Banned and Challenged Books Week: A Surprise Favorite

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I freely admit it. I’m not a fan of science fiction or of fantasy. They just aren’t “me.” I’ve read some. I had to read Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy in Intro to International Relations (it shows neatly all the possible ways power can be distributed among nations, in case you were curious) and The Book of Three, for a fantasy example, wasn’t awful, it just wasn’t my thing. So it’s no surprise that I skipped Wrinkle in Time when I was in school in spite of being in the generation for whom it was written. I came to it after reading Madelleine L’Engle’s Crosswicks Journals, which I was sad to learn later, her children consider largely fictional. Never mind.

Wrinkle

Wrinkle in Time caught my attention at the cream cheese and liverwurst sandwich with onion salt. Yes, you read that right. Early in the book Charles Wallace makes his mother such a sandwich (Meg opts out of the liverwurst in case you wondered) because it was so like my Mom. She had an annual liverwurst session and taught us to appreciate its richness.And cream cheese IS a gift from God. Onion salt, well, ok, Mom would have used real onion as I would today. And ours would be on really nice crackers.

It took FOOD to get me into a great read all because it is labeled “science fiction.” Labels do that to things–and to people, too. In Wrinkle the sci-fi was irrelevant to me. Here was a family where intellectual attainment mattered. Not the resume-building, grade-grubbing upper-class, suburban- Ivy-League-or-you-are-a-loser type “attainment,” but the real thing. Thought. Reading. Ideas. And appreciation of same. That kind of attainment. Here too was Meg, a girl like me–a girl who never fit in at school.  And,like my family, the father traveled. This would really have resonated with me in 5th or 6th grade because I missed my Dad when he was away (even though we had much better food when he was gone!).  But that label, “sci-fi,” got in the way.

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I enjoyed this book then, and it’s first sequel, as an adult. My son and I watched the movie version too, though of course it was a disappointment. Meg and Mrs. Murray are both taken seriously and Mrs. Murray does serious work. Charles Wallace looks up to his sister. All of this was HUGE in the children’s literature of the 1960s. I have often wondered if challengers to this book didn’t/don’t have as much to do with this fact as with the more obvious reasons–the Mrs. W’s and “IT” who is often challenged as a rival to God. Happily, kids are generally way brighter than the folks raising these challenges. They understand the fact that (pardon the pun) it’s all fiction. Imagination. Not real. They don’t confuse “IT” with God anymore than they think Spiderman has the same powers as God (though our long-ago Christian school disallowed all things superhero for that reason).

I hope students today can be left in peace to read this great book–sans labels. In an era in which Common Core is taking away fiction for such stimulating reading as EPA reports, and in which the acronym STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering & Math] is everywhere, I fear the label will be even more prominent. In our era of bludgeoning others over our beliefs and of being offended by everything, I’m sure, too, that there will be more challenges to this book. All of that is a shame. Wrinkle in Time is simply an outstanding book. It’s not too late. Read it now if you skipped it as a kid. You won’t be sorry.

On minor criticism–don’t go for the author reads the book audio version. Sadly, she was not an enjoyable reader. Let a professional read the words if you want an audio version.

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