Sunday, October 7, 2007

A Wrinkle in Time

It seems difficult for me to find time to write nowadays. I should try to write down a few notes about this book before too much time passes since I read it, especially since at least Johan and Elliot wanted to know what I thought about it. This is not a proper review, only a few notes. (BEWARE: minor spoilers below.)

The first thing I have to say is a general comment: books for children are never as good if you read them when you are grown up. This has two reasons. The first is that almost nothing is really new anymore. You recognize everything, can compare it to how others have done the same thing. You also notice clichés and clumsy use of language. These are things I have thought about before. Something I realized when reading this book is that if I were eight years old I would be totally immersed in it, I would live in the book and think about it a lot, perhaps reread it. Now I finish it almost before I get a feeling for it. This must be the first time I complain about reading too fast, finishing a book too quickly!

So what did I think?

In the beginning I didn't really like it. I'm not sure how to explain what I mean, but I thought it was talking down to the readers, a little patronizing like really old books for children can be. Also, I didn't like Charles Wallace, the little brother. He is too annoyingly clever, not a believable five year old. He's obviously intended to be something else, not like other human beings, but I didn't even find him a believable very special different kind of child.
There was also too much emphasis on looks in the begonning-- why is it important that the mother is beautiful, and Calvin's mother is ugly? There is even a discussion between Meg and Calvin about who is handsome and who is not. This adds nothing to the story and is just annoying. (I would never have noticed when I was nine years old, this would not have been interesting, and so I would have ignored it.)

What I did like right from the beginning was the positive view of science and inquiry. This is yet another example of fantasy that "[sees] the increasing of human knowledge as an exciting adventure" (I've been collecting examples ever since Gregory Benford complained about the rise of fantasy and connected it with the declining respect for science). Although I think that Heinlein in some book used exactly the same explanation for travelling faster than light as they here use for explaining a tesseract, only using a scarf instead of a piece of string.

There was some kind of turning point where I started to appreciate Meg as a protagonist who is really independent -- she does not just accept things and can even be stubborn and sulky. She is not nice all the time, and that makes her easy to relate to. She goes through a crisis when she has to face the fact that her father cannot solve all problems, something that is also easy to relate to: everyone has to go through the discovery that a parent is not a in every cericomstance the mighty protector that we (hopefully) learn to trust as infants. Growing up is difficult, and interesting.

In the end I think I mostly liked the book, but it would certainly have been a better read twenty years ago or more, when I was the right age for it.

I also noticed what I believe are heavy influences from C.S. Lewis. When they come to the place where the strange old women (who are not old women) belong it is described in a way that reminds me very much of Lewis. The clockwork-like mechanical aspect of the evil of the planet where the father is imprisoned also reminds me of the villains in the Space Trilogy, especially That Hideous Strength. I'm even more strongly reminded of that book when IT turns out to be a brain without body -- Lewis also describes something talking through a severed head which is artificially kept alive (reminds me of the Baphomet of the forced Templar "confessions", that is probably where Lewis got the idea).

There is certainly an interesting mixture of ideas here. There is a visit to a two dimensional planet and the wonder of discovering that there might be other senses with which other creatures perceive the world. There are problems to be solved, and there are the troubles of being different (and the conclusion that equal is not the same as alike). Enough to induce at least some sense of wonder if you are susceptible at all.

Finally: I noticed that this book is on the list of most challenged books. I will make sure that my daughter gets a copy to read if she wants to!

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