Rereading Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quintet

After my return to Narnia this summer, I decided to pick up Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quintet (A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, and An Acceptable Time). Like The Chronicles of Narnia, I haven’t read this series in years, but these five books were definitely among the most formative of my younger years. I hadn’t remembered much about the books, except that I enjoyed them as a child. I’m delighted to say that my positive memories of the books weren’t unfounded, and reading them again transported me back to the nostalgia of my childhood while also experiencing the stories with a fresh, adult perspective.

While I characterized Narnia as spiritually nourishing, I would classify the Time Quintet as spiritually challenging. L’Engle, a Christian, doesn’t write Christian fiction (per se), yet her worldview is extremely present in each of her narratives. Christianity is certainly the heartbeat in each of her stories and themes. In particular, the way she has conceptualized the universe and its created order is theologically rich and complex. She tends to emphasize the mystery of things not yet revealed to mankind in the world that God has created. Throughout each of her stories, there is an underlying theme of embracing uncertainty and having faith when facing the unknown as the characters grapple with events they cannot fully comprehend. In a society that wants answers and concrete explanations for everything, I find L’Engle’s emphasis on mystery, wonder, and faith to be challenging and thought-provoking. I still don’t know that I entirely agree with her total worldview as she presents it through her stories, but I am enjoying the theological grappling process as I reflect on her themes and stories.

My biggest critique of the series is its lack of coherency, which may be an unfair criticism since the books were almost definitely written idea-to-idea and are designed to stand as their own individual stories. You don’t need the other stories to appreciate a the other books that fall within the “series.” However, since the books all focus on a single family, it is a little odd to not have more references to the events of previous books or adventures that happened in the characters’ pasts. Specifically, the events of A Wrinkle in Time are never brought up again except for its concept of tessering. A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet are a little more related to each other, as A Swiftly Tilting Planet uses concepts and beings central to A Wind in the Door. Still, the way certain characters react to new strange events or problems sometimes made it feel as if it’s their first experience with the strange and unusual, which is not the case at all. It makes the books, when read as a cohesive series, feel disjointed and disconnected from each other.

I don’t have a ranked list for each of the individual books like I did for the Narnia series since I think all of the books are rather well-executed as individual stories. But I did want to bring up a few points about each book in brief.

A Wrinkle in Time immediately took me back to my childhood. I remember its first chapter so well. It’s definitely a good story with a clear progression and theme, and I like the simplicity and straightforwardness of the story arc. However, while the concept of tessering is explained decently well, we’re never told how Mr. Murray himself is able to tesser. While L’Engle’s series thrives on mystery and the unexplainable, Mr. Murray’s ability to tesser was a question I felt needed more of a concrete answer for, and it’s never explained in future books either. Still, I’m fond of this book and think it’s worthy of its status as a classic.

A Wind in the Door might be my favorite out of all the Time Quintet. It’s full of funny dialogue and suspense, and I personally found it the most compelling of L’Engle’s stories. I also appreciate her Biblically accurate depiction of Cherubim in Progo, which is an image and character that I vividly remembered from reading the books as a kid. Also, the final chapter of this book is one of the saddest moments ever, and I love it. (I’m a sucker for bittersweet endings.)

A Swiftly Tilting Planet is a solid story with a fairly linear plot, nice use of time travel, and strong themes. My only issue with this book is that it feels a little repetitive and drawn out after a while, which may just be because as I continued to read deeper into the story, I was pretty sure I knew the answer to the mystery it was building up to, so in some respects my past reading of the book spoiled the end for me. Still, I think it’s a solid concept and I like the glimpse into an older Charles Wallace and Meg Murray that it gives us.

Many Waters inspired my desire to make any worldbuilding in my own books centered on a Biblical worldview and narrative, as this book literally takes the Murray twins back to the days of Noah, pre-Flood. L’Engle’s take on the Seraphim and Nephilim is also intriguing, much like her presentation of the Cherubim. It is less plot-driven and suspenseful than the other three books, but I think the difference in tone allows the twins to shine more in their solo (or would it be duo?) story. Out of the whole series, this one probably had the biggest impact on my own journey as a writer.

An Acceptable Time was my first encounter with a bittersweet ending and one of my favorite books as a kid. However, I found it a little infuriating as an adult. The first half is slow and repetitive, but once the story gets going in the second half, it’s amazing, and full of tense moments and strong themes. It definitely did not need to be as long as it was, though maybe I would appreciate it more if I had read the three other books that Polly O’Keefe appears in (which aren’t considered a part of the Time Quintet for reasons unknown to me). It was also baffling to me that Polly’s grandparents (Mr. and Mrs. Murray, Meg’s parents) were so bothered and confused by the strange events and time circles in the story, considering their history recorded in the previous books… So, I truly feel conflicted about this one. Definitely one of those stories that’s always better in your memory, and can’t quite satisfy you when you grow older.

As Meg and her brothers crossed time and space, so did I—these books swept me away down memory lane and I was glad to finally reread them. I’m glad they’ve stuck around on my bookshelf and definitely see the way that L’Engle’s strong themes, love of mystery and wonder, and strong implicit Christian worldview in her books have shaped me as a writer and as a person.

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