Thursday, January 19, 2012

There is such a thing as a tesseract.

Tesser with me, if you will, to the early 1960s. An author best known for realistic fiction writes a novel with imaginary planets, dimension-busting characters with names like Mrs. Whatsit, allusions to Shakespeare and Goethe and Jesus and math, and a lot of big ideas. It gets rejected a whole bunch of times by publishers who probably think, "What is this thing?" Then it gets published, gets beloved, and wins the Newbery, not necessarily in that order.

Tesser now to the early 1990s, when I have what's probably a fairly common experience with the book. It goes something like this: "Time travel? Cool!... Wait, what is this thing?... Wow. Whoa. Wow."

One last tesser, and yes, our tessering destinations are far simpler, far more familiar, than those of Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin. At fifty, A Wrinkle in Time holds up because along with its excitement and its lovably flawed characters, it's full of ideas that can deepen readers' understanding of the world. The one that strikes me most (in this and other books by L'Engle, particularly A Wind in the Door) is that there's always more to understand. Meg and her traveling companions (and readers) may feel sorry for Aunt Beast and other inhabitants of Ixchel because they can't see, but they learn that there are ways to understand that go beyond seeing - ways not to "know what things look like... [but to] know what things are like" (181 in my edition). We don't know exactly what that means, but we know it's better.

So many meanings are possible in this idea that we don't and can't know everything. It can have spiritual meanings for some, but for just about anyone, it can bring both wonder and humility. Think about all the things we know now that no one knew in 1962. What will we understand in 2062 that none of us today can imagine?

I hope  we'll be celebrating Wrinkle's centennial then. For now, Walk the Ridgepole wishes it a hearty Happy Fiftieth!