This is the first year I’ve taught Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time, and anyone who is a teacher knows that the best way to digest a story is to teach it. Each year, the analysis the students and I do on the novel will deeply bring us into the heart of the story. I always look forward to my students insights, and I’m always surprised that no matter how long I teach a piece of well-written prose, we can always find a hidden gem each new time we come back to the story.
Here are ten gems we’ve discussed so far in A Wrinkle In Time: (Chapters 1-6)
Grow into yourself. Meg and Charles Wallace are blessed to have two parents who believe in this concept for their children. Several times throughout the beginning of the book, we see that Mr. and Mrs. Murray have allowed and explained to Meg and Charles Wallace that it’s okay to be different and to grow into the person you are meant to be. I don’t think, especially in our modern world, that this could be more relevant at any age.
Find your people – those who love and understand you unconditionally. Through the character of Calvin, we are given a glimpse into a kid whose home life is abusive and neglectful. I wish I could say that as a teacher, I never see this in my classroom. It would be a lie. But what we learn from Calvin as he finds the Murray family is that sometimes family must be defined, not by blood, but by understanding and love. My students and I have found this a truly comforting thought.
Be humble. Poor Charles Wallace. To have a gift of emphatic intuition is a hard gift, especially when you’re five. It’s difficult to feel and know things about other people and not let it influence your perspective; yet, Charles Wallace teaches us an important lesson: that knowledge and wisdom are two different ideas. Charles Wallace has the knowledge of reading non-verbal ques and subtle emotional inferences of others, but he lacks the wisdom that comes from tempering one’s knowledge with humility. Just because you can ‘see’ more than other people doesn’t make you wiser as poor CW finds out.
Learn to see the truth in each perspective. A huge theme of the novel is perspectives. In class we find ourselves frequently analyzing situations from different points of view. For example Mr. Jenkins, the principal, is always a conversation-starter. Because we know what Meg is going through and how smart she really is, when Mr. Jenkins dismisses her – literally and emotionally – we are heartbroken. This, however, is a wonderful spot to stop and look at perspectives. From a principal’s point of view, students often create their own problems by being lazy or making stupid decisions, so in a sense the principal’s perspective can be true. But for Meg, who we discover learns in a completely different way, it’s just as true that the problem is how the teachers and principal approach the situation. Perspectives, in this sense, become less about being right or wrong and more about seeing the larger Truth in each situation – a valid lesson for child or adult alike.
Believe in magic. I love the passages that describe the three guardians, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which, and their various forms of being. Rainbows for wings is such a concrete image for my seventh-grades, a miraculous mixture of fantastical magic and an anchor they can really visualize. They also fall in love with Mrs. Whatsit having once been a star who gave her light to defeat the darkness. Believing in magic reminds us of possibilities and choices, and that in every ordinary moment – there is a magic.
Don’t be afraid to feel. This one has been a real deal-breaker in my classroom. Meg spends several tense moments in the beginning of the book battling between trying to be strong, equated with not showing emotion, and just being completely bombarded by her worry and fear over her missing father. Thankfully, Calvin reminds her that crying is okay, and the Happy Medium gives her a glimpse of her mother in an unguarded moment of crying. Both instances remind young Meg that strength and control are two completely different concepts. Control is so often an illusion. Strength, on the other hand, is fluid and comes not from denying one’s state but by embracing it.
Courage is fighting even when we are afraid. One of my favorite parts in the whole book is when Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin discover that Mrs. Whatsit was once a star who sacrifices her light to fight the darkness. Later on when the three guardians are worried about the children going alone to Camaztoz, we read this beautiul passage in which Meg wonders how someone who was brave enough to give up her light could possibly be afraid of what Meg, CW, and Calvin are going to face. Mrs. Whatsit kindly reminds Meg that she was afraid when she battled the darkness. It always brings tears to my eyes and reminds all of us that courage is still acting when fear would shut us down.
Be a bringer of light; it will always defeat the darkness. I have resonated with the archetypal idea that light defeats darkness. What I particularly like about L’Engle’s take is that part of being a bringer of light is finding your own talent and pouring yourself into that talent. I love that this idea reminds my students and me that each of us has a gift. We are here to discover it and use it to better the world around us. I feel like my seventh graders, whose world can so quickly get lost in cell phones and video games and alternate realities, need to hear this more than ever.
Embrace the knowledge and gifts our mentors in life bestow upon us. In every hero quest, there is a moment when the mentors or guardians must step down or pass on to allow the young apprentice to become the fully-realized hero or heroine of their stories. In my class we discuss the passing of such characters as Dumbledore, Gandalf, Obi Wan, and Yoda, and the gifts they leave the hero and heroines. I think we often forget that each of us journeys on own hero quest with our own guardians and mentors. As we grow, we will find ourselves parting with those people who encouraged us and gifted us with their wisdom and experience. In our hero quest, we must remember to honor them by become our best selves.
Sometimes we must journey alone to become our own hero. As the students and I work through each chapter, we begin to see that even though Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin are a team, each must come to his or her part of the story as individuals. Each has his or her own lessons to learn. Each must find his or her own way through the quest to find Mr. Murray and defeat the darkness. Sometimes, we must embrace that our journey is only our journey. We make ourselves the hero. We learn our own lessons, and at the end of the quest, we become that which we ourselves chose.
Namaste…and Merry Christmas!