Friday, February 24, 2012

Re-Reading Wrinkle (Chapter 3, Mrs. Which)

Talk about an entrance! Mrs. Which doesn't arrive until the final page of the chapter that bears her name, but when she does, there can no longer be any doubt in the reader's mind that something unusual is going on. Even if you had been thinking these three ladies were just gentle eccentrics up until now, the fact that Mrs. Which has to materialize gives you a very big clue that we're dealing with non human beings. Not to mention that Madeleine slyly slips in a bit of information during Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Who's bickering -- to the effect that Mrs. Who is a few "paltry" billion years older than the "young" Mrs. Whatsit.

I'm pretty sure that scene is where I learned the word paltry.

Most of the chapter, however, belongs to Meg and Calvin and the sweet beginning of their blooming friendship. It moves quickly in the direction of romance, but somehow that element manages to feel utterly innocent. There's a delightful old-fashioned quality in Calvin that nourishes that sense in all their interactions. You get the feeling that these are two very bright, very lonely teenagers who almost immediately feel like best friends and possible soul-mates.

The beginning friendship also provides L'Engle with a natural way to provide some very necessary exposition. We've known from the earlier chapters that Meg's scientist father is away from home for some mysterious reason, but now the whole story comes spilling out in response to Calvin's gentle questions. Her father has been doing "Top Secret" (love the caps!) work for the government and has somehow disappeared whilst on a dangerous mission. We no sooner learn that then Charles Wallace interrupts the conversation in great excitement to let the older kids know he thinks it's time to go. When Meg asks him where, he says he's not sure, but he thinks it's to find their father. A good place for a dramatic music cue!

A lot of moments in this chapter move me. Charles asking Calvin to read to him, and then choosing Genesis for his bedtime reading. Meg's mother helping Calvin to realize just how bright Meg is in math -- but then letting it slip that Meg still likes to play with her doll's house. (Mother! Meg shrieked in agony...a line that always makes me grin.) Calvin encouraging Meg to cry and then telling her she has "dream-boat eyes." When I was twelve, that always made me swoon.

More lines I love: when Meg is worrying about Charles Wallace saying she's not really "one thing or the other" (see, I'm not the only person that worries about that one) and Calvin, in a totally pragmatic and affectionate way says "Oh, for crying out're Meg, aren't you? Come on and let's go for a walk." Another lovely bit comes when Calvin shares about his own rather messed-up family and then says, quite simply, "You don't know how lucky you are to be loved." Loving and being loved, as it turns out, are the underlying themes of this whole story.

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