Nov 24, 2012

A Wrinkle in Time

When I read Madeleine L'Engel's A Wrinkle in Time (1962) in grade school, I identified with Charles Wallace Murry, a shy, intelligent boy who  sees things other kids can't.  He seems to have a crush on misunderstood high schooler Calvin (played by David Dorfman and Gregory Smith in the 2003 movie).  Charles Wallace, his older sister Meg, and Calvin are drawn into a cosmic battle against the Black Thing, which is devouring entire solar systems and transforming them into suburbs, "houses made of ticky tacky, and they all look just the same."

Just as Mr. Dark in Something Wicked This Way Comes and the tripods in The White Mountains, the Black Thing brings conventionality, constraint, and heterosexism.  I found it a powerful critique of the mind-control chants of "What girl do you like?  What girl...what girl...what girl."

I thought it was a self-contained story.  But then, in the mid-1980s, I stumbled across a sequel, Many Waters. Charles Wallace and Meg are minor characters.  Their brothers, twins Sandy and Denys, are swept away into the world of Noah just before the Flood.  They are fifteen years old in the novel, but the cover illustration pictures them as much older, with amazing bodybuilder physiques.

Here's another edition that shows them at the proper age, with feminine teen-idol faces, but with their muscles and phallic symbols still emphasized.

More digging revealed that Madeleine L'Engel wrote four science fiction-y young adult novels with Calvin and Meg falling in love as a major plot arc (Calvin and Meg were the primary couple?).  Then they marry and have 7 kids.  Their eldest daughter Polly stars in four novels of her own, mostly involving falling in love with a rich college boy named Zachary.

Meanwhile, Vicky Austin is featured in eight novels, sometimes with crossovers with the Calvin-Meg brood.  She has a troubled, on-off romance with marine biologist Adam Eddington (played by Ryan Merriman in the 2002 Ring of Endless Light).  

You get the idea: heterosexism rules.  You can be as unconventional as you want, as long as you obey the "fade out kiss" mandate.

The beefcake covers were apparently designed only for heterosexual girls.

And that's not all.  L'Engel doesn't mention gay people often, but when she does, homophobia oozes from every pore.

In A House Like a Lotus, Polly fights off a predatory lesbian.  Her parents, Calvin and Meg, are jubilant to discover that she isn't a pervert.

In A Severed Wasp, there are evil, predatory gays (not to mention casual antisemitism).

In The Small Rain, Katherine is an intelligent, sophisticated woman who has been raised in an unconventional household.  Nevertheless, when she see a lesbian:

Katherine stared at the creature again and realized that it was indeed a woman, or perhaps once had been a woman. Now it wore a man's suit, shirt,and tie; its hair was cut short; out of a dead-white face glared a pair of despairing eyes. Feeling Katherine's gaze, the creature turned and looked at her, and that look was branded into Katherine's body; it was as though it left a physical mark.


Can I still read A Wrinkle in Time as offering hope to kids who are struggling with being different?  Critiquing the iron cage of heterosexism?

Of course.  Authorial intention is irrelevant.  In the words of Alice Walker, "You are your own best hope."  Find belonging wherever you can, even in words intended to exclude you.
Find love wherever you can, even in words intended to express hate.
Find hope wherever you can, even in words intended to make you despair.