In Madeleine Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time, recently adapted by cartoonist Hope Larson, evil is something undefined and unknown. It’s the Darkness, enveloping space all around us almost imperceptibly. More than unknown, it’s unknowable. Meg, L’Engle’s young heroine sees the darkness all around her, feeling it’s influence on the world but she can’t know what it is. It’s something beyond her. Likewise, so is good. These are things she knows about and knows exist but they’re nebulous concepts even as she’s drawn into the battle of good vs evil.
Compared with a lot of youth-oriented fiction (Harry Potter and its ilk,) where the evil is big, obvious and unmissable, L’Engle doesn’t define the Darkness in her novel. Her enemy isn’t as easy and defined as Voldemort. Meg has to face a challenge that’s much bigger than a person or a thing. She has to face a force of nature and how do you fight that? How do you fight a storm or an earthquake or a heat wave? How do you face a darkness that’s consuming a galaxy? But L’Engle doesn’t leave it as a nameless, faceless enemy. She gives it a name at one point; Charles Wallace, Meg’s younger brother. That’s when this force of nature becomes a personal threat to Meg and her family.
L’Engle introduces many characters in the book. There’s Meg’s whole family; the younger twins, the youngest brother Charles Wallace and her mother. Her father, a scientist, has been called off to work on his mission. Studying tesseracts (folds in space) is the family business but none of them knows what it is that their father is doing. On a literal dark and stormy night when Meg is already feeling quite disappointed in her own normalness, Mrs. Whatsit shows up out of the rain and tells Meg’s mother that tesseracts are real and that her husband is in danger. With that news, Meg, Charles Wallace and their friend Calvin join Mrs. Whatsit and her unearthly companions Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which on a journey through space to find Meg’s father.
The story is about Good (capital “G”) versus Evil (capital “E”) and the powers that the warriors of this battle need. L’Engle never phrases it that way but her Meg is a warrior, trapped in battles that she just cannot comprehend because they’re happening so far above her. But her smaller fights, for her father and for her brother, are all real parts of this ultimate battle because they are her parts of the battle. These things don’t only take place on a Biblical or epic level but they take place on the personal plane and involve the people we love. Meg’s pulled into other worlds and other galaxies on this adventure but it’s all about the love she has for the people in her life. No matter how “ordinary” she think she may be in an extraordinary family, she is the one of this journey and she is the one who is saving the people who mean the most to her.
Living so long as a novel, Hope Larson adds images to L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and gives it a new warmth. There’s a quiet, somber tone to L’Engle’s story that Larson perfectly captures with her lyrical lines. By giving faces to the characters, Larson adds to the warmth of the story. It’s seeing the details like the three guides (Mrs.s Who, Whatsit and Which) or the almost constant bruise beneath Meg’s eye that make L’Engle’s story feel more real. The original novel is great because everything feels so otherworldly but Larson brings the story down to a more relatable and personal level.
Larson also gives the stories more fantastical elements a grounding in reality. Other than a few creatures here or there, Larson’s approach to the artwork makes the threats feel more real and frightening. The workers of the Darkness become things we could run into every day. They are not otherworldly but exist in a setting that looks like a street you could walk down in almost any other city. It brings this outer-threat home as it feels like something we could actually encounter. Actually, it is something we encounter everyday and by visualizing it, Larson also defines it as more of our world than of some fantasy setting.
Meg’s story, like most good youth fiction, is about self-discovery. She discovers the strength within her that more powerful than the Darkness that threatens her life. As she races to save her loved ones, she learns about an existence that is more than just her own insecurities. L’Engle weaves together a story about love and family and how those are some of the greatest forces in our lives while Larson takes L’Engles high concepts and give them facades that make them all-too-easily recognizable.