Elizabeth Wilhide, whose debut novel ASHENDEN releases on January 8th, remembers A WRINKLE IN TIME as a Christmas gift that she loved and cherished as an 11-year-old. The book has traveled countless miles, and to Elizabeth’s utter delight, the original hardcover copy she received was spotted recently on her adult son’s bookshelves.
It was dark, I was in bed and I was supposed to be asleep. Instead, I was reading under the covers. Outside in the hallway I could hear my parents come and go. I hoped they wouldn’t notice the light under my door. I turned another page. Then another. My heart was in my mouth.
I was 11 years old.
For the first time I was experiencing what I have often experienced since, which was the itch to read on --- at any cost! --- and an equally strong desire not to, because I didn’t want the book to end. Not ever.
The book was A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeleine L’Engle.
My mother was a teacher and her best friends, Mary and John, were also teachers. Mary taught elementary school and John taught teachers. Childless themselves, they were our unofficial godparents and always sent us books for Christmas and birthdays. They were also connections to a life we had left behind when we moved from Baltimore in the late 1950s to a small town in Canada.
When I look back on the book they gave me that year, I recognize how much it reflected their attitude to learning. A WRINKLE IN TIME, which was rejected by 26 publishers before finding a home at Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 1962, has among its themes and references: quantum physics, quotations from great philosophers and writers (in their original languages), love and longing, family and loss. Very little of the story takes place on Earth, but it’s not really science fiction. It’s not a typical children’s book, either. It doesn’t talk down. Instead, it makes you think and grow and feel.
I loved the book so much that I lent it to my friend, Gordon, who lived next door. And, after he read it, we told our seventh-grade teacher, Mr Kerr, that we understood Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. To Mr. Kerr’s eternal credit, he didn’t laugh.
Fast forward 30-odd years. The light is low. I am sitting on a chair in the middle of a bedroom in London reading aloud. I have reached the chapter where the children on Camazotz are bouncing balls and skipping ropes in unison. My daughter is holding her breath.
Fast forward to now. I have located my copy of A WRINKLE IN TIME on my grown-up son’s bookshelves. There are a lot of books in this house, and it’s taken me a while (and my daughter’s perfect visual recall) to find it. The title on the spine is almost worn off. The covers are marbled and self-effacing. But in the way of good American hardbacks, the pages are deckled and so soft.
This book has traveled many miles. It has been mailed from Baltimore to Canada; it has voyaged across the Atlantic to the Netherlands, then to Belgium, and hopped across the Channel to Britain. Along the way it has shed its dust jacket, gone who knows where. I look up the book on Wiki, and there is the original cover art by Ellen Raskin. Oh yes, I remember that! And the shiny coppery circle of the John Newbery Medal.
Thank you, Mary and John.