Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Wrinkle in Time

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of A Wrinkle in Time (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012).

The years have not been too kind to Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, which is the sort of thing that happens to any book as influential as this was. It was first published in 1962 and it's been ripped off ever since. Sometimes, they're at least kind of quasi-original about what they're trying to accomplish - what are wormholes and stargates if not renamed tesseracts with extra rules and sounds-good-enough physics? - but other times, sci-fi melodrama has just pilfered L'Engle whole. When I reread Charles Wallace's takeover by IT, I was reminded of so many identical scenarios in so many places that the impact of the original was blunted. Only steal, they say, from the best.

Technically, I didn't reread L'Engle, but last year's comic adaptation of the novel by Hope Larson. Running to an expansive 392 pages, it seems to cover all of the book's events quite accurately. Larson updates the characters to modern design, which prompts the question in my mind anyway about how timeless this story really is. The children are incredibly naive, which, in 1962, they certainly would have been. The conformist world controlled by IT really was a strange and frightening place then, and our young heroes would have never seen anything like it. Characters sent there from the modern day, however, would have seen the same or weirder on the Simpsons' Halloween episodes. What is Ned-world from the time-traveling toaster installment if not this place? And, as such, modern kids would know darn well not to attempt what Charles Wallace does. That might have worked in '62, but no way does a contemporary kid do that; they've seen cartoons and know this won't end with anything but possession.

That's how innovative A Wrinkle in Time was. Everything from Doctor Who to Fairly Oddparents has this story in its DNA. My only complaint with Larson's adaptation, therefore, is the apparently modern setting. Otherwise, she does a really satisfying job with it, and even though time has dulled its impact, it's still a good read, whether in prose or panels. Recommended, especially if you can get it into a kid's hands before they absorb everything that came later.

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