Warning: This review is a meditation on personal time travel caused by re-reading a uniquely amazing piece of middle grade and high school science fiction that was written 50 years ago. In it, there are women brilliant at math and science and boys with incredible powers of communication. It is also an excellent story, and involves faster-than-light travel through time and space. My review will not be about that, though.
Just re-read my old copy of this book, and it literally transported me back to my childhood. It was a bizarre experience, like I was two people reading the book at once, through the same eyes. Childhood self had her reactions – the images that the prose brought to life, fully realized – and adult self had different ones. Simultaneously.
How did the book hold up for current me? I loved it. L’Engle is a masterful story-teller, and I was surprised how quickly she moves it along and how relatively spare her descriptions, etc, are, given the vast images they created for me as a child, images that were re-created in the re-reading.
Powerful stuff, and a reflection on what makes great and timeless writing.
I was also fascinated by the ways in which this book has shaped me, without my realizing it:
- That argument I had on the bus in high school about accent marks over the “e” in “-ed”? Well, it probably stemmed from the fact that there is an odd and out of place accented “e” in this book. Thus cementing it in my mental map of the world for all time.
- My immediate obsession with social psychology when I encountered it in college? Probably because of how directly it relates to the control of societies and exploration of social conditions played with in this book.
- My fear of the movie “It”, even though I’ve never seen it? Probably because of the villainous and creep-tacular “IT” in this novel. (By the way, contemporary Abi had “I.T.”, as in, “information technology”, the help desk people, pop into her head every time she saw the name “IT”, and it was very distracting. Not a problem in her prior, pre-computer era readings.)
- My willingness to connect religion with science at every turn, such as assuming it was scientifically reasonable for Jesus to walk on water because he could play with the molecules. Duh, Mom! Again, child-self appears to have stolen that idea DIRECTLY from L’Engle and the playing with molecules that occurs on Camazotz. I guess she’s not so original.
Reading this book was like reading myself. I even had set much of it, in memory, in the country setting of my old house in Pennsylvania. (I was surprised to discover that Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which lived in a house in a forest. In memory, it was geographically located up the hill where my dear neighbors Edwin and Martha lived, with only a smattering of tress around. I was also surprised to be reminded of Mrs. Murry’s laboratory off of the kitchen, which didn’t fit the layout of our Pennsylvania house I’d set the Murry home in. Thirdly, I was surprised that they return onto of the twins’ vegetable garden – the broccoli, to be specific – and not next to the compost heap and chicken coop I’d placed them at in my childhood plotting of their world onto mine. I still can’t shake seeing every bit of the story on a corresponding bit of that Amish Country world…)
Interestingly, “modern me” noticed the heavy religious currents that just didn’t register at all for “prior me”; in childhood, religion was just a given and a part of the culture I inhabited.
There are a few, minor moments where the book feels out-dated, but they are few and far between. Occasional dialogue, hand-holding, and gender assumptions are all that ruffle your feathers and remind you this book was written 50 years ago, not now. L’Engle’s novel remains essentially timeless.
(Side note: I also learned my mother had censored the book. When one of the twins describes something as a “gyp”, a term derogatory to gypsies, she penciled it out and penciled in “shame”. I don’t think the line reads quite right with that particular correction (the meaning is something more like “what a cheat!” than “what a shame…”), but I was fascinated to learn she had read it aloud to me – why else the correction? – and that I had read the censored book countless times without noting the edit! Ah, past self, how fun it was to hang out with you for this quick reread…)