A Wrinkle in Time

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Novels

A Wrinkle in Time
Author Madeleine L'Engle
Cover Artist Ellen Raskin (1960s editions),
Leo and Diane Dillon (current hardcover)
Country United States
Language English
Series Time Quartet
Genre(s) Young Adult, Science fiction novel
Publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Released 1962
Media Type Print ( Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 211 pp
ISBN ISBN 0-374-38613-7
Followed by A Wind in the Door

A Wrinkle in Time is a children's fantasy novel by Madeleine L'Engle, written from 1959 to 1960 and published in 1962 after many rejections by publishers because it was, in L'Engle's words, "too different." The book went on to win a Newbery Medal, Sequoyah Book Award, and Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, and was runner-up for the Hans Christian Andersen Award. It is the first in L'Engle's series of books about the Murry and O'Keefe families.

Plot summary

The main character is thirteen-year-old Meg Murry, who is regarded by her peers and teachers as a bad-tempered underachiever. Her family recognizes her problem as a lack of emotional maturity but also regards her as being capable of great things. The family includes her beautiful scientist mother, her mysteriously missing scientist father, her five-year-old brother Charles Wallace Murry —a nascent super-genius— and ten-year-old twin athlete brothers Sandy and Dennys Murry.

The book begins with the line, " It was a dark and stormy night," an allusion to the opening words in Edward George Bulwer-Lytton's 1830 novel Paul Clifford (though probably more familiar to juvenile readers through Snoopy's writings in the comic strip Peanuts). The Murrys are visited by an eccentric old woman named Mrs Whatsit, who has previously made the acquaintance of Charles Wallace. After drying her feet and having a midnight snack with Charles, Meg and their mother, Mrs Whatsit tells an already perplexed Dr. Murry that "there is such a thing as a tesseract."

Shortly thereafter, Meg and Charles meet up with Meg's upperclassman schoolmate Calvin O'Keefe, who, although he is a stereotypical "big man on campus", turns out to be keen to join the children for further encounters with Mrs Whatsit and her rather more eccentric friends Mrs Who and Mrs Which.

Whatsit, Who, and Which turn out to be transcendental beings who transport Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin through the galaxy by means of tesseracts, which are explained as being similar to "folding" the fabric of space and time. The "Mrs W's" reveal to the children that the galaxy is being conquered by a dark cloud, which is the visible manifestation of evil. Meg's missing father was working on a secret government project to achieve faster-than-light travel through a tesseract, and accidentally wound up on Camazotz, an alien planet inside the cloud of evil. The children also discover that Earth is partially covered by the darkness, although great religious figures, philosophers, and artists are fighting against it.

The children travel to Camazotz and rescue Meg's father, who is being imprisoned by an evil disembodied brain with powerful telepathic powers, which the inhabitants of Camazotz call "IT". However, Charles Wallace is mentally dominated by IT, and is left behind when the others flee, tessering through the Black Thing to a planet inhabited by sightless but wise beasts. After a brief period of recuperation, Meg is sent back to Camazotz alone, having been told that only she has the power to rescue Charles Wallace. Confronting IT, Meg realizes that she can free her brother by loving him intensely, because love is an emotion that IT, in its evil, cannot stand. Charles Wallace is freed, and everyone returns home to Earth.


Primary human characters

Meg Murry

Margaret "Meg" Murry is the eldest child of scientists Alex and Kate Murry. Mathematically brilliant but less than adept at other subjects in school, Meg is awkward, unpopular, and defensive around authority figures as well as her peers. She loves her family, especially her brother, Charles Wallace, and longs desperately for her missing father. Meg is unhappy with her physical appearance, particularly her mouse-brown, unruly hair, braces and glasses; and considers herself a "monster" in comparison with her mother. Introduced on the first page of the book, she is the story's protagonist.

Charles Wallace Murry

Charles Wallace Murry is the youngest Murry child, the most extraordinary and the most vulnerable of the novel's human characters. Charles Wallace did not talk at all until he was nearly four years old, at which time he began to speak in complete sentences. Now five years old, Charles can empathically or telepathically "read" certain people's thoughts and feelings, and has an extraordinary vocabulary. He first appears in chapter one.

Calvin O'Keefe

Calvin O'Keefe is the third eldest of Paddy and Branwen O'Keefe's eleven children, a tall, thin, red-haired 14-year-old high school junior who plays on the school basketball team. Neglected by his own family, Calvin joyfully enters the lives of the Murry family, starting in chapter two.

Primary immortal characters

Mrs Whatsit

Mrs Whatsit is described as being an elderly woman wrapped in layers of clothes. She first appears in chapter one. Charles Wallace, a five year old boy in the book, found her in a haunted house in the woods, where she has been living with her two friends, Mrs Who and Mrs Which. Mrs Whatsit is the youngest of the Mrs W's, and the best of the three at interacting with the children.

In chapter 4, the group (Charles Wallace, Calvin, and Meg) witnesses the physical transformation of Mrs Whatsit into a centaur-like winged being on the planet Uriel. Mrs Whatsit is also revealed to have been a star that sacrificed itself by going nova to destroy a section of the Black Thing.

Mrs Who

Mrs Who is described as being a plump woman with giant spectacles. She is seen quoting in Latin, Spanish, German, French, Portuguese and Greek. She also quotes William Shakespeare repeatedly. Mrs Whatsit explains that Mrs Who finds it "difficult to verbalize" in her own words. She is first introduced in Chapter 2.

Mrs Which

Mrs Which is the oldest of the Mrs W's. She is normally seen as little more than a shimmer of light. She seldom (if ever) fully materializes, but in human form she resembles a stereotyped witch in black robe and peaked hat. She finds it hard to think as a corporeal being. In Chapter 5, she accidentally brings Charles, Meg, and Calvin to a 2-D world.

Proper way to refer to the immortal characters

Madeleine L'Engle specifically requested her American publisher to use the British punctuation of "Mrs" (with no period following) to designate the characters Mrs Who, Mrs Which and Mrs Whatsit. However, there were several mix-ups regarding punctuation in general, and the books were printed with a period following Mrs. regardless of her wishes.

Supporting human characters

Dr. Alexander (Alex) Murry

Dr. Alex Murry is an astrophysicist, researching the mysteries of the space/time continuum, specifically five-dimensional means of travel between planets. He is also the father of Meg, Sandy, Dennys and Charles Wallace. He has been missing for some time as the novel opens. Not even his government colleagues know where he is. (Note: Dr. Murry's first name is given in a later novel in the series, a fact that was ignored by the writers of the book's television adaptation.) He first appears in a flashback in chapter one.

Dr. Katherine (Kate) Murry

Dr. Kate Murry is a microbiologist, wife of Dr. Alexander Murry, and mother of the four Murry children. She is considered beautiful by the Murry children and others, having "flaming red hair" and violet eyes. Her physical attractiveness, academic and scientific accomplishments give Meg a bit of an inferiority complex. She is introduced in chapter one, and usually referred to as Mrs. Murry. As in her husband's case, her first name is revealed in a later book, and does not match the one given in the television version of the story.

Alexander (Sandy) Murry

Sandy Murry and his twin brother Dennys are the middle children in the Murry family, older than Charles Wallace but younger than Meg. They are 10 years old at the time of this book. Sandy is named after his father, Dr. Alex Murry. Although they are certainly intelligent, Sandy and his twin are considered the "normal" children in the family: B students, good at sports, and well able to fit in with their peers. Of the twins, Sandy is generally the leader, and the more pragmatic of the two. He and Dennys first appear in chapter one.

Dennys Murry

Dennys Murry is the twin of Sandy Murry. Dennys and his twin are usually inseparable, with Dennys generally following Sandy's lead. However, Dennys is slightly less skeptical than his brother with about the strange theories and even stranger adventures of Meg and Charles Wallace. (Note: The name Dennys is a shortened version of Dionysus, but is pronounced the same way as the more common spelling Dennis.)


  • Camazotz – A planet of extreme, enforced conformity, ruled by a disembodied brain called IT.
  • Ixchel – A planet of muted colors inhabited by sightless creatures.
  • Uriel – A planet with extremely tall mountains, named after the Archangel Uriel. It is inhabited by creatures that resemble winged centaurs.

Major themes

Religious content

On the planet Uriel, the centaur-like beings sing a song which translates (brackets indicates text that is in the book but not in the Bible): "Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein; the isles, and the inhabitants thereof. Let the wilderness and the cities thereof lift up their voice[,] ... let the inhabitants of the rock sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains. Let them give glory unto the Lord[!]" — Isaiah 42:10-12a ( KJV)

When the Mrs W's reveal their secret roles in the cosmic fight against "the darkness" they ask the children to name some on Earth (a partially dark planet) who fight the darkness. First named is Jesus followed by several scientists and artists including Buddha, Gandhi, Bach, Einstein and Euclid. The three women act as guardian angels but are actually ancient star-beings. They think nothing of living in an abandoned house and pretending to be witches as they have nothing to prove.

After the escape from Camazotz, while they are on Ixchel, Alexander Murry tells Meg: "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." — Romans 8:28 ( KJV)

L'Engle's liberal Christianity is unsettling to some. This novel is on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000 at number 22.

Notable quote

"Like and equal are not the same thing at all!" Meg's thoughts on seeing the anti-individualism on the planet Camazotz.

Other books in the series

L'Engle has written three other books featuring this generation of the Murry family. Listed in order of the internal chronology of the series:

  • A Wind in the Door ( 1973) ISBN 0-374-38443-6
  • Many Waters ( 1986) ISBN 0-374-34796-4
  • A Swiftly Tilting Planet ( 1978) ISBN 0-374-37362-0

See also: List of L'Engle's works for other related books.

Concerning A Wrinkle in Time

  • Scholastic BookFiles: A Reading Guide to A Wrinkle in Time ISBN 0-439-46364-5
  • Chase, Carole F. Suncatcher: A Study of Madeleine L'Engle and Her Writing, pg. 170. Innisfree Press, 1998, ISBN 1-880913-31-3

Audio book

An unabridged four cassette audio edition, read by the author, was released in 1994 by Listening Library, ISBN 0-8072-7587-5.

Television movie

In 2003, a television adaptation of the novel was made by Disney. The movie was directed by John Kent Harrison, and the teleplay was written by Susan Shilliday. Among the many differences between the book and the movie are different first names for Meg's parents, and implied identification of Dr. Murry's co-worker Hank (a character barely mentioned in the book) as The Man with the Red Eyes. More significantly, religious elements of the novel are largely omitted. For example, the name of Jesus is not mentioned as one who fought against evil; and when Mrs. Whatsit asks Charles Wallace to translate the song of the centaur-like creatures on Uriel, he simply says "it's about joy".

The film was subsequently released on DVD. The special features included deleted scenes, a "behind the scenes" segment, and a "very rare" interview with Madeleine L'Engle who discusses the novel.


  • Katie Stuart as Meg Murry
  • Gregory Smith as Calvin O'Keefe
  • David Dorfman as Charles Wallace Murry
  • Chris Potter as Dr. Jack Murray
  • Kyle Secor as the Man With Red Eyes
  • Sean Cullen as the Happy Medium
  • Sarah-Jane Redmond as Dr. Dana Murray
  • Kate Nelligan as Mrs Which
  • Alison Elliott as Mrs Who
  • Alfre Woodard as Mrs Whatsit
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