A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel

Wrinkle-in-Time-CoverMadeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time is a classic work of literature, combining science fiction, fantasy, and themes of acceptance, love, and self-worth. Originally published in 1962, this book gives readers a strong heroine, explores physics and time travel, and never talks down to its readers. I grew up with A Wrinkle in Time, cheering on Meg Murry, identifying with her awkwardness, and dreaming of beings like Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which.

A Wrinkle in Time is a title that sparks discussion about literary merit, readability, and its place in the history of children’s literature. I’m regularly surprised at how often it divides many adult readers—those who loved it as a child and still do, those who never understood its appeal and still don’t, and those who are devastated that a beloved childhood classic didn’t hold up to rereading. All this is to say that Hope Larson’s graphic novel adaptation may come with some additional baggage for older readers.

Larson’s retelling doesn’t much deviate from L’Engles original story. Meg Murry is the stubborn, self-conscious daughter of two scientists. Her father has been missing for more than a year and Meg suspects his disappearance has something to do with his work. When an old woman, Mrs. Whatsit, visits Meg and her family on a dark and stormy night, it sets in motion a journey for Meg, her gifted five-year-old brother Charles Wallace, and her new-found friend, Calvin O’Keefe. Traveling across the universe and through time, the children encounter celestial beings and a source of pure evil that holds Meg’s father hostage. Only by embracing their faults and recognizing their strengths do the children overcome the force known as IT. (I’m assuming that, when a book has been out for more than fifty years, it’s okay to talk a little about the ending.)

One of Wrinkle’s strengths is L’Engle’s writing. She didn’t shy away from explaining scientific theories in a story aimed at children. Her characters are flawed, realistic, and inspiring. So how does the writing translate in graphic novel format? Actually, fairly well. Larson is faithful to the original work, and her depiction of Meg shows her as strong-willed, passionate, and often frustrated, while allowing readers to see her from outside her own perspective. We get less of her direct self-loathing, which can be a little overbearing. Readers are constantly reminded of Meg’s quick temper by the smudged bruise on her cheek. Larson’s characters, though slightly exaggerated, clearly convey a wide range of feelings, such as longing, outrage, wonder, sadness, and joy.

The format also lends itself to some of Wrinkle’s more nebulous concepts. Celestial beings and aliens inhabit L’Engles’ story, but they can be difficult to visualize when only described on the page. Larson gives readers an Aunt Beast that’s alien but comforting, without ever looking like a Wookie. The darkness known as IT is shown as inky blackness spreading across the universe, but also as row upon row of identical houses with identical people, expressing terror or fury when their pattern is broken. And the act of tessering—a form of time and space travel—is portrayed in the negative, pulling the children through darkness, breaking them apart, or passing through the coils of IT. Larson uses a three-toned palette, white, black, and blue, that sometimes feels limited in comparison to the worlds that are being depicted. And really, any time a chapter is titled “The Man with the Red Eyes”, I think you make an exception and include that color.

One area where this adaptation falls flat is the dialogue, which is faithfully dated. Meg, her family, and Calvin are all just a little too polite, too proper, and it can easily distract from the story. I grew weary of Charles Wallace, who knows too much and is drawn with a greater sense of exaggeration. His overly large eyes and expressions come across as goofy and insincere. I remember being somewhat baffled by Charles Wallace when reading L’Engle’s Wrinkle, perhaps because he was mysteriously gifted, but his gifts never seemed completely apparent. In Larson’s version, we get glimpses of Charles Wallace from a distance, where you can see his small size and better understand some of his vulnerability. But these views are rare; instead, he’s frequently depicted in close-ups and has an air of confidence that makes Meg’s apprehension seem doubly worse. Since Charles Wallace plays such a significant part in the story, his depiction has a strong impact on the overall tone of Larson’s adaptation, perhaps making it feel weaker than it deserves.

Any retelling of a classic work is going to come up against strong expectations. For those who enjoyed the original, they may miss L’Engle’s prose, which gives the dated dialogue some context. However, Larson manages to retain the spirit of Wrinkle and gives new facets to beloved characters and concepts through her artwork. Larson’s style is fluid and full of emotion, and she captures Meg perfectly, while some characters flounder. For readers who may be a bit young for L’Engle’s writing, this could be a way to introduce them to a classic story. And for those who first felt bewildered by Wrinkle, Larson’s work offers another way to read it. I greatly enjoyed revisiting a childhood favorite, even with a few flaws in the adaptation.

A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel
by Madeleine L’Engle, adapted by Hope Larson
Art by Hope Larson
ISBN: 9780374386153
Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Margaret Ferguson Books, 2012