Madeleine LEngle (1918-2007) was the Newbery Medal-winning author of more than 60 books, including the much-loved A Wrinkle in Time. Born in 1918, LEngle grew up in New York City, Switzerland, South Carolina and Massachusetts. Her father was a reporter and her mother had studied to be a pianist, and their house was always full of musicians and theater people. LEngle graduated cum laude from Smith College, then returned to New York to work in the theater. While touring with a play, she wrote her first book, The Small Rain, originally published in 1945. She met her future husband, Hugh Franklin, when they both appeared in The Cherry Orchard. Upon becoming Mrs. Franklin, LEngle gave up the stage in favor of the typewriter. In the years her three children were growing up, she wrote four more novels. Hugh Franklin temporarily retired from the theater, and the family moved to western Connecticut and for ten years ran a general store. Her book Meet the Austins, an American Library Association Notable Children's Book of 1960, was based on this experience. Her science fantasy classic A Wrinkle in Time was awarded the 1963 Newbery Medal. Two companion novels, A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet (a Newbery Honor book), complete what has come to be known as The Time Trilogy, a series that continues to grow in popularity with a new generation of readers. Her 1980 book A Ring of Endless Light won the Newbery Honor. LEngle passed away in 2007 in Litchfield, Connecticut.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS AND ACTIVITIES
1. The opening sentence of Edward George Bulwer-Lyttons novel Paul Clifford, published in 1830,
begins with the phrase: “It was a dark and stormy night….” Often considered the worst opening
line in literature, writers, including the beagle Snoopy, have attempted in jest to begin their
stories with the same line. When Madeleine LEngles children would ask her to tell a story, she
would always begin with “It was a dark and stormy night….” So it was no surprise that she would
use it to begin her novel and send you on the journey to A Wrinkle in Time.
Now its your turn to take a stab at it. Write a story of your own that begins with “It was
a dark and stormy night….” See who in your class can write the best of the worst. And have fun
The fun doesnt have to stop there. Since 1982, the English department at San Jose State
University has sponsored the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest that challenges entrants to compose the
opening sentence to the worst novel. Anyone can enter, so why not give it a chance? You can get all
the information at: http://www.bulwer-lytton.com/.
2. Meg and Charles Wallace meet Calvin OKeefe by chance on their way to see Mrs Whatsit. Calvin
says: “Maybe we werent meant to meet before this, I mean I knew who you were in school and
everything, but I didnt know you.”
Calvin believes that they were fated to meet this way. What about you? Do you believe in fate?
Do you have a friend about whom you feel this way—someone you feel is just supposed to be in
your life? Do people meet for the first time because they are fated to? Discuss the development of
Megs and Calvins fate throughout A Wrinkle in Time.
3. The relationship between Meg and Charles Wallace is a very special one. He can sense what she
Is feeling, and she knows that whatever her faults are, at least he loves her dearly. It was Megs
love for her brother that rescued him from the powers of IT. Is this like sibling relationships in
other books youve read? What kind of relationships do you have with your siblings?
4. Meg and her mother discuss Charles Wallace:
Meg: “Charles Wallace understand more than the rest of us, doesnt he?”
Mrs. Murry: “Yes…I suppose because hes—well, because hes different, Meg….Charles Wallace is
what he is. Different. New … Charles Wallaces difference isnt physical. Its in his essence.”
What does their mother mean that his essence is different? What are the characteristics that
make him different? Everyone has their own uniqueness. Do you and your friends see this as a
negative characteristic or a positive one? Every class has a kid like Charles Wallace. How is he/she
treated by the others? Is there a little bit of Charles in you?
5. The people who live in Megs town have a dim view of her and Charles Wallace. “Ive heard that
clever people of often have subnormal children,” Meg had once overhead. “The two boys seem
to be nice, regular children, but that unattractive girl and the baby boy certainly arent all there.”
Were these observations justified? Is it right for people to judge others that way? How did their
perceptions of Meg affect the way she felt and acted? How did it affect Charles Wallace? How are
you affected by others perceptions of you?
6. It [her fathers hair] was pushed back from his shoulders, so that he looked like someone from
another century or a shipwrecked sailor.
She [Meg] had been so certain that the moment she found her father everything would be all
right…all the problems would be taken out of her hands…. Instead…Her adored father was
bearded and thin and white and not omnipotent after all.
Why is Meg disappointed? Were her expectations about her father reasonable? What has she
realized about him?
We all put our parents on pedestals when we are young. When did you realize that your parents
were “just human?” How did this realization change your relationship with them? How did it change
7. Mrs Who has difficulty expressing herself, so she uses quotations from classical literature and
expressions in foreign languages to articulate her views. For example, she quotes the Roman
Ab honesto virum bonum nihil deterret.” Translated from Latin, it means, “Nothing deters a
good man from doing what is honorable.”
Think about famous phrases that you know from film, music, or literature. Translate them into
foreign languages. This way, you can express yourself and confound others. The best way to
translate the expression is to find foreign language speakers, because expressions are often
idiomatic, and lose their flavor when translated word for word. Or you can try using Web sites that
will translate English into other languages. One is http://babelfish.altavista.com/tr. It can translate
words and phrases form English into almost any language and vice versa.
Make a chart, so you will have easy reference to the expressions.
Have fun and be multilingual.
8. You can follow Mrs Whos model by creating conversations using quotations. Work with a
partner to create a dialogue, or work with several friends and write a whole scene. Pick a
subject. Then go to Barletts Familiar Quotations or to Web pages to find famous quotations on
your theme. Some Web sites that will be useful are:
Youll find hundreds of quotes—from speakers as diverse as Homer, Seneca, Nietzsche, Simon
Cowell, and Homer Simpson. Virtually every topic is covered.
Put together your dialogue or scene, and perform it for your class.
9. When people band together to accomplish a specific goal, it is helpful for them to bring different
talents and abilities. This is surely the case with Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin. Mrs Whatsit
points out their differences as she gives each a little talisman:
“Calvin, your great gift is your ability to communicate, to communicate with all kinds of
people….So for you, I will strengthen it. Meg, I give you your faults.…I think youll find they come
in very handy on Camazotz.…Charles Wallace, I can only give you the resilience of your
How do their differences strengthen the “whole?” Could two of them have accomplished what
the three of them did? Why or why not? Could any one of them have done it alone? In your own
experiences, how have you worked with others to reach a common goal?
10. “You three children will be on your own. We will be near you; we will be watching you. But you
will not be able to see us or to ask us for help, and we will not be able to come to you.”
Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which set the three children off on a quest of dangerous
proportions. Why did they send them off alone? Wouldnt it have been better for them to
accompany the children and be part of the rescue? What then are the roles that Mrs Whatsit, Mrs
Who, and Mrs Which play in the novel?
11. In front of all the houses children were playing….Meg felt vaguely that something was wrong
with their play….”Look!” Charles Wallace said suddenly. Theyre skipping and bouncing in
rhythm! Everyones doing it at exactly the same moment.”
A Camazotz mother said, “Theyre all perfectly trained.”
All up and down the block, heads nodded in agreement.
Compare the behavior of the children of Camzotz with that of children from Megs hometown.
Which way of acting do you think Megs principal would prefer? Why does the principal want Meg
to conform to the other children in the school? Madeleine LEngle is making a point by creating
parallels. What do you think the authors point of view is on this subject? How else does she tell you
12. Mrs Whatsit tells the children, “…All through the universe [the Dark Thing is] being fought, all
through the cosmos…and maybe it wont seem strange that some of our very best fighters have
come right from your very own planet….”
Who are these fighters? What are the “weapons” these fighters have used? Are they violent?
What characteristics do they have in common? Who from historical times would you add to the list
of enemies of the Dark Thing? Make a list of contemporary people who exhibit the same traits as
those mentioned in the book. How have they been fighting the Dark Thing?
13. Why does Meg come to the realization that she is the only one who can save Charles Wallace?
Compare this to other stories you know from literature or film where the main character has to
complete the quest alone.
14. Madeleine LEngle built aspects of A Wrinkle in Time on science, mythology, and religion. For
example, the hymn intoned by the creatures on the planet Uriel. Find references in the novel
that illustrate these connections.
15. A Wrinkle in Time straddles two literary genres. The quest that Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin
are on, for example, links the novel to fantasy. Tessering links it to science fiction. Find other
aspects of the novel that connect it to one or the other of these forms. Compare A Wrinkle in
Time to other books, films, and televisions shows that fall into one or the other category. For
fantasy, consider The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. For science fiction, think about Star
Trek and Star Wars. Talk about how it stands up in comparison.
16. Writers create out of their own experiences. During the time Madeleine LEngle was writing A
Wrinkle in Time, the world was a very unsettled place. The United States and the Soviet Union
were embroiled in a Cold War where democracy and individual freedom of expression were
threatened by totalitarianism and collectivism. Fear pervaded everyones thinking. This was the
backdrop that influenced the writing of the book. Discuss how that atmosphere is expressed in
the novel. What elements of political ideology are reflected in how Camazotz is controlled by IT?
When the Cold War ended in the 1990s, did its dangers end with it? If Madeleine LEngle were
writing the book today, what political realities would be the major influences on its writing?
17. Mrs Whatsits explanation of tessering is similar to the concept of wormholes, the favored
method of travel in many science fiction movies and literature. Putting it simply, traveling
through a wormhole provides a quick way to travel the astronomical distances of space without
the passage of time. Is this possible according to modern physics? What would Einstein think of
tessering? Can tessering be explained by Einsteins special theory of relativity? Do some
First, look into time travel and Einsteins theory to see if its theoretically possible. Then
look into wormholes. Do they have any scientific basis, or is it what Mrs Who might say in
quoting William Shakespeare, “Such stuff that dreams are made on?” Ask your friends what they
think. Take a poll and survey the school.
Web sites that will be useful to you are:
18. On the summit of a tall mountain, Mrs Whatsit shows the children a shadow high above the
clouds which encircles the mountain.
It was a shadow, nothing but a shadow. It was not even as tangible as a cloud.…
What could there be about a shadow that was so terrible that she [Meg] knew there had never
been before or would be again anything that would chill her with a fear that was beyond
shuttering, beyond crying or screaming, beyond the possibility of comfort?
What is that shadow, that Dark Thing? In the context of the story, how does the Dark
Thing manifest itself? Will its effect on Earth be the same as it is on Camazotz, or will it appear
as another kind of evil?
You can look at the Dark Thing as a metaphor. There have been evils throughout history
that have plagued mankind. What are some examples of mans inhumanity to man? Look at
todays newspaper. What are the modern “shadows” that threaten society and individuality?
19. Mrs Whatsit compares human lives to that of a sonnet. The sonnet has strict rules. Fourteen
lines of iambic pentameter, but with that form, the poet can say whatever he wants to. “Youre
given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you.”
This statement of free will is at the core of the novel. Discuss the notion of free will. How free
are we to make choices for our own lives? What restrictions do we face: physical, parental, societal,
legal, and religious? Is there any society in which freedom of personal choice is absolute?
20. The quest to save Megs father and subsequently Charles Wallace was a success, but the Dark
Thing still looms heavily over Earth. What will happen next? Will the Dark Thing ever be
defeated? Try your hand in writing a sequel. Then read the books that complete the Time
Quintet by Madeleine LEngle:
A Wind in the Door
A Swiftly Tilting Planet
An Acceptable Time