Religion, L’Engle, and “A Wrinkle in Time”

by Patrick Hayes, dramaturg

Scholar Jean Fulton wrote, “L’Engle’s fiction for young readers is considered important partly because she was among the first to focus directly on the deep, delicate issues that young people must face, such as death, social conformity, and truth. L’Engle’s work always is uplifting because she is able to look at the surface values of life from a perspective of wholeness, both joy and pain, transcending each to uncover the absolute nature of human experience that they share.”

– “A Wrinkle in Time”. Classics of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature

Today’s blog topic looks at the religious symbolism and spiritual connection woven into A Wrinkle in Time and examines some of the reasons why L’Engle’s wrote about religion.

Personal Religious Beliefs

wrinkleMadeleine L’Engle’s fantasy works are in part highly expressive of her Christian viewpoint in a manner somewhat similar to writer C.S. Lewis. Like Lewis, her characters  events, and settings depict or loosely reference Christian ideas or characters. In her personal life, Madeleine L’Engle was an Episcopalian and believed in universal salvation–a trait not shared by main stream Christianity. On the subject she wrote that “All will be redeemed in God’s fullness of time, all, not just the small portion of the population who have been given the grace to know and accept Christ. All the strayed and stolen sheep. All the little lost ones.1” Her beliefs, like Lewis, helped to shape the world of the book. Furthermore, her views on divine punishment were similar to those of George MacDonald (1824-1905, a Scottish author, poet, and Christian minister, known particularly for his poignant fairy tales and fantasy novels.), who also had a large influence on her fictional work. L’Engle said, “I cannot believe that God wants punishment to go on interminably any more than does a loving parent. The entire purpose of loving punishment is to teach, and it lasts only as long as is needed for the lesson. And the lesson is always love.2

L’Engle’s liberal views on Christianity has been the target of criticism from more conservative Christians, especially with respect to certain elements of A Wrinkle in Time. namely the view of universal salvation as represented in Charles’s story arch. As a result of her promotion of Christian universalism and other beliefs, many Christian bookstores refuse to carry her books, which were also frequently banned from Christian schools and libraries. On the other hand, some of her most secular critics attack her work for being too religious.

A Few Religious Themes in A Wrinkle in Time

The novel contains several references to Biblical verses (in addition to quotes from various famous philosophers, poets, and playwrights). The most well-known of these is a quote from 1st Corinthians from which the book’s final chapter derives its title. Mrs. Who advises Meg, “The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called, but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty….” —1 Corinthians 1:25–28

Another major Biblical reference is the hymn of praise sung by the centaur-like beings on the planet Uriel which translates to a very close paraphrase of lines from Isaiah and the Psalms, “Sing unto the Lord a new song, and His praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein”; similarly, the alien that Meg calls ‘Aunt Beast’ quotes a line (without attribution) from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans concerning being called and justified according to God’s purpose, another line from the same is earlier cited by Meg’s father.

The theme of representing the fight of good against evil as a battle of light and darkness is a recurring one. It is reminiscent of the prologue to the Gospel of John, which is also quoted once. When the “Mrs. Ws” reveal their secret roles in the cosmic fight against “the darkness” they ask the children to name some figures on Earth (a partially dark planet) who fight the darkness. They name Jesus, and later in the discussion Buddha is named as well, along with various creative artists and philanthropists. The three women are described as ancient star-beings who act as guardian angels.3

More themes and symbolism can be found in BYU’s upcoming production. Please check back for future posts and developments on the show.

 

Sources:

1John Wilson. “A Distorted Predestination”. Sept. 1, 2003

2Christopher W. Morgan & Robert A. Peterson. Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment. p. 171.

3Hettinga, p. 26