As director Ava DuVernay brings Madeleine L’Engle’s classic A Wrinkle in Time to life, moviegoers have begun the eternal debate: Was the book better? L’Engle herself maintained great skepticism towards a film adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, but the story’s richness lends itself to further exploration of religion, creativity, and inclusivity.
A quick recap (sans spoiler) for those of you who have not read the book since middle school: Meg Murry, an awkward teenager, must travel through time and space to rescue her little brother from the clutches of evil. The method she uses is called “tessering,” a phenomenon her scientist father studied until he disappeared several years earlier. Meg learns of her mission from other-worldly beings; and the journey demanded of her takes her to the most dangerous landscape imaginable, that of her own heart.
Despite the difficulties of categorizing the quirky story published in 1962, it quickly became an international bestseller. Because of L’Engle’s treatment of religious themes, it soon became as controversial as it was beloved. The American Library Association Office of Intellectual Freedom lists it in the top 100 frequently banned books.
L’Engle, who served as librarian and writer in residence at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City for over thirty years, included many biblical references in the novel, and the ecumenical world view she put for went so far as to suggest a “happy religious pluralism” described by The New Yorker as one in which “Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and even scientists can live together in peace.” Her intimation that love was more powerful than doctrine upset some conservative Christians, who claimed it offered an inaccurate portrayal of God and nurtured an unholy belief in myth and fantasy.
L’Engle suggests that the powerful messages of Christianity are not just for Christians. As Meg’s father tells her, “We were sent here for something. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” The author appreciated the tension created by opposites and understood that tolerance and love could bridge seemingly irreconcilable differences. In community, she explains, we draw closer to God not through sameness but through our shared life. Love, L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time says, conquers all, and we do not have to be privileged, pretty or perfect to experience the power of this world-bending connection.
Several dozen Cathedral members recently ventured to the theater together to watch DuVernay’s new movie, discuss a little Popcorn Theology, and decide book or movie? A little background, ICYMI: Nominated for the Academy Award and winner of four EMMYs, DuVernay has received critical acclaim for her work across film genres. In 2017, she was named one of Fortune magazine’s 50 Greatest World Leaders and TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. She is the founder of ARRAY, a grassroots distribution and advocacy collective dedicated to the amplification of films by people of color and women which was named one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies. She gathered an all-star cast including Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Mindy Kaling, and Zach Galifianakis, and A Wrinkle in Time is the first film directed by a woman of color to have a budget of over $100 million.
And our reaction? With its presentation of the full breadth and accessibility of God’s kingdom, Ava DuVernay’s film version matches L’Engle’s creative fire, although some viewers in our group criticized it for combining and deleting characters and for deleting Christian references. The question was also raised: Would children understand the meaning of the story, or would they just be mesmerized by the special effects? But whether or not an individual approved or disapproved of DuVernay’s interpretation of the story, watching the movie together led to thoughtful discussion.
And that division might please L’Engle, who believed that our seemingly insurmountable differences can, in fact, be bridged—through that amazing tesseract we know as love. It’s not surprising that our group would have differing opinions about a movie based on this story. Three generations of readers have loved, questioned, or banned A Wrinkle in Time, and its longevity proves its power to withstand disapproval. More than half a century after the book’s original publication, DuVernay’s newest film opens the story’s arms even more widely and brings its mid-century perspective into the future.
Will the new light this movie sheds on L’Engle’s tale of good and evil amplify the message for you, or will your ink-on-paper experience–or your devotion to the specifics of the original story–prevail?
Book or movie? Strict adherence to the original or a more liberal interpretation? You’ll have to decide for yourself. But whichever medium you prefer, you’ll be reminded that one of the great strengths of the underlying message of A Wrinkle in Time is its ability to carry us beyond the perceived boundaries of our understanding.
Read or reread the book. Watch the movie. Or come by the Bookstore and pick up one of the many books we have by and about Madeleine L’Engle. Whether your path to understanding takes you through fiction, non-fiction, books, movies, or all of the above, we’d love to examine her fascinating world with you.
A book, too, can be a star, “explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly,” a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.
― Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time