by Madeleine L’Engle
Meg Murry doesn’t really fit in for a lot of reasons. She has a quick temper, she’s stubborn, and though she excels at math and science, her attitude in school gets her in trouble constantly. She doesn’t particularly care about that. She does care about her youngest brother, Charles Wallace. Though he’s too young for school, he also shows a peculiar aptitude that has already marked him as different. Moreover, Charles Wallace and Meg’s father has been missing for 4 years. They believe wholeheartedly that he will return, but they have no sign of when or how that might happen. Until a dark and stormy night when one of Charles Wallace’s new friends stops by for a visit. Mrs. Whatsit recently moved to the outskirts of town, along with Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which. They heard a call from Mr. Murry out in the universe, and will take the children to rescue him. Along with Calvin O’Keefe, an older classmate of Meg’s, the group tessers across the universe by wrinkling space and time. They discover the monstrous power of darkness, and of IT, has been holding their father captive. Facing their fears and their faults, the children strive to become warriors of light to rescue Mr. Murry from the darkness.
“A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle is a classic children’s novel originally published in 1960 that still makes regular appearances in classrooms across the country. The writing is ideal for its young adult audience because the plot moves quickly, maintaining a pace of adventure that keeps the pages turning. L’Engle does not underestimate her audience, and sprinkles the story with scientific and linguistic challenges that stretch the mind as well as what’s possible. By casting Charles Wallace as the youngest and sharpest character in the story and giving him the love and protection of his sister, L’Engle gives permission for young kids to embrace their differences without regard to the potential social cost. Indeed, her story tells us that the social consequences don’t matter because the people who do matter will always stick with us. L’Engle also teaches a valuable lesson by hinging a critical plot point on Meg’s ability to accept her faults. The imagery of overcoming darkness with light stands as a versatile metaphor applicable to grief, anger, morality, trust, and countless other themes throughout the book and in life. This novel stands the test of time and remains relevant for readers of all ages and generations.
As much as I love the themes and lessons throughout the book, I distinctly recall this novel being my first introduction to psychological thrillers. Not that this book even remotely fits that category, but the menacing darkness and overwhelming power of IT were pretty scary as a kid. Not to mention the man with the red eyes. The fantasy and possibilities mostly make up for that. As an adult reading the novel now, I can almost finish it in one sitting. Highly recommended for all readers.
By Philip Pullman
Across all the different worlds, Dust has been changing over the past 300 years, and the worlds themselves have been changing rapidly ever since Lord Asriel tore the sky open. Forces gather from the different realms in preparation for a massive battle that seems to center on the fate of Dust, and the fate of the ultimate Authority, God himself. While the opposing sides marshal their battle strategies, life goes on. Mary Malone finds herself in the world of the mulefa, who depend on the giant seed pods that have recently begun to dwindle in number, threatening their survival as a species. Will and Lyra wander among worlds in search of the land of the dead and Lyra’s friend Roger. Mrs. Coulter follows her own agenda that leads her to Lord Asriel, back to the church, and even to the clouded mountain where the Authority lives. Meanwhile, Lord Asriel maintains a singular focus preparing for battle with the Authority. Somehow, all of these efforts center on Lyra and her freedom to make choices. A prophecy says she will be led into temptation, and her decision ultimately determines the fates of Dust, the Authority, and all the different worlds.
“The Amber Spyglass” by Philip Pullman is the third novel in His Dark Materials series, preceded by “The Golden Compass” and “The Subtle Knife.” Pullman crafts a narrative that spreads across all three novels, building through each story and adding layers of complexity and understanding. Even the titles themselves reflect on this progression: Lyra is gifted the alethiometer in the first story, Will gains ownership of the subtle knife in the second story, and Mary builds the amber spyglass in the third story. Each device facilitates the ability of the characters, and subsequently the readers, to understand a bit more about both the forces that impact their lives and how they can impact the world around them. As the culmination of the storyline, “The Amber Spyglass” moves at a rapid pace to keep up with the discoveries of the different characters. Chapters are shorter and skip around between different characters, giving roughly a real-time account of what happens to different characters in their different worlds. Pullman also adds an element to the reading experience by beginning each chapter with a quote, offering paratext that foreshadows the coming chapter. “The Amber Spyglass” is a relentless and enthralling culmination to the series.
This book is long, but moves quickly. Although I tried to slow down more to contemplate Dust and all the various implications of Dust, I was pulled by the story and still probably missed a few things. I also probably missed some of the metaphors between His Dark Materials and Christianity/various biblical stories. Even without catching every last nuance, this novel and the series are highly engaging. It offers a fantastic perspective on what is possible, with an emphasis on subversion, deceit, and independence. I highly recommend not only reading this book, but the entire series. After reading the first two, it’s almost impossible not to read this one.