Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 novel A Wrinkle in Time is an impossible book to classify. Is it a science fiction book? A fantasy? Can a children’s book explore complicated, cosmic questions? The qualities that make A Wrinkle in Time so special are also why it was rejected by 26 publishing houses before Farrar, Straus, and Giroux finally gave it a chance, why it took decades to be adapted into a movie – and why the book has been banned so frequently.
In the book, Meg Murry is a frazzled teenage girl who’s pulled into an intergalactic adventure after her father, Mr. Murry, goes missing. Three cosmic beings, Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Whatsit, arrive at her doorstep, and explain the dire situation facing the universe. The Dark Thing, a force of great evil, covers parts of the universe — including the planet where Meg's father is trapped. The three guardian beings transport Meg, her brother Charles Wallace, and her friend, around the stars by way of tesseracts, a nifty way of space travel. Eventually, Meg is able to liberate her father, and save her brother from the clutches of the Dark Thing using the force of love.
A Wrinkle in Time interweaves science (tesseracts are explained using particle physics and geometry) with fantasy (there are space centaurs). But L’Engle’s Christian values form the spine of the book. L’Engle was a devout Episcopalian, and a writer in residence at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in Manhattan. Once you know to look out for religious references they’re all over the book. Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Whatsit call themselves "messengers of God.” Aliens on the planet Uriel sing a song inspired by the Book of Daniel. Mrs. Who quotes Jesus.
But there’s one specific passage that represents L’Engle’s particular perspective on Christianity’s place in the world. At one point, when explaining forces that have fought the Dark Thing, Mrs. Whatist says, "Some of our best fighters have come right from your own planet...You can be proud that it's done so well." She lists Jesus, Gandhi, Einstein, and the Buddha as some of Earth's “best fighters.” In L’Engle’s mind, Christianity could happily coexist with science and other religions.
“To be truly Christian means to see Christ everywhere, to know him as all in all,” L’Engle wrote in her book Walking on Water. “I don’t mean to water down my Christianity into a vague kind of universalism, with Buddha and Mohammed 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!”
A Wrinkle in Time has faced controversy for being too Christian and for not being Christian enough. The book's "New Age" content was constantly critiqued. In 1985, A Wrinkle in Time was challenged at an elementary school in Polk City, Florida when a parent claimed the book promoted witchcraft. But its use of Christian allusions didn't sit right in some schools, either. In 1990, parents at a school district in Alabama thought the book conflated Jesus Christ with other historical figures, and represented God incorrectly. "The complainant objected to the book's listing the name of Jesus Christ together with the names of great artists, philosophers, scientists, and religious leaders when referring to those who defend earth against evil," the challenge read. Then, in 1996, the book was challenged in North Carolina because a parent thought it “undermined” religious beliefs.
“It seems people are willing to damn the book without reading it,” L’Engle told The New York Times in 2001. “Nonsense about witchcraft and fantasy. First I felt horror, then anger, and finally I said, ‘Ah, the hell with it.’ It’s great publicity, really.”
Ultimately, A Wrinkle in Time is about the battle between Good and Evil. Just like the book can’t be classified into a single genre, it can’t be boiled down into any one philosophy. For all its controversy, A Wrinkle in Time remains a fixture on elementary and middle school reading lists for a good reason: The thought-provoking novel challenges young readers to expand their conception of the universe.