making muffins of us, muffins all like every other muffin in the muffin tin.”
What a strange dream!
“We are such stuff/As dreams are made on,” Mrs. Who says, quoting Shakespeare. She’s one of the three magical creatures who guide the heroes’ journey. The rest of that quote from the play reads: “and our little life/Is rounded with a sleep.”
L’Engle’s novel presents that truth of life being dreamlike—whether beautiful, or nightmarish—and perhaps, some think, the work of some bigger, bolder, more magical mind than ours. Dreams seem so real and yet they only live in our own sleeping brains: how can so much color, sound, joy, and fury reside within just our cerebellums?
Her spiritual and moral philosophy pulses through her books like a big, warm heart: that there are great and mysterious truths—faith, hope, and love being the great triumvirate—hidden, but no less true, in our daily lives. These three things can guide us to unseen truths.
Meg’s mom has this advice for those who need to know everything: that it’s not always possible to understand everything. Being gifted doesn’t mean having all the answers. Many times true joy comes from the hunger and process of seeking and learning more. “Just because we don’t understand,” Mrs. Murry says, “doesn’t mean that the explanation doesn’t exist.”
At Duke TIP we love to salute the unique trailblazers, so before we tell students to go digging in a graphic novel or wait for the movie, we challenge people to start with the original–the book.
Then students should be sure to check out the graphic novel, adapted and illustrated by Hope Larson. Lots of good stuff there: a great faithfulness to the storyline. Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin really look their parts, so well done there, too. The color scheme could not be more appropriate: soulful and melancholy blues and grays, with appropriate black and white intensity in bold lines. If we’re all humans searching through a fog to come to some kind of understanding, and this book shows that journey, then the strokes of color fit that mood.
Despite best attempts, some images do fall short of the ineffable. Because L’Engle deals in those things that aren’t “dream of in (our) philosophy,” as Hamlet once said to his buddy Horatio in the Shakespearean tragedy, Hamlet, Larson has a tall order here: capturing things that are best kept in our own dreamy heads. Sometimes, words better inspire our own dream thoughts and images sometimes confine. In other words, they prevent your forming your own picture in your head, and do the thinking for you.
And in honor of this book, let’s all do our own thinking, shall we?
Then check out the trailer for the movie adaptation, coming March 9, 2018!