Friday, February 10, 2012

Re-Reading Wrinkle (Chapter 2, Mrs. Who)

I love how Madeleine does so much with so little. The entire chapter is entitled "Mrs. Who" but we really only spend time with her for two or three pages near the end. But what delightful pages! And what a character!

I've always loved Mrs. Who. She's so memorable in so many ways. Her glasses, her quaint voice, her facility with languages, the way she speaks in epigrams and quotations. As a young reader, I was fascinated that she spoke in quotes, and felt a little bit in awe of all those different languages spilling over the pages. It took me a number of years, and a number of re-reads, before it dawned on me how brilliant that bit of characterization was. It showed both an encyclopedic range of knowledge/memory and a struggle to verbalize in the "local dialect." These three ladies are struggling to fit in/adapt to their new environment, a recurring theme for L'Engle (here and elsewhere). It mirrors the kids' struggle to do the same thing. That theme of "not fitting in" is one reason why I loved her work as a teenager.

And speaking of "not fitting in" we get more intimations of otherness when Charles lets Calvin know Mother's "not one of us" and Meg's "not really one thing or the other." Those lines still make my skin prickle, and even after multiple re-reads I'm not always sure precisely what Charles Wallace means. Just how different is he, and how does he know how different he is?

I also enjoy how Madeleine uses "stock props" and stands them on their heads. In the first chapter, it was that war horse opening line "It was a dark and stormy night." In this chapter, it's the haunted house...which isn't really scary at all because the three Mrs. Ws are just making it look haunted for their own amusement.

The moment that moves me most here is probably when we meet Calvin, that brilliant, awkward, courteous boy. He and Charles are enough "alike" in their differences to hit it off immediately, but he kindly tries to direct his conversation toward Meg as much as Charles, a tiny bit of characterization that made me love him almost immediately.

As for lines I love ~ "He wasn't my idea, Charlsie, but I think he's a good one." That's Mrs. Who speaking about Calvin. What a wonderful sense of call behind the line. This is just one way that L'Engle lets us know the children have been chosen for the adventure/rescue mission on which they're about to embark.


Edna said...

I'm enjoying this, you going over one of my very favorite books. I really really like Calvin. Is this where he tells Meg to put her glasses back on b/c he doesn't want anyone else to know she has gorgeous eyes?

Beth said...

Edna, so glad you're enjoying it! I've been trying to pick up the pace but am only managing about a chapter a week so far.

I love that scene with Calvin and Meg too. It's coming up in Chapter 3 (my notes currently in draft!) so stay tuned.