rockinlibrarian: (tesseract)
In case you haven't seen it, the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly is devoted to "All-Time Greatest" lists. Sure, everyone's got all-time greatest lists, and such lists are always open to passionate debate and sometimes straight-up ire. But what I like about these particular lists-- I bought the hard copy, for reasons that may soon become clear-- is that these aren't, necessarily, the SAME OLD titles, lists made up of Mark Twain's definition of classics: "books everyone praises but nobody reads." For one example, Sgt. Pepper isn't ANYWHERE on the Albums list-- SHOCK!-- instead the number one album is Revolver-- which I could have told you is REALLY the Beatles' definitive album, though Sgt. Pepper gets all the attention. (For the record, the albums list also includes Abbey Road, the White Album, and Rubber Soul-- I WOULD have been super annoyed if they'd left Abbey Road off the list. MASTERPIECE, I SAY). The people who made these lists didn't CONSULT OTHER LISTS, in other words.

They're also one of the LEAST SNOBBISH lists I've ever seen (as compiled by critics, not fan votes). There's no separation between what is considered "ART" and what's considered low-brow. Genre gets its say-- not just token nods, not just the ARTSIEST expressions of genre. There's way too much rap on the best albums list for my taste, but that's about TASTE, and I've no doubt those albums deserve to be there. But most importantly, and the thing that first drew my attention to these lists:

A Wrinkle in Time is number 27 on the Novels list.

Not the "Children's Novels" list. The "Novels" list. 27.

To put this in perspective, War and Peace is number 28.

There's actually quite a few Children's or Young Adult novels on the list, and they're never brushed off as "great for a children's book." They stand firm right along with the books people get made to read in school. Harry Potter actually comes in at #7. I'm going to say that's mostly due to influence-- which is still a worthy reason. #10 is Charlotte's Web. His Dark Materials, #44. Ender's Game, author-related controversy notwithstanding, #49. And #98 is Are You There God? It's me, Margaret. (I've only just noticed that Alice's Adventures in Wonderland did not make this list, which is surely a gross oversight on their part. That one isn't a matter of opinion). (Kind of surprised The Giver isn't on there-- I've seen that one make Mostly-Grown-Up lists before).

And why ever wouldn't they be? Sure, I'm biased. But the books people read as children-- or young adults (and heck, most of those "classics" were read as teenagers in school)-- are the ones that have a profound influence on our adult tastes, ideas, dreams... whatnot. Here's a recent Buzzfeed list that sums it up. Honestly, anyone who would make a Best of list that DOESN'T include these early influences must be outright lying. They're afraid what people would think. Because children's books aren't "supposed" to be Great. They're supposed to be left behind. But this is silly. " A tree grows because it adds rings: a train doesn’t grow by leaving one station behind and puffing on to the next," as C.S. Lewis described it. (C.S. Lewis was always so SENSIBLE about "children's vs. adults'"). They're the FOUNDATION that everything else builds upon.

Well, if I wasn't sick and incredibly-busy-anyway, I'd probably dig into the lists further, comment on all the things I've seen and not seen and hated and whatnot. But I AM sick, and I DO have a lot to do even if I wasn't sick, so I'm not sitting here any longer.
rockinlibrarian: (tesseract)
The Madeleine L'Engle fangroup on FB and Twitter just shared this lovely review and defense of A Wrinkle In Time as a Frequently Challenged and/or Banned Book. It's made me nostalgic for the Year of the Tesseract. But there's no time limit on analyzing great books, now, is there? I don't know about you, but now I want to go back and reread all my posts in my Year of the Tesseract series JUST BECAUSE.

I'm not being weirdly self-promoting, here. I'm just genuinely THIS IS SO FUN -ing.
rockinlibrarian: (tesseract)
Ladies and gentlemen, 94 years ago today, a baby girl was born in New York City, who would grow into the woman I named my daughter after. Such an event cannot be taken lightly, oh no, particularly not when this IS The Year Of the Tesseract. (I KNOW. I haven't written one of those posts in ages. I apologize profusely if you only started following me for that and now I barely write about books AT ALL).

Madeleine L'Engle is one of those writers who, if you want examples of people who had Perfectly Ordinary Childhoods and Grew Up to be Great Writers to inspire you, you shouldn't compare yourself to. Of my favorite authors, Diana Wynne Jones has everyone beat for weird childhoods, but Madeleine comes close. Her parents were well off but not particularly happy (shades of Camilla). She spent most of her childhood in boarding schools, including one in Switzerland (like in And Both Were Young). Her father was a foreign correspondent, so when she WAS with her family, they were often traveling-- besides NYC and Switzerland, she also lived in Florida and South Carolina before she was grown (a bit like the Murrys and the Murry-O'Keefes, no? Except science, not foreign correspondence). She felt awkward and had trouble in school even though she was smart (like Meg), and she wrote from a young age (like Vicky).

Adulthood was no more Ordinary. She got a job in theater in NYC, working backstage and playing bit parts, with the idea that this actually counted as a steady day job to support her writing habit. In one production she caught the eye of Leading Man Hugh Franklin--in Two-Part Invention she seems a bit bewildered by that, why the Dashing Debonaire Leading Man would have any interest in a gawky "giraffe" of a bit player, although in the same book she SHOWS that HE most likely saw her as "stately" instead of giraffe-like, as he certainly was interested enough (shades here of Meg and her cluelessness about popular "jock" Calvin), and off they tumbled into courtship and marriage and unusual waking/sleeping hours. After a few years of attempting to raise kids in this theatrical Manhattan life (oh, and this was two biological kids, and one daughter of friends they adopted after said friends were suddenly killed in an accident-- a la Meet the Austins), they decided to chuck it all and buy a farm in the country, where they tried to run a general store. This didn't actually work. But the farm ended up as the model for the Murrys' house, complete with star-watching rock and snakes in the garden wall. Oh, and like the Austins, they apparently did a lot of spontaneous singing. And like Mrs.-Dr. Murry, she was often distracted by her work while attempting to, you know, provide her family with dinner-- if she'd HAD a Bunsen burner in her writing loft, they sure would have had a lot of stew.

Because of course she was writing and writing and writing this whole time, and that is, of course, the most important part. When you're not requiring her to make you dinner, anyway.

Oh, by the way, they kept the farm as a vacation house, but went back to Manhattan in the end, where she took a position as the librarian at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine. And if you want to hear about legacy, this happened today.

This book is freshly out, and you better believe it's on my Christmas list. Of course I recommend you read all the volumes of The Crosswicks Journals for more about her life as well. Her nonfiction essays are too often forgotten by people who only remember her as a writer from their childhood!

SO, remember today, in the few hours of it we have left, to celebrate the life of one Madeleine L'Engle Camp Franklin, who inspired me so deeply I'm sometimes not sure which of my thoughts are mine and which were originally hers.

(For the record, today is also the 11th Anniversary of the death of the Man Who Wrote My Favorite Song. And if you read this in time, you can watch The Greatest Tribute Concert Ever on YouTube today. Supposedly they're only going to have it up today. Which may be over already. I'm not sure what time zone's definition of "day" they're GOING by).

(Oh, and C.S. Lewis and Louisa May Alcott's birthdays, too. It's just A DAY FOR WRITERS).
rockinlibrarian: (tesseract)
This is just to let everyone who wants to chime in know that the delightful GeekMom blog is making Wrinkle their August Book Club selection. I know YOU'RE all read up (as opposed to "redd up"-- random Pittsburghese for you) and ready to join in!
rockinlibrarian: (tesseract)
*Ahem*

So, as we got closer to the end of Betsy Bird's countdown, I kind of hoped that maybe, with everyone thinking about the 50th anniversary lately, MAYBE we could pull an upset and overthrow Charlotte's Web for the top spot. So Charlotte's Web turns out to be untouchable. Oh well. Still, holding steady at #2 is good... is GREAT... is proving the POWER Wrinkle has on people.

The book has a lot of haters. It does seem pretty love-it-or-hate-it. But the love from us lovers will OVERCOME ALL, just as love overcomes all for Meg. We band together in our love-fest!

I may comment on the entire countdown again, when it's over, once I get around to it...
rockinlibrarian: (tesseract)
It's gotten to the point where, if you happen to be my LiveJournal Friend, you can't click on the blog without my entire first page being "My Tweets" imports. I try to Friendslock those posts as soon as I catch them, not because they're meant to be friends-only (you can just read my Twitter if you wanted to read what was in those posts, AND MORE, because you could read my witty replies to people too! I mean "witty" in a hopeful, probably figurative sense), but because I figure most Friends are reading on Friends pages rather than directly, so this way the posts aren't cluttering up the page for people who Just Popped By (and yet I still have record!). But my POINT is, it's time for me to POST something REAL again, obviously.

I've been planning to post something about music and mood, and how they interact particularly in MY life, but first I wanted to finish the playlist I was working on so I could use it as an example. Only I kept getting distracted LISTENING to the songs, and then one song would get in my head and make me unable to write about another song, and so on in a long series of brain confusion of this sort... and THEN I got "It's All Too Much" in my head and realized that certainly NO music-and-mood discussion would be complete without mentioning George Harrison, who wrote what is always the most COMFORTING music to me-- the sad songs are hopeful, the happy songs a little wistful, joy bubbles up in your heart listening to his musical prayers (the ones that are literal prayers as well as the ones that just ARE), and anyway I started reading this entry from last fall, about the fan letter I never sent him, and I noticed this line:

"Madeleine L'Engle's [letter] made it off safely to Farrar Strauss and Giroux and eventually into the hands of the-woman-I-was-to-name-my-daughter-after herself, who then even wrote BACK to me (which I will tell you all about sometime next year during my Year of the Tesseract celebrations)"

RIGHT! It's long since time for another Year of the Tesseract post! And what's funny is it ties into something I've been obsessing over for the past few days-- getting Real Mail.

There's just something about Real Mail, isn't there? It's so easy to send an electronic message: you see a note on the side of Facebook saying "Today is SoandSo's Birthday" and you click on over to SoandSo's profile and type "Happy Birthday, SoandSo!" which may be the only thing you have SAID to SoandSo since, well, perhaps their LAST birthday. Or you could send MASS messages out to EVERYONE. That's what most Internet posting is. A message to whomever wants to read it.

One of the teens in this library stuck a Post-it on the desk here that says "Hey from your favorite person." This amuses me, because it's so fill-in-the-blank. WHOEVER YOU, the person sitting at this desk, think is your FAVORITE PERSON, they say Hey. It could be ANYBODY! You could CHANGE who's saying hey every time you sit DOWN! How PRACTICAL!

But of course it's even less real than a Happy Birthday on Facebook. The thing about a Real Paper Letter in the Real Snail Mail is that SOMEBODY WROTE THAT JUST FOR YOU. Someone was thinking of you SO much that they TOOK the time out of their busy lives to sit down with a real pen and paper and shape the words with their own hands, TO YOU, writing your name at the top, signing their name at the bottom. They folded the paper and slipped it into an envelope, possibly even sealing the envelope with their OWN SALIVA, carefully printing out YOUR ADDRESS on the front, spending 45 of their own cents on the stamp they've stuck on the corner, walking it to the mailbox and sending it off TO YOU. Email and other electronic communication is handy, but THIS? This is personal.

Of course, if you're a public figure, you probably don't have TIME to send many such communications, certainly not to your many fans who have sent you stuff. After all, you have to, um, DO THE JOB your fans are so impressed with in the first place, on top of, you know, having a life, and there are oh so MANY fans writing to you, how could you possibly write back to ALL of them? This is why many such public figures resort to The Form Letter.

And Madeleine L'Engle was no different. But hey, I wasn't really expecting a response at ALL, and this came about ten months after I'd sent my letter (luckily a month BEFORE I moved out of that particular apartment), and the return address from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City did not (off the top of my head) give me any clues.

Inside the envelope were two pages. The first was a generic printout about Madeleine L'Engle, biography on one side, bibliography on the other, a picture in there as well. The second page was also, in the middle, a form letter, but a more specific one. I had written to her specifically about A Wrinkle in Time, how much it had inspired me, comforted me, and given me courage throughout my life. This form letter talked about the Deep Questions, how writing Wrinkle had been her way of reaching for answers, and how important it is to keep asking the Deep Questions. "There really aren't any easy answers to the very difficult questions... but we have to keep asking them, knowing that it's alright not to have the answers. Trust yourself." I suspected she had several basic form letters discussing the most common aspects of her books that people wrote to her about, and my letter fit best with this one.

But that wasn't all of it. On the top, in black felt-tip, in her handwriting, it said "Amy--" and on the bottom, in the same black felt-tip, her signature. But she also wrote in one more line, one sentence just for me: "I am also gaining courage from the stories..."

One little sentence, one little personal connection between me and a woman who'd unwittingly changed my life, the woman I would name my daughter after. I am also gaining courage from the stories.... It was a small confidence, a small bit of herself she'd chosen to share with me. She knew what I was feeling. She, who had WRITTEN these stories, still needed to be reminded sometimes of the Truth behind them. And she wanted me to know that.

I framed that page. It hung beside my desk for a long time, and then when the office became the New Madeleine's bedroom, I left it there for awhile seeing as it was from her own inspiring namesake. But then she started pulling everything down off the walls and throwing them about, and the frame broke, so I've since rescued the letter and it's now hiding again on my desk, but not displayed because there isn't a place for it. Maybe once Maddie stops violently redecorating, she can have it back up there.

Because it's a lovely letter, form-letter part of it included. "Stories don't have to be factual in order to be true," it reminds us, concluding, "We can still find hope and beauty in the world and not give up on the journey."

Thank you, ma'am, for taking the time to share with me this little bit of wisdom, this little message, just for me, sealed up and sent through the mail.
rockinlibrarian: (tesseract)
Technically this doesn't EXACTLY fit, but I'll leave you with the regular intro anyway:

Series Intro: to celebrate the 50th anniversary of my FAVORITE BOOK EVER, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, I am filling 2012 with BLOG POSTS EXPLORING EVERY POSSIBLE ASPECT OF THIS BOOK IN GREAT DEPTH. I call it the Year of the Tesseract, and you can see what I've written already by clicking the year of the tesseract tag. There WILL be spoilers for Wrinkle and possibly other books throughout. So just go read it, already. Moving on:

Today marks a special day in the Year of the Tesseract, the third anniversary of me doing something truly geeky in a permanent, life-altering way: I NAMED ONE OF MY OFFSPRING after Madeleine L'Engle. SO THERE, other people who claim to be fans!

I know lots of people don't use their kids real names on the Internet, which is sensible enough, but I went and gave my kids such DELIBERATELY PERSONALLY GEEKY names that it seems impossible not to mention it. And "Madeleine" had been my top girl's name choice for at least 8 years by that point. Because it had MEANING. My life revolved around books and writing, and here was the woman whose writing meant the MOST to me of ALL the wonderful writing in the world, and WASN'T IT NICE that she also happened to have a rather beautiful name? I mean, I also adore Lois Lowry, but I don't want to name anyone after her. No offense, everyone named Lois. Or more appropriately, everyone who ever named a child Lois.

Unfortunately, right after I realized this, the completely idiotic name "Madison" took off in popularity. No offense, everyone named Madison or everyone who ever named a child Madison. But now the market was saturated with Maddies, and I thought, OH NO. This is coming from someone with the second-most popular girls' name of the 1970s. It was kind of bothersome to always have to be "Amy M," although in my case I spent a lot of time as "the other Amy" just because the chances someone was actually talking about ME were slim.

And I did not like the idea that someone might mistakenly believe MY Maddie-- because as beautiful a name as "Madeleine" is, in practical circumstances it WILL be shortened-- might actually be a "Madison" instead. EW. NO. Mine is Madeleine, spelled just like that, the French way, and THERE'S A REASON FOR IT.

Of course, naming is a tricky business, and even though I knew my son was going to be a boy, I didn't settle on HIS name until I saw him-- and then I ended up giving him my SECOND choice boy's name, after having sworn since I was ten that I was naming my first son "James." So I didn't know-- actually, I didn't even know if this one WAS a girl-- if I wouldn't like something better when the time actually came. But the time actually came on my sister Maggie's birthday, which also happened to be my Aunt-in-Law Lynnie's birthday-- and the fact that THEIR names combined phonetically to make "Magdalene," the root of "Madeleine"-- well, IT WAS A SIGN. "If this is a girl," I said in the car on the way to the hospital, "she'll have to be Madeleine."

Which Jason remembered, because before the doctor could even say "It's a girl!" Jason said, "We have a Madeleine!"

And Maddie gets called "Madeleine" far more often than Sam gets called "Samuel" I'll tell you that (actually, Sam probably gets "Samwise" MORE than he gets "Samuel," but what). I introduce him to people as "Sam" or sometimes "Sammy," but HER I ALWAYS introduce as "Madeleine." Establish that that's her proper name, THEN shorten for practicality. Let there be no misunderstanding.

Now the frightening thing is wondering whether my Madeleine might grow up and NOT LIKE HER NAMESAKE'S BOOKS. It seems unlikely. She's an artsy soul who loves books, so possibly she will claim them quite personally. She's also extremely stubborn and purposefully contrary, so she might HATE THEM ANYWAY JUST BECAUSE, just like I refuse to acknowlege that I actually think the end of that horrible Pure Prairie League song (which is technically, by the way, called "Amie") is kind of pretty.

(Then again she's such a hilarious ham and drama queen that I sometimes refer to her as "Madeline Kahn" instead, but that's spelled differently).

So my point-- at least, I'm PRETTY sure I had one-- is I've given my daughter a built in extra-special namesake rolemodel to look up to, and it's a good one, so there. Really I guess I'm just showing off the extremity of my L'Engle geekitude. Thank you, have a nice day.
rockinlibrarian: (tesseract)
Series Intro: to celebrate the 50th anniversary of my FAVORITE BOOK EVER, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, I am filling 2012 with BLOG POSTS EXPLORING EVERY POSSIBLE ASPECT OF THIS BOOK IN GREAT DEPTH. I call it the Year of the Tesseract, and you can see what I've written already by clicking the year of the tesseract tag. There WILL be spoilers for Wrinkle and possibly other books throughout. So just go read it, already. Moving on:

Right, so originally when I was drawing up my calendar of Year of the Tesseract posts, I figured I'd devote the month of March, ie Women's History Month, to feminist issues involved with A Wrinkle In Time. And boy, is there a lot to talk about there! It was the first book they tried to tackle in the as-far-as-I-can-tell now-defunct YA Subscription blog devoted to What makes a feminist book. There's the fact that Meg was one of the few female protagonists in science fiction at the time of her creation. There's Mrs. Murry, an award-winning scientist who's also raising four children and working out of her home-- I totally wanted to be Mrs. Murry when I grew up (until I decided I didn't like math enough to go into science. I KNOW! But whatnot). There's, on the other side, people who complain about how Meg is babied compared to the males in the story (including her 5 year old brother), or how overprotective the males are of her-- but then, we've already discussed here how her GETTING PAST that is all part of her character arc. And then there's the rest of the kairos series (as Madeleine L'Engle referred to them), where we find out how Meg's future seems to go-- and most readers find themselves disappointed.

But there I'm going to get all personal on y'all for a minute. That's the only one of those essays that I came remotely close to posting IN March (and obviously missed), because I already had bits of it written, with things on my mind. And because I watched the documentary Being Elmo on PBS last night* (you'll see how that ties in in a minute), it did pop back in my mind again. So maybe I'll use this time to finally get this posted.

So let me share a moment of my life, a moment where I made a choice-- a lazy choice, but a choice that could have taken my life in a completely different direction.

It was the spring of 2000. I was student teaching, and absolutely sucking at it. I knew that my original idea-- get a job as a classroom teacher, then maybe work my way through library school-- was not going to work out, so I was considering going straight to library school after graduation after all. But for a moment I wondered if I should go a completely different route-- do something a little more drastic-- follow a vague, not very serious but definitely present dream. I was sitting in a campus computer lab and found myself looking up the website of the Sesame Workshop-- which at that time I'm pretty sure was still called Children's Television Workshop-- and checking out the careers page. And there it was-- they were accepting interns for writers.

GAH! My DREAM job was to work for Sesame Street! Why WOULDN'T I apply for an internship? Well... because I'd have to move to New York City. Away from my family. Away from my first serious boyfriend and DANG had it taken me a long time to land one of those, if I just dumped him to move to New York City-- well, how was I supposed to meet ANYONE, romantically or otherwise, in New York City? Or anywhere? I'm too shy to meet people. And where would I live? Would I be able to afford to live on whatever an Internship would pay (if it paid anything)? And what if I was just too lousy a writer to write for TV? It would be fun to build Muppets, but they were specifically NOT looking for puppet-builders or Muppeteers-- like I had a chance to be any good at that, either. No. One of the most renowned library schools in the country was less than an hour away from home. I was going the obvious route. I was staying home, and safe.

But what if I had gone? What if I had run off to New York City to pursue some wacky dream job? I would be working with a group of amazingly creative people on a project to make the world a better place. I would be in New York City, surrounded by culture and publishers and kidlit drink nights. And soon enough I WOULD have friends in the area-- one of my closest cousins works as an editor in NYC now. And heck, now I know how to make friends on the Internet.

But I didn't. I'm in a nowhere place, working part-time in a not-as-professional-as-it-could-be sort of position in an underfunded library, married to a man who has even worse luck finding work that isn't mind-numbing and physically exhausting and pays enough to let him not work EVERY SINGLE DAY, barely keeping up with two crazymaking small children (okay, I adore them, but they ARE crazymaking), popping antidepressants, and not writing. When you don't like where you are, you can't help looking back and saying "What if I had made a different choice?" But where does that get you? You didn't. You're stuck down this particular leg of the Trousers of Time and there's no climbing out of it. You have to make it work from here.

I say all this because I think, too often, people insist there IS a right or wrong answer to these sorts of life choices, when maybe there isn't. Maybe every choice comes with good points and bad points. Maybe I could have been really happy in New York City. Or maybe I would have just found something else to be depressed about, and I would have spent my life wondering what would have happened if I'd just stayed home, gone to library school, not dumped Jason.

Look, I was disappointed when I found out Meg had stepped to the background to let Calvin become the renowned scientist in her place, too. It didn't make any sense. HER parents were the great scientists. SHE tutored HIM in math. And apparently she's STILL tutoring him in the math parts of his Renowned Scientist career, now. Helping him. While she raises their ridiculously large family.

But I started to think differently about it when I read this passage in An Acceptable Time: Meg and Calvin's eldest, Polly, is talking to her grandmother about why her mother never pursued her own career. Mrs. (technically Dr.) Murry thinks it may be "probably partly because of me."
"You? Why?"
"I'm a scientist, Polly, and well known in my field."
"Well, but Mother--" She stopped. "You mean maybe she didn't want to compete with you?"
"That could be part of it."
"You mean, she was afraid she couldn't compete?"
"You mother's estimation of herself has always been low. Your father has been wonderful for her and so, in many ways, have you children. But..." Her voice drifted off.
"But you did your work and had kids."
"Not seven of them."
(p.40)

I started to wonder, wait-- was it MEG who wanted to become a scientist? Or everyone else who just ASSUMED she would want to become a scientist? Meg's a math wiz, sure. Meg knows her science because she's been raised in a household of scientists. But does she CARE about it? Not as much as other things. She doesn't want to be renowned: she wants to be loved. She wants to be accepted. She wants to live quietly and contently. Family is the most important thing in her life, to the point that she's risked her own life to rescue her father and her brother (twice, counting the events of A Wind In the Door).

I have a theory that with all the fictional couples who go on to have buttloads of children, this is just author code for "and they also had a healthy and active sex life," because there's really no other way to get away with saying that in middle grade fiction. Anne and Gilbert were another famous fictional couple who didn't seem to know when to stop with the baby-making. But when you think about it, this actually makes sense for Meg and Calvin-- they both come from large families. Meg's four-child family is big by most modern standards, but it's got nothing on Calvin's eleven-kid one. The seven kids they finally go with in their own family seems like a pretty decent compromise.

So the choice makes sense for Meg. That's what she wanted-- love and family, not renown and heroism. She didn't want to be her mother. Was it the "right" choice? Wasn't she supposed to be a liberated woman and ... follow in her mother's footsteps? (Huh. Is that what "liberated" means?) Who knows. And we may not know. Maybe it WAS the wrong choice. Maybe Meg was depressed later, wondering what she could have done differently in her life. We only really see adult Meg-- after the honeymoon period at least-- through the eyes of other people: her daughter and Adam Eddington. We don't know about her dreams or regrets. We don't know if it came and went in phases-- if she had times when she loved her life and times she wished she'd done it all differently. But I'm willing to bet that's how it is for most people-- probably how it was for Meg, too.

I read an interview with Madeleine L'Engle sometime between 2002 and 2004 that I wish I could cite directly, but in it she said she was working on, thinking about, planning to write a book about middle-aged Meg. Maybe this would have answered our questions. But that book never happened, so all we can do is project our own dreams and values on Meg, and judge accordingly.

But why do we have to judge? Why can't we let people be with their own choices? I see people argue that, oh, of COURSE it's wrong to judge REAL people for their vocational choices, but Meg is fictional and, as such, why can't she and all those other fictional characters that settle down and, ick, HAVE BABIES have been WRITTEN to make a different choice, to have built a CAREER instead? But every time someone says something like this, they're still implying that the career would have been the BETTER choice, even if they claim to believe people should make their own choices. They're still holding up this ONE PARTICULAR lifestyle as being The Best Choice, The Choice that OUGHT to be shown in fiction, the Good Role Model option.

And, okay, I'm just going to get personal here again: I DON'T NEED TO HEAR THAT ANYMORE. My depression is already too much of a struggle without people who claim to be speaking for the intellectual progressive types constantly implying that I'm DOING IT WRONG, that I SHOULD have put my career dreams over the comfort of family, that I MADE THE WRONG CHOICE all those years ago when I was too chicken to run off to New York City. Regret is no good for me! I can't take it back! I can't run away to New York City anymore. I have a family, a responsibility. Leaving them to pursue a different sort of career dream is now THE WRONG CHOICE whether or not it was the right choice originally. So can't we accept it? Can't we accept that this was the choice Meg made in the place she was then, and let her live on wherever that choice leads her?

We're all projecting. I'm obviously projecting. But so's everybody who thinks the choices of fictional characters-- or real life people-- should have been different. We're all projecting our own dreams and values on other people, real or fictional, and judging them. But it doesn't help anybody. It just makes everyone you disagree with feel like crap or think you're a jerk, depending on whether they're the sort of person who is more inclined to blame others or themselves. And the people who know where the blame really lies don't need your advice, anyway. So let's agree to disagree. Let's stop judging others for their life choices and just let them keep moving forward down whatever path they take.

*("last night" as in, "last night when I started typing this again, which is actually last Friday, now, so don't attempt to find Being Elmo on LAST night's PBS schedule")
rockinlibrarian: (tesseract)
Series Intro: to celebrate the 50th anniversary of my FAVORITE BOOK EVER, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, I am filling 2012 with BLOG POSTS EXPLORING EVERY POSSIBLE ASPECT OF THIS BOOK IN GREAT DEPTH. I call it the Year of the Tesseract, and you can see what I've written already by clicking the year of the tesseract tag. There WILL be spoilers for Wrinkle and possibly other books throughout. So just go read it, already. Moving on:

IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT: pictures under cut, for people who still read this on a friends page and can see this cut )
I APOLOGIZE THAT I CAN'T GET THE PICTURES TO DISPLAY CORRECTLY. Turn your monitor sideways when necessary.
rockinlibrarian: (tesseract)
Series Intro: to celebrate the 50th anniversary of my FAVORITE BOOK EVER, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, I am filling 2012 with BLOG POSTS EXPLORING EVERY POSSIBLE ASPECT OF THIS BOOK IN GREAT DEPTH. I call it the Year of the Tesseract, and you can see what I've written already by clicking the year of the tesseract tag. There WILL be spoilers for Wrinkle and possibly other books throughout. So just go read it, already. Moving on:

I'm supposed to hate the made-for-TV Disney movie of A Wrinkle In Time. It's my favorite book, and it's NOT a great movie. And what happened to Meg's glasses?! All true fans of the book are supposed to speak of the movie with derision. But I don't. Sure, it's no Lord of the Rings-- I don't think it's amazing cinema, nor is it a wonderfully faithful recreation of the story. But I enjoyed watching it on TV, and even got it out of the library later to watch again with bonus features. I have no hard feelings for it. So here I'd like to spell out why.

I've been trying to work out, in anticipation of this post, just why I'm more willing to accept some adaptations of favorite books than others. I think there are two factors at work. The first is RESPECT for the source material-- not strict adherence to the book, but not using the book as just a jumping off point for the movie-makers' completely separate visions, either. (This is why, while the rest of the world may gush over the lush wonderfulness of Studio Ghibli's Howl's Moving Castle, I will continue to GLARE AT IT SAVAGELY FOR DESTROYING EVERYTHING THAT MADE HOWL A UNIQUE AND INCREDIBLE CHARACTER. Thank you). The second, and possibly this includes the first as part of it, is EXPECTATION. I'm more likely to be let down by an adaptation if I expect it to be as good as the original.* But if I go in with the attitude of, Hey, let's just roll with this and see what they do, I'm more likely to have a positive experience.

And this was MADE FOR TV. By DISNEY, a studio hardly known for faithful adaptations. I did not expect much AT ALL. But I knew this much: it had to be better than the terrible filmstrip we had to watch in 6th grade, which sent my not-as-well-read classmates into cries of "That was boring!" amid my feeble protestations of "but the book was GREAT! REALLY!" So I watched more with curiosity than excitement, and discovered, perversely, quite a lot to be pleased about.

Casting, well... nearly nobody was exactly The Character in My Head-- or even close-- looks-wise, but they weren't terribly WRONG, either. Sure, I identified more with gawky bespectacled Meg, but Movie-Meg managed to capture the frustration and barely repressed rage and self-loathing that are truly and utterly Meg's as well. The movie wasn't afraid to acknowledge that Meg is actually a bit of a delinquent. And going in, I knew the casting of Charles Wallace would make or break any adaptation, because overly-intelligent young children can be really annoying and unbelievable in film (Charles Wallace in that filmstrip in 6th grade? I cringed whenever he opened his mouth)-- but this one worked. Movie-Charles Wallace came across as a supergenius who really was still five years old. Adorable, not creepy. Or annoying.

But the single greatest bit of casting was for a part so small that he wasn't even referred to by name in the movie, and technically had a different job description than he had in the book, AND YET-- wow-- I think he did his homework for the part: MR. JENKINS. If they ever decide to make A Wind in the Door they can just keep the same cast, because Mr. Jenkins was THERE in his whole self: the complex man with his own issues and insecurities underneath the image of archnemesis Meg projects on him. I completely believed that was the very same Mr. Jenkins there, trying to give Meg counseling, in just that small scene.

The other moment that made me sure SOMEBODY'D done their homework was when Calvin first meets Mrs. Murry and finds out she's a biologist. What's the first thing he says (paraphrased, it's been a few years)? "Really? I've been getting interested in starfish regeneration...." I LOVE YOU, SCRIPTWRITER. Of COURSE Calvin would have said that! One doesn't grow up to become the World's Leading Authority on starfish regeneration without having developed SOME interest in the subject in ones youth! And when meeting someone working in the same general field, one IS bound to mention such an interest (because of course he's thrilled to meet someone who will understand in the first place!). It always bugged me that Calvin grew up to be a great scientist, when he only married INTO a family of great scientists, without having shown any PARTICULAR interest in science in his youth. But there, this lovely screenwriter tied it all together with just one line.

There were a lot of little details that made me feel the scriptwriter DID, INDEED have respect for the source material. The inclusion of the starwatching rock. Mrs. Murry's home lab. For the most part I could take or leave the rest of the movie's idiosyncrasies. I kind of dug the androgynous Happy Medium, but was taken aback by Mrs Which's bright yellow dress. But I will say I did have two major problems with the movie-- two things, rather than being a simple matter of artistic leeway, I thought were handled Dead Wrong.

#1: That permanent storm in the skies of Camazotz. It's not just that it's a cheesy way to show that "This is an Evil setting." It also robs Camazotz of some of its true creepiness. In the book Camazotz is spoken of with shudders: the horror of a planet that has fallen to the Black Thing, a dangerous, deadly place where angels literally fear to tread, and you start imagining all sorts of hellish monster-laden scenarios. And then you arrive and... it looks just like Earth. More than anywhere else you've been yet on this adventure. You wander into what looks like an ordinary suburban neighborhood, and it's only gradually you realize that something here is Very Very Wrong. And how creepy could they MAKE that on film today, using digital effects and editing to make every house exactly alike, but for photoshopped-in color differences or whatnot, to make EVERY ball and EVERY jump rope perfectly synced. IT COULD HAVE BEEN SO AWESOME. Instead it was... cheesy.

#2: Why does "happy ending" have to mean "our heroine single-handedly saves the universe"? Okay, it wasn't that extreme, but she still managed to take down a huge world-wide totalitarian system that CONTROLLED PEOPLE'S BRAINS. Sure, everyone loves an underdog. But she didn't need to have that kind of success in order to have done the impossible. Surely, in the history of Camazotz, others have tried to revolt and failed, which makes having an unremarkable teenager with low-self-esteem suddenly able to do it seem a little over the top. TOO perfect. TOO unbelievable. It was enough that she was able to fight IT at all, to not only have helped her father, her soon-to-be boyfriend, and herself to escape without getting sucked in, but to have pulled her brother out of that hive-mind without hurting him or get sucked in again herself. WHAT SHE DID WAS STILL AMAZING AND UNPRECEDENTED, small-scale as it was. That's part of why the message of Wrinkle is so powerful: that in the Grand Cosmic Battle of Good and Evil, even ordinary people can make a difference-- that one girl saving her brother is just as important as a star exploding to burn away the darkness. Even the little things matter. Why cheapen that with a Hollywood ending?

But that's two things, just two real problems in the whole made-for-TV-don't-expect-much film. I ENJOYED MYSELF, watching it, more than I enjoyed Technically Great movies I thought were adapted wrong, like Prisoner of Azkaban and the aforementioned Howl's Moving Castle (although that technically only had ONE major Dead Wrong problem, but we're talking the ENTIRE PERSONALITY OF THE TITLE CHARACTER here! It's WEIGHTED!) I'm not saying it's a Must-See or anything, and I wouldn't dream of implying it comes anywhere near the awesomeness of the book (very few movies do, even the good ones. Holes is a TERRIFIC movie, and seriously, speaking of movie characters who are Exactly The Characters In My Head, THE WARDEN, seriously, WAS SHE NOT PERFECT, but it's just a fun family movie in comparison to the SHEER BRILLIANCE that is the book. Lord of the Rings obviously is one that matches or possibly exceeds in some ways. And I'm sorry, but I will stand by the movie of Mary Poppins being better than the book until my dying day). But I don't think it's WORTH HATING on as much as people do.

As it turns out, there's rumors of a new feature film adaption being worked on as we speak. In fact I just stumbled upon it on a list of Upcoming Movies Based On Books just the other day. Although I think somebody got their facts wrong. Eh... it all remains to be seen. We'll roll with it.

----

*(I am NOT getting overexcited for Hunger Games, I am NOT getting overexcited for Hunger Games, I am NOT getting overexcited for Hunger Games, I am NOT...)
rockinlibrarian: (tesseract)
Series Intro: to celebrate the 50th anniversary of my FAVORITE BOOK EVER, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, I am filling 2012 with BLOG POSTS EXPLORING EVERY POSSIBLE ASPECT OF THIS BOOK IN GREAT DEPTH. I call it the Year of the Tesseract, and you can see what I've written already by clicking the year of the tesseract tag. There WILL be spoilers for Wrinkle and possibly other books throughout. So just go read it, already. Moving on:

I have never been a big fan of romance in my stories, and still today I prefer my romance firmly relationship-based rather than gooey-swoony eye-making-at-the-other-beautiful-person (and I still hate sex scenes! Yes, 13-year-old self, that isn't just you being weirdly undeveloped and childish compared to your peers, that's an actual legitimate opinion that can even be held by adults who, like, don't hate sex!), but when I was nine I ACTIVELY DESPISED it. Maybe it was just a reaction against the more "popular" girls in my class, who followed fashion trends and giggled about Who Liked Who while they weren't, you know, shunning me, so I made a point of letting the world know that I had no INTEREST in Who Liked Who, and furthermore I would NOT read those Sweet Valley High books They were reading, or ANY OTHER book that showed a girl and a boy looking swoony at each other. I wanted NOTHING to do with Romance, so don't even suggest it! And then I read a book that singlehandedly mellowed my opinion on the matter out to the "I like my romance woven organically into a plot about SOMETHING ELSE BESIDES ROMANCE" that I still hold today. And that book was? Yep. You guessed it.

The romance in Wrinkle is subtle, so subtle it is never outright referred to AS a romance. It seems, as I mentioned in a comment last week, that Calvin is swept directly up by the entire Murry family, and is never singled out as being particularly more Meg's. Of course, I've always suspected Calvin of secretly crushing on Mrs. Murry-- not so secretly, even! He refers to her stunning looks at least twice-- and then conveniently projecting that crush onto the convenient girl conveniently his age of the family. He wants to be a Murry, dangit, even if he has to hit on this bitter nerdy chick to do it!

Okay, right, Calvin is way more awesome than that. In fact at their first meeting, while he's being grilled by Charles Wallace, Calvin is making an effort to keep Meg involved in the conversation, to gauge her reactions, to... JUST BE QUITE SWEETLY POLITE TO HER even though her brother is treating him like a burglar. Even before he sees her mother, he's paying her attention. What's going through his MIND at the beginning of chapter three, as he walks with "his fingers barely touching her arm in a protective gesture"? "Maybe we weren't meant to meet before this... I knew who you were in school and everything, but I didn't know you. But I'm glad we've met now, Meg. We're going to be friends, you know." Friends? Is he thinking "friends"? Is he thinking "my intuitive compulsions that I always listen to are telling me I'm going to make lots of babies with you someday"? Is he thinking, "what the heck, I'm bored," or "this chick actually would be pretty hot if she gave a crap"? I DON'T KNOW, because as I said last week, we're getting this from Meg's point of view, and Meg is busy being completely befuddled that the school basketball star is walking home with her in the first place! Also that bit about meeting strange cryptic old ladies in a haunted house in the woods who claim they know things about her long-missing father. That can make a person feel befuddled, too. But back to the subject of romance.

Actually, I don't think I ever realized exactly how much flirting the future Mr. and Mrs. Murry-O'Keefe DO their first afternoon together until this past read-through. I mean, look at this passage once they're back at the house, and Calvin's just found a picture of Mr. Murry:

"He's not handsome or anything. But I like him."

Meg was indignant. "He is too handsome."

Calvin shook his head. "Nah. He's tall and skinny like me."
OH COME ON, CAL, you're just fishing, now.

"Well, I think you're handsome," Meg said. WHAT'S WITH PEOPLE THINKING MEG'S A SHY WALLFLOWER? Oh, right, that was just me projecting. And then she adds this, just in case Calvin didn't pick up that she was REALLY STARING AT HIM: "Father's eyes are kind of like yours, too. You know. Really blue. Only you don't notice his as much because of the glasses."

Which of course brings us to, later that evening, THE MOMENT WITH THE GLASSES. That is so apparently a widespread fantasy of bespectacled girls everywhere, it just keeps coming up whenever they talk about Calvin's swooniness. I know I often thought something like that, that maybe as soon as HE (whoever the particular "he" was) saw me without my glasses maybe he'd realize that I'm SECRETLY GORGEOUS. Then I got contacts and this never happened. Heck, I'd grown Rapunzel hair and a C-chest by then, NOBODY was looking at my eyes, let alone HIM (and HE never seemed to be looking at the hair or chest, either. HE was ridiculously oblivious. Why did I always fall for the oblivious ones?). Which are a non-stunning-nor-particularly-memorable dark blue, if you wondered.

But never mind the glasses thing. The swooniest moment in the book, that planted itself indelibly in my romantic fantasies forever after, is actually the moment just BEFORE this. There's Meg, crying ("too much" as she says-- I can relate to that). And there's Cal, comforting her. And she's sure she's making a terrible impression on him and then he says, "Don't you know you're the nicest thing that's happened to me in a long time?"

To be the nicest thing to happen to somebody (particularly when you're feeling your worst)! I've always been partial to any confession of love that involves some statement along those lines, and I don't think I realized until now that it probably traces right back to here. Page 53 of this copy of A Wrinkle in Time.

Page 53 of 190. I point this out to show how little the romance is the point of the story-- it isn't your typical will-they-won't-they LONGING for the course of the book, only to come to fruition at the end; it's pretty well out-there and settled 1/4 of the way through. Meg's story is not about getting her dream guy. In fact, Calvin has, for the moment, unwittingly become an obstacle in Meg's arc!

As we said in the post about it, Meg's character arc involves learning not to expect others to solve all her problems for her-- learning to be brave and strong on her own. At the beginning of the book, she wants people to swoop in and comfort her, protect her, and along comes Calvin, who has this crazy chivalrous streak. He's "the kind of guy who needed to be needed," as [livejournal.com profile] elouise82 said in a comment last week. He instinctively seems to sense that Meg is feeling vulnerable, and from the beginning he's reaching out to her to offer support at every opportunity. EXACTLY WHAT SHE WANTS. But is it what she needs? I'm like Meg-- a knight in shining armor who's going to protect and comfort and shelter you is oh how nice... which is why I didn't realize exactly what was going on until this last reread. Calvin, really, is OVERprotective. And Meg needs to learn self-sufficiency. It was hard for her to do before, but now, now that she has someone who WANTS to protect her, letting someone else keep protecting her is such a WARM AND CUDDLY AND ROMANTIC option compared to standing strong on her own!

Which makes it so much more awesome when she overcomes the COZINESS of inertia and goes off to face down IT on her own. And Calvin, for his part, as [livejournal.com profile] elouise82 also points out, has to step back and let her... with a kiss for luck.

He chickens out on that kiss in the movie version... which I always intended to post about during Oscars Week this year. Which turns out to be this coming week. So that will be my next Year of the Tesseract post-- my movie review! I know you're looking forward to it-- I've been wanting to write it myself for the past several years!
rockinlibrarian: (tesseract)
Series Intro: to celebrate the 50th anniversary of my FAVORITE BOOK EVER, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, I am filling 2012 with BLOG POSTS EXPLORING EVERY POSSIBLE ASPECT OF THIS BOOK IN GREAT DEPTH. I call it the Year of the Tesseract, and you can see what I've written already by clicking the year of the tesseract tag. There WILL be spoilers for Wrinkle and possibly other books throughout. So just go read it, already. Moving on:

A year ago next week I posted my Top Ten Literary Crushes, and topped the list with a character I couldn't quite decide on: either he SHOULD be #1 or he should be off the list entirely. I wasn't entirely sure I could justify him. We see Calvin through Meg's eyes-- irrationally self-loathing Meg. For unpopular nerdy girls, the idea of a popular jock turning out to be sensitive and kind and for some strange reason totally into you is wish-fulfillment, wish-fulfillment we're totally ready to grab onto. So begins the ubiquitous Longing for a Calvin of Ones Own (seriously, do you KNOW how many variations on the phrase "Calvin=*SWOON!*" I've seen in MacMillan's 50 Years 50 Days Blog Tour so far?)

But wish-fulfillment is just, you know, WISH-FULFILLMENT. It's ridiculous, looked at objectively. Why WOULD popular, self-assured Calvin take any interest in Meg? REALLY, TRULY. I worried that my affections for Calvin/Meg were stupid, until I remembered that this is Meg's POV, and Meg's perceptions are screwed. All Meg SEES at first is his apparent easy-going popularity, maybe because it contrasts so much with her own life at school. In reality, though, he's as lonely and frustrated-- and sad-- as she is. In some ways, maybe more.

Sure, he's a basketball star ("Just because I'm tall," he says, displaying for a moment Meg's own bad habit of dismissing her own successes). He's a pleasant, loquacious people-person. He also comes out of a miserable, neglectful, and possibly outright-abusive homelife, the third of eleven kids and the only one in the family with any interest in academics. He skipped two grades so spends most of his time at school with people older than him, who all also probably hit puberty sooner and stared down at him in scorn for awhile (until he shot up like the beanpole he is, of course, at which point some of them probably STILL stared down at him in scorn, but upwards). He NEEDS to be a people-person because it's the only way he can survive being an ODD-BALL.

What's he been hiding, how has he been holding himself back, to pass for normal so well? Are his brains truly accepted by the jocks and older kids he spends most of the day with? Are his empathy and negotiating skills really appreciated in a household that communicates primarily by yelling and cussing? When he meets the Murrys, a family that isn't ashamed to be different, suddenly he's FREE TO BE HIMSELF. And he tries to explain it to the stubbornly disbelieving Meg: "I'm not alone any more!... There hasn't been anybody, anybody in the world I could talk to. Sure, I can function on the same level as everybody else, I can hold myself down, but it isn't me." Meg can't see it, but I can now. Calvin O'Keefe was a closeted geek.

One might argue that there's a difference between appearing well-adjusted and successful and actually feeling comfortable in ones own skin. Maybe Calvin had never been properly happy until he found himself in the company of people who had no problem with him, say, using words like "sport" in the biological sense. It makes you wonder where he would have ended up in life otherwise-- oh, probably successful enough in a general suburban businessman sense, passing for normal as usual. But would he have thrown himself into his work enthusiastically enough to become the World's Leading Expert in starfish regeneration without the inspiration of his future inlaws? Would he even have had the courage to pursue a career in science without Meg at his side to tutor him through the math?

"I've never even seen your house," he exclaims while heading there for his first Bunsen-burner stew dinner, "and I have the funniest feeling that for the first time in my life I'm going home!"

I have more to say about Calvin. I'd already planned to devote my Valentine's Day post to a full-on gush over Megvin, my very first favorite OTP. At the rate I'm going with posting, I don't want to GUARANTEE it, but I'll try, and we can continue wrapping sweet perfect misunderstood Calvin in our metaphorical fangirlish arms then. Whether or not it actually happens on Valentine's Day.
rockinlibrarian: (tesseract)
Series Intro: to celebrate the 50th anniversary of my FAVORITE BOOK EVER, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, I am filling 2012 with BLOG POSTS EXPLORING EVERY POSSIBLE ASPECT OF THIS BOOK IN GREAT DEPTH. I call it the Year of the Tesseract, and you can see what I've written already by clicking the year of the tesseract tag. There WILL be spoilers for Wrinkle and possibly other books throughout. So just go read it, already. Moving on:

There are characters, in fiction, whom you love, admire, disdain, hate, feel guiltily fascinated with or outright indifferent to. It's an outward reaction, like getting to know a person. But then there are the characters you identify with, the ones whose place you immediately take, the ones you can barely look at objectively because you think, "HEY, THIS IS ME."

That was Meg Murry for me. So profound is this feeling of connection that only upon this most recent, objective, rereading did I realize how little we actually are alike.

Don't be fooled by the glasses and braces. Meg's not a shy, nerdy wallflower at all. Well, she IS nerdy, but not in your typical ace-student way, just in that raised-by-brilliant-scientists-so-your-interests-and-vocabulary-are-a-little-odd way. She's a DELINQUENT. She sasses her teachers and rough-houses just "to try to make herself feel better." She's regularly in beat-down physical fights. She's failing school. She blurts out whatever she's thinking, and sees her most defining trait, for good or ill, as stubbornness.

That isn't me. That is the POLAR OPPOSITE of me.

But whatever her outward expression of it, on the inside is a girl with terrible self-esteem. She's a math genius, but can't see it (and maybe doesn't care), because it's not what people expect of her. She thinks she looks like a monster, even though more than one person sees a lot of potential in her looks (at least one of whom isn't even related to her). She's quick to notice the strengths in other people only to immediately compare herself unfavorably. She's convinced she's a failure before she's even begun.

Usually in stories, across media, crappy self-esteem is an issue either too easily solved ("All you need to do is BELIEVE IN YOURSELF!" "Okay, now I believe in myself-- and look! I did it!") or too easily made fun of ("Don't say anything negative! You'll ruin my self-esteem!") So it's a refreshing switch to watch Meg's character arc develop: how slowly, subtly, she grows-- from a girl convinced everyone else has some vital bit of worth that somehow skipped her, waiting for other people to solve her problems, to a young woman who volunteers to do the impossible because she sees she's the only one who has the remotest chance.

I've seen Meg described as "whiny"-- but what if she is? She IS terribly flawed. But that's the point. Meg needs to learn that she DOES have worth and purpose. She needs to learn to come into her own. But it's a slow, uneven process, just as it is in real life. She's working against deeply internalized insecurities, and it's hard to overcome those. Meg is not cut out to be a hero. Early on she believes everything will be better when her father is found. She gratefully accepts Calvin's sometimes overprotective instincts, and waits for the Mrs Ws to swoop in and save the day. But as time goes on, the more often she stands by her own opinions, makes her own decisions, and sometimes she's not even aware of the progress she's making. And sometimes what seems like a minor choice is really a huge leap-- as when an IT-possessed Charles Wallace is about to lead them to their father. "She wanted to reach out and grab Calvin's hand, but it seemed that ever since they had begun their journeyings she had been looking for a hand to hold, so she stuffed her fists into her pockets and walked along behind the two boys. --I've got to be brave, she said to herself. --I will be." A small choice. Not that noticeable. But this is no longer the girl who expected her five-year-old brother to comfort her during a storm. She's growing.

There are stars going supernova to cut through the darkness-- and then there's the power of love between family. Both are important. The point of Meg and her journey to the reader is summed up in the passage from Corinthians that Mrs Who offers as her final gift to Meg, from which comes the title of the last chapter: "...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. And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are." ---"I don't understand what she said," Meg thinks to herself later, "but I think it was meant to make me not hate being only me."

This is my favorite kind of hero. This is Samwise carrying Frodo up Mt. Doom-- the overlooked underdog who becomes a hero despite their apparent lack of heroic traits. The very small person who steps up to that challenge which only they can meet. It's this kind of hero who reminds us that we all have inherent worth, more than we may ever realize.

Everyone needs to be reminded, sometimes, that they, too, can be a hero. And that's why this is my Most Important Book.
rockinlibrarian: (tesseract)
Series Intro: to celebrate the 50th anniversary of my FAVORITE BOOK EVER, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, I am filling 2012 with BLOG POSTS EXPLORING EVERY POSSIBLE ASPECT OF THIS BOOK IN GREAT DEPTH. I call it the Year of the Tesseract, and you can see what I've written already by clicking the year of the tesseract tag. There WILL be spoilers for Wrinkle and possibly other books throughout. So just go read it, already. Moving on:

Having started off with all that quantum physics in last week's post, the casual reader of this blog who is for some reason reading these Year of the Tesseract posts WITHOUT having read the book, is now trying to figure out "WHAT kind of nine-year-old girl actually gloms onto such hard-core science fiction in such an extreme life-changing sort of way? What IS this book? This is the nerdiest thing I have ever heard!"

Or, okay, you're going the other way. You ARE a hard-core science fiction-- or plain science fact-- person, and you're thinking, "THIS isn't science! This is gibberish! This is stuff that sounds like science woven together into nonsense! She doesn't even get that a tesseract is a FOURTH-dimensional construct!"

In other words, What IS this book, anyway?

Most often, the good people who Classify put A Wrinkle In Time under the umbrella term "fantasy." This isn't a very good descriptor, though. It's the kind of descriptor that led to People Who Make If-You-Like Lists Without Knowing What They're Talking About putting Wrinkle on "If You Like Harry Potter..." lists a few years back. Granted, I happen to love both Wrinkle and Harry Potter. But they have VERY LITTLE IN COMMON, so it always seemed like false advertising to me.

A few months back the lovely folks at the [livejournal.com profile] enchantedinkpot tried to figure out where the line gets drawn between fantasy and science fiction. Their post, and the comments, are worth reading. You can go do that now, even. The consensus? IT'S HARD TO DO, mostly because people can't decide on their definitions to begin with. Books with typical science fiction elements-- like spaceships-- may have very little to do with science at all (Star Wars, for example). Books that seem like fantasies turn out to have scientific bases (the recently-late Anne McCaffrey was always VERY INSISTENT that her dragon-filled Pern books were science fiction instead of fantasy. Not that you could tell from reading them). And some books JUST DON'T CARE. They blatantly mix elements of both genres and they're all the better for it.

Wrinkle is one of those books. Science Fantasy, they call it. Really, I think it's just taking science fiction to a new level.

The BASE is science fiction. Warping space-time. Meeting aliens. Battling totalitarian dystopian regimes. And quibbling about the science-- which I've seen people do-- doesn't change that. Sure, some of the science seems funny now: don't you love the "great computing machines" at CENTRAL Central Intelligence, the ones that read and spit out punch tapes? Remember, as I mentioned last week, string theory wasn't developed until 1984-- space-time LOOKED different to a scientist in the 50s and 60s. And let's talk for a minute about the next book in the series, A Wind In the Door: in the 1980s I already couldn't figure out how a first-grade teacher had never heard of mitochondria when, as a fourth grader, I could already name all the parts of a cell. Never mind that there turned out to be no such thing as farandolae. Isn't it still science fiction when science has gone on to disprove the original story's science? What do YOU call Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, anyway?

Of course, there's a strong religious element to A Wrinkle In Time, one that is never shown as false, primitive superstition. Our spacetime-warping Superior Beings are not strict rational agnostics, but truly believe they are serving a Higher Power yet. Your hard-core Science types might not want ANY such unprovables clouding their science fiction, but I don't think this element pushes the story into the realm of fantasy. After all, there is no DIRECT meddling-by-gods into the story itself. This could be merely a cultural thing.

On the other hand, Evil IS a tangible substance in the shape of the Black Thing-- a thing which can literally cast shadows that inspire the worst in people. And stars have souls-- and free will!-- and can give their lives in the battle against Evil! At this point? Yes. You've definitely gotten some fantasy in my science fiction.

But this is where I really like the term "speculative fiction," an umbrella for fantasy and science fiction and horror and whatnot-- the "what if?" genres. Maybe Wrinkle isn't so much a MIXTURE of genres as it is just speculative fiction to its fullest extent. It's science fiction that SPECULATES on science fiction, that asks "WHAT IF there's even more to it than this?"

Madeleine L'Engle was deliberately asking the biggests of What Ifs in this book. She was taking the building-a-story-out-of-science base and digging a little deeper, climbing a little higher, into the unknowable. She writes in the letter I have from her (more on that another day), "I want to affirm that there's more to the world than provable facts.... In A Wrinkle in Time I was quite consciously writing my own affirmation of a universe which is created by a power of love."

As someone who believes in Science AND God, I think there should be MORE of these wacky mixed-up speculative fiction books we call science fantasies. There should be MORE books that take facts and logic seriously but aren't afraid to ask the questions that don't have any answers. "In my life," L'Engle writes earlier in the same letter, "I find that in writing story I come closer to truth than in any other way." I think her stories help the rest of us get a bigger sense of truth, too.

There's a WHOLE lot to discuss on the subjects of religion and spirituality in L'Engle's works, and we'll get there eventually. But before we spend any more time on broad themes or small details, I want to dive a little deeper into our main characters. We'll start, next time, of course with Meg, the Everygirl who's so Everygirl that you (by which I mean I) sometimes forget that she's her own individual person, too.
rockinlibrarian: (tesseract)
Series Intro: to celebrate the 50th anniversary of my FAVORITE BOOK EVER, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, I am filling 2012 with BLOG POSTS EXPLORING EVERY POSSIBLE ASPECT OF THIS BOOK IN GREAT DEPTH. I call it the Year of the Tesseract, and you can see what I've written already by clicking the year of the tesseract tag. There WILL be spoilers for Wrinkle and possibly other books throughout. So just go read it, already. Moving on:

Today, in honor of the 70th birthday of renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, we'll take a close look at the question all true fans of A Wrinkle In Time have politely ignored since the first time they read it: What the heck is a Tesseract, anyway?

The flap copy of A Wrinkle In Time says, "A tesseract (in case the reader doesn't know) is a wrinkle in time. To tell more would rob the reader of the enjoyment of Miss L'Engle's unusual book." Which basically means the copywriter had no clue what a tesseract is, either.

Oh, sure, the Mrs Ws --and Charles Wallace, dang those superintelligent five-year-olds-- explain it. A tesseract is the Fifth Dimension, right? (not this one): the Fourth Dimension, Time, squared. Meg claims you can't draw it like you can draw a three-dimensional cube, but that doesn't stop math geeks* of the world from trying. Although they claim this tesseract is actually a FOURTH dimensional figure. PERHAPS THERE IS NO FIFTH DIMENSION. GASP.

Well, at any rate, it isn't used for traveling through time and space in the real world. Mostly just for making mirror images of things and flipping them inside out. I will leave it to you to find a way to incorporate this into the Cosmic Battle of Good and Evil.

But let's forget about terminology for a minute and look at the concept as it is: folding the fabric of space-time so you can eliminate distances entirely. Is there any scientific truth to this? For answers I turn to the simplified edition of Hawking's landmark book on the subject, A Briefer History of Time,** because I am too lazy for the simply Brief version (also my library doesn't have it).

Now for the obligatory disclaimer: I am NOT a physicist. What I know on the subject of space-time I've pretty much learned from this book. And, you know, science fiction. Rather, I'm stretching... um, wrinkling ...the real science to IMAGINE how it could apply to the ideas set forth in A Wrinkle In Time. Don't use me as a reference if you're writing a paper for school, in other words. But even for people not writing papers, I highly recommend reading Hawking's book if you haven't, at least the Briefer version. This is the second time I've read it, and I still keep saying, "Oh! OH! I think I get it. I think. Maybe. OH!" Out loud. There's a lot in here that goes much deeper than I can go here, mostly because I wouldn't know where to stop with the quotes and this would get very long and only slightly related to Wrinkle and would start breaking copyright.

AHEM. So let's set up the universe to begin with. Space and time are not only related, they're interwoven-- you can't have long-distance space travel without it incorporating a bit of time-travel. Hawking writes (p. 108), "Most [science fiction writers of space epics] don't seem to have realized the fact that if you can travel faster than light, the theory of relativity implies that you can also travel back in time." L'Engle is NOT one of those writers: she's gone and put the link between space and time right there in the title of the book! So we've got space, and we've got time, all woven up together like the fabric of an old-lady-celestial-being's skirt.

So, if an ant starts walking across a stretched out bit of Mrs Who's skirt, and Mrs Who suddenly FOLDS the skirt between the ant and her other hand, THEN THE ANT IS THERE, ALREADY. "In other words, to put it into Euclid, or old-fashioned plane geometry," oh Charles Wallace, always so precocious, "a straight line is not the shortest distance between two points."

This is true. But mostly because the universe is curved to begin with. The "flat" surface of the earth is curved. Even space is, relatively, curved. Any time someone THINKS they're going in a straight line, it is in fact actually a curve! If one could take a short cut by not crossing space in the typical curved manner, but just cutting right through, straight, REALLY straight, outside-the-confines-of-the-universe-as-we-know-it straight, THAT would be the way to go. "It might be," Hawking says on page 109 of his book, "that you could warp space-time so that there was a shortcut between A and B." He proposes creating a wormhole to accomplish this--a path that cuts right though the curvature of space.

But I'm intrigued by the word choice-- warping space-time. That implies fabric, and fabric implies wrinkling. The metaphor becomes even stronger when you bring string theory into it. According to string theory, "the basic objects [of the universe] are not point particles but things that have a length but no other dimension, like an infinitely thin piece of string" (p.125). If the universe is made of strings, I'M inclined to think of those strings as woven together into Mrs Who's skirt just as soon as anything else!

String theory also fits with Mrs Whatsit's claim that they do their traveling through the "fifth dimension." Hawking outright states on page 129 that taking "a shortcut through the extra dimensions" that string theory insists exist, curved up in a way that we can't perceive them, is "an ideal way of overcoming the normal restriction of general relativity that one cannot travel faster than light or backward in time." What's extra cool is that the basics of string theory were not proposed until the late 1960s, and not put out properly as THIS string theory until 1984. Wrinkle was published in 1962 and written about ten years earlier. CHEW ON THAT, PENDANTS.

But one thing that's never explained, in Wrinkle OR by Science, is how, exactly, one PERFORMS a tesseract (here using the term to mean "wrinkling space-time"). It's one thing for Celestial Beings like the Mrs Ws to pull it off: of COURSE they're powerful enough to grab the fabric of the universe and twist it about however they like. But how does a human like Mr. Murry accomplish it? Hawking keeps coming back to spaceships-- even "time machines" must really be spaceships-- but there's not a single spaceship in this entire book. I somehow always pictured Mr. Murry's government tessering experiments involving a sort of cubicle thing and, you know, radiation, because this was the 50s-60s so there had to be some radiation involved somewhere. But he had no such cubicle on Camazotz, and yet was able to transport not only himself but also Meg and Calvin-- blindly as he did-- out of there.

While Charles Wallace is under the influence of IT, he develops the ability to manipulate matter-- pushing aside the molecules of a wall to access an elevator-- through what likewise seems to be an almost purely mental process. Perhaps Mr. Murry and his colleagues were training themselves first merely to view the fabric of space-time in this manipulative way, THEN to actually manipulate it, which is why he is able to while other average humans are not. Or perhaps his brain or eyesight or something had been enhanced in some chemical or nanotechnological way-- okay it was the 60s, but still-- that enabled him to perceive and thus wrinkle space-time, and other humans would have to go through this same process before they could even attempt to tesser. Or give in to IT and be allowed to, but, you know.

Fact is, the exact details, the exact science, is not the point of the story. This is not a textbook to intergalactic travel. You CAN glaze over attempting to understand even the bit explained in the book, and the emotional arc of the story will carry you through regardless. (The best line of James Kennedy's 90-Second Newbery video on the book was probably "See this string and this insect--" "Okay I get it.") But it's fun to speculate, and fun to realize that, technically, this is a more scientifically accurate portrayal of long-distance space travel than the more common "warp drive" is, because it doesn't ignore the part of time in the process. In an upcoming post I'll explore the designation of "science fantasy," and exactly where this book falls on the spectrum of speculative fiction.

-----

*Except Meg IS a Math Geek. MEG, YOU LAZY SLOTH! Why aren't you getting on this?! What are you DOING with your time?!

**with Leonard Mlodinow. Bantam, 2005.
rockinlibrarian: (tesseract)
Ladies and Gentlemen... it has arrived.

2012. The 50th Anniversary of The Book That Changed My Life. As much as books do when you read like a freak at least.

I plan not to let this go quietly by. I will not merely post a quick retrospective once and have done with it. No, I will spend this WHOLE YEAR obsessing on the topic of A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle <-- NOTICE HOW I SPELLED THAT OUT HERE? That's so you can quickly go round up a copy and read it so you won't be left out this year! Go! Do it!

Because I will be delving deep into various aspects of the story, under the assumption that my audience has already read it. THERE WILL BE SPOILERS GALORE AND I WON'T CARE. IT'S FIFTY YEARS OLD FOR CRIPES SAKE. It will be a thorough and multifaceted look at not only the concepts and issues raised by the book, but also how it personally ties into my own life and opinions, and other books, and, like, other stuff.

I will post a Year of the Tesseract post either once a week or once every two weeks, depending on how much time I have to actually do so. I plan to cover such topics as:

--science fiction, science fantasy, and where one draws the line
--feminism as it relates to the book
--Meg/Calvin Shipping
--the movie adaption, and why I don't hate it
--the role of religion in the books
--AND MUCH, as the say, MORE

We'll start next week appropriately on Stephen Hawking's birthday by answering the question, WHAT THE HECK IS A TESSERACT, ANYWAY?

Meanwhile, we'll review by having me link you to EVERYTHING ELSE I'VE ALREADY POSTED ON THE TOPIC. I THINK:

The Official Story Of Why This Is The Book That Changed My Life

In Which I Realize Madeleine L'Engle Isn't As Well Known In Other Countries As Here, And Die a Little

I'll link you to the Top Ten Literary Crushes Post only because Calvin makes #1. I'll be going into more detail on THAT later this year, too, believe me.

And, likewise, I'll link you to my Favorite Authors list so you can read the lovely little blurb I wrote about L'Engle at the top of THAT one, too.

Wrinkle makes this Books That Shaped My Adolescence post. Duh.

I Tie Madeleine L'Engle Into Reviews For Two Completely Different Books, Both Of Which I Plan to Look At In More Detail This Year Sometime

My Memorial Post to Madeleine L'Engle

...okay and beyond that we're going way back in time when I posted a whole lot of surveys and junk every day and I don't feel like wading through it any longer. SO.

Welcome to my Obsession of the Year! See you next week! Or before then on some other topic, but on the topic of Tesseracts, next week!

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