20 Feb 2012

A wrinkle in Wrinkle

"But what is it?" Calvin demanded. "We know that it's evil, but what is it?"

"Yyouu hhave ssaidd itt!" Mrs. Which's voice rang out. "Itt iss Eevill. Itt iss thee Ppowers of Ddarrkknesss!"

"But what's going to happen?" Meg's voice trembled. "Oh, please, Mrs. Which, tell us what's going to happen!"

"Wee wwill cconnttinnue tto ffightt!"

Something in Mrs. Which's voice made all three of the children stand straighter, throwing back their shoulders with determination, looking at the glimmer that was Mrs. Which with pride and confidence.

"And we're not alone, you know, children," came Mrs. Whatsit, the comforter. "All through the universe it's being fought, all through the cosmos, and my, but it's a grand and exciting battle. I know it's hard for you to understand about size, how there's very little difference in the size of the tiniest microbe and the greatest galaxy. You think about that, and maybe it won't seem strange to you that some of our very best fighters have come right from your own planet, and it's a little planet, dears, out on the edge of a little galaxy. You can be proud that it's done so well."

"Who have our fighters been?" Calvin asked.

"Oh, you must know them, dear," Mrs. Whatsit said.

Mrs. Who's spectacles shown out at them triumphantly. "And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not."

"Jesus!" Charles Wallace said. "Why of course, Jesus!"

"Of course!" Mrs. Whatsit said. "Go on, Charles, love. There were others. All your great artists. They've been lights for us to see by."

"Leonardo da Vinci?" Calvin suggested tentatively. "And Michelangelo?"

"And Shakespeare," Charles Wallace called out, "and Bach! And Pasteur and Madame Curie and Einstein!"

Now Calvin's voice rang with confidence. "And Schweitzer and Ghandi and Buddha and Beethoven and Rembrandt and St. Francis!"

"Now you, Meg," Mrs. Whatsit ordered.

"Oh, Euclid, I suppose." Meg was in such an agony of impatience that her voice grated irritably. "And Copernicus. But what about Father? Please, what about Father?"

"Wee aarre ggoingg tto your ffatherr," Mrs. Which said.

"But where is he?" Meg went over to Mrs. Which and stamped as though she were as young as Charles Wallace.

Mrs. Whatsit answered in a voice that was low but quite firm. "On a planet that has given in. So you must prepare to be very strong."

- A Wrinkle in Time, chapter 5 "The Tesseract"
The other day Jemimah was reading aloud to me from Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper. This is what the book said:
He would have said "Thank God!" if his jaws had been free. A moment or two later his limbs were at liberty, and his captors, each gripping him by an arm, were hurrying him with all speed through the forest.
Only when Jemimah reached this point she quickly substituted "Thank Goodness!" for the words in the first line. "It's swearing," Mummy, she remarked simply, when questioned, "I just don't like it."

A few days later we reached 'that passage' in A Wrinkle in Time. The one that's quoted above. After a split second's panicked thought I decided to read it as written. I read to the end of the quote above and then paused to talk to my family. Well? What do you think? I asked. I went on to explain that this book, A Wrinkle in Time is the 22nd most frequently challenged book of 1990–2000, and that the most common objection was to the words I had just read.

Me:- Well? What do you think?
Jemimah:- I don't like it. It's taking God's name in vain.
Mr PD:- Christ is the conqueror of darkness; it's including him with other men that I have a problem with...

And so I am now going to rescind the comments I made in last week's post, and say that I am worried about A Wrinkle in Time after all. Is it okay for me to change my mind?

Now don't forget, it is probably 35 years since I last read Wrinkle, so I guess I'd forgotten a bit. Maybe my opinions on such things have changed a bit since then as well, although obviously Jemimah at 10 can see quite clearly already.

The fact is, that since I've been reading this book I've felt quite uncomfortable a number of times. not because of the story, which I still think is fabulous, but because of the inclusion of things of my faith, like direct quotes from Scripture, used in a way that just don't mesh with my beliefs. A Wrinkle in Time is a SF story. It is not, nor can it be, true, and adding Christianity to a story that includes Jesus merely as one of a number of men who have been fighting to defeat evil is rather an anathema to me.

Back to Jemimah's comments on Twain. Do you feel as she does when reading aloud the words of characters who use God name? Obviously if the character is blaspheming you probably do, but what if the author has the character saying words with feeling and belief, as the King is saying in the Twain quote above? What then? I'm afraid I think like Jemimah that it is speaking the name of God without thought and awe and reverence, and that to me is taking his name in vain.

Familiarity breeds contempt,' says the proverb, and contempt of God, his word and commandments, is a very dangerous state of mind indeed. A frivolous, superficial approach to God is dangerous, and once we start treating God's name with less than the respect it deserves, then we are treating it with contempt and we are taking it in vain. Sometimes we do this when we know the words of a Psalm or hymn particularly well, humming the tune and singing snatches of the words as we go about our day's work. Are we really praising God when we do this? Really?

Clearly, then, it is not only in reading literature that we are in danger of throwing around God's name frivolously. We all know people who punctuate their every sentence with 'Praise the Lord!' It has become a redundant phrase like so many profanities are, used when you can't think of anything else to say. 'I'll pray for you,' is another, when you say it all the time without having any intention to pray in reality.

As Christians, the way we use God's name reflects what we believe about him. It is not to be used to make a story more 'real'. It's just not. Like Jemimah puts it so succinctly, it's swearing, Mummy.

Malachi tells us to 'stand in awe of his name. Mal 2:5 I don't think A Wrinkle in Time does that. And so, now I'm going to advise you to be careful of this book.

I am not worried that this book promulgates New Age ideas. The book is a work of fiction, and children are quite aware of that. They know that the adventures in it are imaginary. I do not believe that children will be influenced unduly by the Happy Medium's crystal balls, nor by the possibility, be it ever so slight, that the three women are witches. I do not believe that the book is a Handbook to the Occult.

However, after having read it, I do believe it is dangerous, because it uses his name, but it does not acknowledge our God with awe and trembling. It does not keep him holy. And Jesus is not just one of the many man warriors against evil.

In her book, Walking on Water:Reflections on Faith and Art, L’Engle responds to the criticism of this passage by saying, “To be truly Christian means to see Christ everywhere, to know him as all in all. I don’t mean to water down my Christianity into a vague kind of universalism, with Buddha and Mohammad all being more or less equal to Jesus - not at all! But neither do I want to tell God (or my friends) where he can and cannot be seen!” She may be right, but to me this book fails to make this distinction. It fails to differentiate between Jesus and those others clearly enough. And to me that means that she dishonours his name.
Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name;
make known among the nations what he has done.
Sing to him, sing praise to him;
tell of all his wonderful acts.
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Look to the Lord and his strength;
seek his face always.
Psalm 105:1-4


  1. Totally agree Jeanne. To me, the use of the words, 'Thank God' isn't the issue as much as the ideas contained within. Don't get me wrong, we are huge Sci Fi buffs here... but I do get a little icky when scifi tries to incorporate God. SciFi can be helpful when explaining concepts that we find hard to grasp because of the confines of our humanity... but to meld the two is ick.

    Everyone is different. We love Tolkein's Middle Earth but not so much the theology of Lewis and Narnia.

    Our children are so precious. And even using such great tools like narration, we still need to be very careful as to the ideas that we expose them to. Sometimes seeds of ideas are planted... other books water those seeds and we won't hear more about the ideas that have taken root until a few years later! Our children are little persons - capable of much but their hearts and minds need guarding and guiding. Good on you Jeanne!

  2. Jeanne, I read the quote and I wondered what you were going to say about it. I agree with you, that lumping Jesus in with other "great men" is not giving Him the glory He deserves. Thanks for the heads up on this book, I don't think we'll bother with it.
    I've had it before too, that not so much with books, but with movies that I've seen as a child or teenager, and loved, then watched again as a mother and been horrified that I actually enjoyed it. And these were not way out sort of movies, just your run-of-the-mill movies like Robin Hood Prince of Theives etc. I once called that movie my favourite!

  3. I think much depends in how your child will perceive it. Mine is very sensitive to any offense, but was not bothered by this. It is not, after all, a book of theology, and she saw the truths in it without losing her reverence. But another child might have had a different response.

    L'Engle is liberal. I don't love her books for this reason, but I do believe the Holy Spirit has used her books to speak some important truths, even though they are imperfect. No work of fiction can get it completely right.

  4. I see your point. It does seem to lump Christ in with other great men. If it weren't such a prevalent lie in our world I wouldn't give it a second thought. You're right that it needs to be approached with caution.

    However, I think Kathy makes a really good point. There's a lot of good in this book, too, and it doesn't benefit anyone to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I think that this passage would be a good point to stop, talk about what we read, and move on. But there is so much that is great in this book that I'd hate to discount it altogether.

  5. I'm with you. I had read a few pages, but now with your post, I know I'm not interested on the book for the same reasons you give.


  6. Yep. That's what I meant when I thought it didn't have the same "feel" as Lewis or Tolkien...there is something a bit different to her books!

    I understand completely what you are saying!

  7. Consider that Jesus himself used similar analogies in parables, such as the parable of the tenants who won't pay. There he lists himself with the prophets. I think L'Engle meant similarly here, listing him first because he is preeminent. If L'Engle has not actually stated an untruth, then allow some leeway as to which *part* of the truth she chooses as her focus. All art conveys only part of the truth, no matter what we wish.

  8. Yep, my problem with the book exactly. But I do think it can be a useful one to read aloud or with kids- the problem is pretty obvious, so kids can pick it up easily and it can be a good introduction to this whole theme that they will strike again and again. Although I may have been a bit heavy handed according to my older kids. Not sure what to do about that next time!


  9. Not having read the book since I was twelve, it may be that I should not comment but let's not throw the baby out with the bath water. Charlotte Mason speaks in her chapter on the Great Recognition how all knowledge comes from God (even that which is considered common) and backs it up with scripture.

    “But the Florentine mind of the Middle Ages went further than this: it believed, not only that the seven Liberal Arts were fully under the direct outpouring of the Holy Ghost, but that every fruitful idea, every original conception, whether in Euclid, or grammar, or music, was a direct inspiration from the Holy Spirit, without any thought at all as to whether the person so inspired named himself by the name of God, or recognised whence his inspiration came” (Vol. 2, p. 271).

    What about the knowledge gathering of children illuminating their knowledge of God, what then of that Godward movement from the development of intellect and heart that we love to quote? There's a difference between the lumping together and the pointing toward.
    This is why Charlotte considers the Great Recognition as "required" otherwise we are in danger of dual natures.


  10. I'm with Kathy ~ but then I also read L'Engle's biography as a child & so was aware of her bias early. Jesus is pre~eminent in her thinking & her beliefs.

    In a nit~picky sort of way this doesn't bother me terribly as I don't think most of us in the west actually use God's true name any way.

    L'Engle also has the artistic perogative to tell her story in her way ~ inperfect as it will inevitably be & like most artists she struggled with conveying her ideas in the best way possible. If we don't like it we have the perogative to set it aside & you can certainly change your mind! ☺

    Swearing is a whole 'nother matter. I hate it. So unnecessary. Star really objects ~ & now she is older it is a problem we come across all too often!!! You'd think someone would have decided to be original by now & come up with an interesting alternative. lol

  11. Richele,

    I think L'Engle sounds more like she is "lumping together".

    One other good aspect of the book, however, is that she makes the reality of good and evil very clear, as well as the necessity to fight evil. And she does it in an inspiring way that can make kids want to join the fight.

    Although (again) and bursting my own bubble here, I think the end where Meg defeats evil by loving is unsatisfying. Love does defeat evil but it's not a wishy-washy Jesus-lumped-in-with-all-the-rest kind of love, it's God's love through Jesus. And sure, you don't have to spell that out in every story but to be truly satisfying and True it needs to fit in with that real Love, point to it. And L'Engle's story falls short there as well, I think.

    I think it's a good book to read but it has serious flaws.


  12. Now I shall have a little argument with myself:

    perhaps the fact that she is loving and not just nice could be a very little pointer to the bigger Love.


  13. Interesting discussion. I don't think my daughter and I even noticed this--probably the fault of American culture. We certainly didn't debate it. We just went on with the fascinating story. Do I encourage or allow swearing? In a word, NO. Do we respect the Lord--yes. I think a magnificent story is just that--a story told in the author's words. You can censor as you read, just as I found the "Little Britches" books to be offensive because of the black horse's name and changed it. But does the passage debated make the book "inappropriate" for Christians? If that was true how did anyone in my generation stay a Christian? This sort of thing was not debated then. Maybe someone might have said--"there are some bad words in there," but throwing the book out only makes it more attractive to some who read it to see what the ban-this-book fuss was about.

    That said, I respect any parent's right to choose not to share certain stories with their children.

  14. "And Jesus is NOT just one of the many man warriors against evil."

    Yes, I found this the most troubling and contentious point also. And the same attitude seemed to come through in what I read of her person too.

    And yet: I still think its a valuable book to read because it explores enormous concepts. It can provide for excellent discussions. The quality of the literature is high. The science stuff - I have thought often through the years on just the concept of the 5th dimension - very interesting, particularly considering how Jesus, as master of matter, could a)make the waves hold him up, b)could cause Phillip to be 'gone', etc. For a non-scientific me it provided excellent food for thought.

    I also think that its important to consider your family context when making decisions on what to read/not read. For some this might be a stumbling block. For me, in the context of my very strong Christian family life, training and upbringing it wasnt because I had been given the strength and understanding from my parents instruction and through God's grace to have the perception at an early age to identify these very concerns. Its not a matter of pride, and I would never recommend a high percentage of contentious books. However, it can be of great benefit to a well supported child (or adult) to read some.

    Just my thoughts.


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