The release of the movie made me want to revisit this book which I have not read since I was a child. This trip down memory lane was fun, though with the eyes of an adult I can see flaws I would not have seen as a child.
The main theme is the tried and true good versus evil. Christian philosophy is used frequently to highlight the ongoing struggle against darkness, manifested here as an actual tangible substance. The writer makes a comment about the evils of conformity, illustrating a completely ‘dark’ planet as one where the individual gives up their identity and free will to the control of another. It reminds me of the phrase ‘the banality of evil’, stated by the author Hannah Arendt to describe a Nazi war criminal. The idea is that evil is completely unoriginal, and this is shown on the planet Camasotz, where everyone goes about their mundane activities in exactly the same way, with no deviation to be tolerated. In a sense, evil is boring. It also reminded me of the idea that people give up freedom for security. You can’t get more secure than a world where nothing ever changes and someone else does all your thinking for you.
The method of space travel is based on a scientific concept of folding space, though the way this is done (through some unspecified technique or power of the beings involved) is pure fantasy. The word ‘tesseract’ is used to describe this. In geometry, a tesseract is a four dimensional representation of a cube. “The tesseract is to the cube as the cube is to the square” *(thank you, Wikipedia!) The novel states that the fourth dimension is time, and the characters refer to their interstellar travelling as tessering. It’s a fun and innovative use of a mathematical concept as a hook on which to hang a story.
Character development is limited, unfortunately. The different characters are quite two-dimensional in their development. The children’s mother, though described as a scientist, is a stay at home mum with the kids while dad is off having the real adventures. The children are not much better, and the depiction of the genius child, Charles Wallace (and why is his middle name always used?) is spectacularly unrealistic. The witches/aliens/angels are somewhat better, if only because their tendency to cliché (Mrs Whatsit? Really?) can be put down to their essential alienness. The fact that it is a children’s book is not an excuse for failure to develop your characters. That being said, I don’t think it is so extreme that the target audience would be alienated too badly (though I have a vague recollection of being very dubious about the character of Charles Wallace when I was child).
I won’t put in spoilers by describing the climax and resolution, but most adult readers would struggle not to find it corny. I don’t think it would bother a child reader though, and I think the moral of the story is a good one.
With all the nasty things children can be exposed to these days, I would recommend “A Wrinkle in Time” as a quality and suitable children’s book.