Time Quintet: Waiting To Be Contradicted

[Content Note: In-text slurs for ableism.]

The world is harsh but we still have fiction. We've already done most of this chapter, but let's barrel on and then we can get to the good stuff in a later post.

A Wrinkle in Time, Chapter 3: Mrs Which

When we last left the Murry family, their new friend and adoptive child / future son-in-law Calvin O'Keefe was putting young Charles Wallace to bed. Calvin had read Genesis to him, and we need to take a moment to talk about that because Genesis is a sort of Rorschach for a lot of people.

For people raised in non-fundie and/or non-evangelical homes, the Biblical book of Genesis is often seen as high literature--something you wouldn't necessarily read for fun, but something that an intellectual person would appreciate, like Shakespeare or reading the Epic of Gilgamesh for pleasure. For people raised in fundamentalist and/or evangelical homes, it's important to understand that the book of Genesis is seen as a scientific text. Indeed, not just a scientific text but the scientific text that all others descend from.

In the fictional world L'Engle is writing--which is based on our real world and clearly intended to be a direct representation, not a parallel universe--the events of Genesis are physically true. A later book will have Sandy and Dennys travel to the time just before the Biblical flood and meet with people there. (They help build the ark, if I'm not recalling incorrectly.) Real, actual angels exist in this world; we see them in Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, and Many Waters. God exists in a very definitive sense, though the godbeing here (my word) isn't the same sort of god as the one many of us are familiar with in the LaHayesian sense.

L'Engle was an Episcopalian who believed in universal salvation. Universalism includes belief in universal salvation, the idea that all human beings will be reunited with God at some point. If I could roughly contrast Lewis and L'Engle, Lewis believed that he was right and that a few non-Lewisians could conceivably stumble into salvation without realizing it. (Like the Tash worshiper in Last Battle who hadn't realized he'd been a child of Aslan all along.) L'Engle believed something more akin to everyone being right and all will be ultimately saved.

There's a popular metaphor of men in a darkened room examining an elephant. Each man describes the elephant from his point of view. None of the men are wrong, but none of them have a full picture of the elephant either. They are all equally right and equally wrong together, and only when the light comes on can they see the full picture. This is roughly how I would describe Christian Universalists. But. However. Hang on.

Christian Universalism is a kinder and gentler version of the Christianity Lewis pushed, yes. No one goes to hell forever and in theory the Christians are just as wrong about their religion as everyone else is. But in practice, that is never how these things work out. Introducing equal wrongness in an unequal system results in undisturbed inequities. The dominant Christian narratives remain capital-R right, and the marginalized narratives of other religions are pilfered for material. This isn't equality, it is appropriation. We'll see more of this later when L'Engle begins appropriating Examples of Good Folks from other religions for her Christian Universalism.

And it is important to understand that Christian Universalism is fundamentally Christian. It is all well and good to say that everyone is wrong and everyone is right and the godbeing is bigger than we can all comprehend and we're all imperfectly examining an elephant, but that doctrine isn't something people of other religions necessarily want to subscribe to. "You're wrong, but it's okay because I'm wrong too" is a kinder and gentler version of Christianity than "You're wrong, and I'm right", but we still have a Christian explaining how everyone non-Christian is wrong. And, though they try to disguise it, they do believe they are right. They just think they're right in ways that incorporate uncertainty into the equation.

The elephant metaphor incorporates this certainty in itself because the speaker knows all the men are describing an elephant. Take the elephant away for the moment. Now Man #1 describes a soft furry pelt. Man #2 describes smooth scales that ripple under his hands. Man #3 describes hard sharp horns. Are they in a room with a lion, a goat, and a snake? Or are they in a room with a chimera? Lewis says only a lion is in the room and that anyone who says otherwise is a liar or a fool. L'Engle says there is a single creature and it is a chimera. The nearby Wiccan says that the chimera idea is a very nice one, but that she doesn't worship a chimera, she worships a goat and yes she has felt around and she's quite sure it is a normal whole goat and not attached to anything else. Shhh, says L'Engle, it is a chimera. You'll see.

Such an insistence can be relatively pleasant if you're used to old man Lewis shouting red-faced in the dark that there is no goat you lying liar you're going to hell, but it's still not welcoming or even genuinely kind. Chimera Universalists insist that (a) their lion exists, (b) your goat doesn't, and (c) what you think is your beloved goat is really part of a chimera, and (d) they know better than you because they recognized the chimera nature of your so-called goat. Those are actually pretty insulting things to say to someone about their religion? And it's what I mean when I say that for all the claims of "equal" uncertainty, Universalists still think they're righter than you.

So we come back to Genesis. A Christian Universalist is asking us to take it as literal science and history, while they would very likely toss other creation myths into the "true in a dark-room elephant sense but actually not very true at all" bucket. And Charles Wallace--seeker of truth, serious boy, avoider of silly make-believe nonsense--is having the book read to him because it is true. It's not pleasure fiction like Shakespeare (indeed, we never to my recollection see any reading material in the house that isn't scientific in nature; I can't recall a single instance of pleasure-reading without it being scientifically edifying), but rather it is as much True and Relevant to science as the actual science journals Charles has read to him for bedtime in the second book.

This was intimately familiar to me who, as a child, spent whole summers reading weighty tomes on Genesis--books thicker than the span of my hand--that sought to prove every verse in Genesis, line by line, as literally true. The evangelical community was obsessed with Genesis, believing that if it weren't literally true then the entire Bible could be viewed as fictional metaphor and then where would they be? If it wasn't all true, then none of it might be. I can't stress strongly enough that fear.

Anyway, I seem to have strayed from my text.

   “Charles all settled?” Mrs. Murry asked.
   “What did you read to him?”
   “Genesis. His choice. By the way, what kind of an experiment were you working on this afternoon, Mrs. Murry?”
   “Oh, something my husband and I were cooking up together. I don’t want to be too far behind him when he gets back.”
   “Mother,” Meg pursued. “Charles says I’m not one thing or the other, not flesh nor fowl nor good red herring.”

I've said before how much I identified with Meg, but I confess that the Woobie Abnormal Normie thing is getting a bit thick now. Meg has been saving questions for her mother about her missing dad, the tesseract, the events of the previous night and how they tie into the Murry father's disappearance. Now she has a chance to ask about that, and she wants to pursue--again, relentlessly--the question of what she is and why she doesn't fit in. I get it, I sympathize, I empathize, but it's wearing a wee bit older than I remember noticing when I was a youngster--and it is especially frustrating that no one just gives her the validation she needs. And then we can get on with the adventure, dammit.

Calvin interrupts before Mrs Murry can answer and says “Oh, for crying out loud,” Calvin said, “you’re Meg, aren’t you? Come on and let’s go for a walk.” which is another one of those things which is either sweet (aww, he already likes and accepts Meg for herself!) or a wee bit terrifying because why on earth is this strange boy inserting himself between Meg and her mother and handing down his judgment as more valid than either of theirs?

I think this is meant to indicate his instant familiarity with the family and his rhetorical skill as a mediator, but on the other hand it is a boy talking over two women in order to tell one woman to be satisfied with herself without actually encouraging her at all. After Charles and Calvin have made such a big deal of Mrs Murry being wowza gorgeous, these dodges which undercut Meg's feelings ("oh, for crying out loud" isn't exactly affirming) without reassuring her seem faintly cruel. You know what would probably encourage Meg more? I'm thinking maybe not spending quite so much time emphasizing what a bombshell her mother is.

(Side-bar: Are these effusive compliments of Mrs Murry supposed to read as normal? My mother was prettier than me when I was growing up and I knew it, but I can't remember a single male peer saying so. Especially not as a backhanded insult to their own mothers. Moms were moms and the concept of MILF was not a thing in my small community. We were sex-repressed and perhaps that dampened otherwise natural feeling, but this part seems very foreign to my own experiences.)

   “Oh, for crying out loud,” Calvin said, “you’re Meg, aren’t you? Come on and let’s go for a walk.”
   But Meg was still not satisfied. “And what do you make of Calvin?” she demanded of her mother.
   Mrs. Murry laughed. “I don’t want to make anything of Calvin. I like him very much, and I’m delighted he’s found his way here.”
   “Mother, you were going to tell me about a tesseract.”
   “Yes.” A troubled look came into Mrs. Murry’s eyes. “But not now, Meg. Not now. Go on out for that walk with Calvin. I’m going up to kiss Charles and then I have to see that the twins get to bed.”

So close! But soon.

Meg and Calvin go out for a walk. Intentional or not, I'm struck again by how much this resembles Official Courting Decorum 101. They don't date or go out to movies or for food (neither are old enough to drive but even if they were and even if they had a car, they wouldn't as that would open the prospect of backseats and sinful fumbling); instead they walk the family property in silence while Calvin keeps a "strong hand" on Meg to steady her. (She stumbles, as Bella would.)

Incidentally, if you haven't read From Front Porch to Back Seat, it is a fascinating book. I add an excerpt here:

'One day, the 1920s story goes, a young man asked a city girl if he might call on her. We know nothing else about the man or the girl--only that, when he arrived, she had her hat on. Not much of a story to us, but any American born before 1910 would have gotten the punch line. 'She had her hat on': those five words were rich in meaning to early twentieth-century Americans. The hat signaled that she expected to leave the house. He came on a 'call,' expecting to be received in her family's parlor, to talk, to meet her mother, perhaps to have some refreshments or to listen to her play the piano. She expected a 'date,' to be taken 'out' somewhere and entertained. He ended up spending four weeks' savings fulfilling her expectations.' --from From Front Porch to Back Seat

There has been a lot of ink spilled over women's sexual liberation and how it has Ruined Everything Forever. L'Engle herself was not sex-positive outside the bounds of marriage; Book #3 in the series is starkly about her fear of good (white, blond) Christian sons being seduced by slutty non-Christian women (of color). Angels in the book are ruined into damnation and devilry (and a darker color palette) after giving into their lust for human women. Meanwhile, one of these women tries to seduce Sandy and Dennys. The boys eventually decide that the ability to touch (white) unicorns--an ability which only virgins possess--isn't worth giving up for that girl. The right girl, yes, but not that slutty one who inspires only lust and not its cousin love.

Yet setting that whatnapple aside, I wonder if anyone has examined the "dating" movement--i.e., the decision to get courtship away from the eyes of the family and out among strangers and privacy--as not only a case of women's sexual liberation but also a case of liberation from family period. On a date, after all, one can question whether the prospective suitor is okay with his wife wearing pants, holding an outside job, using birth control, attending church only minimally, etc. Answers may be more honest and more liberal than with Dad and Mum breathing down a suitor's back. "How do you feel about me being trans / a cross-dresser / a feminist / queer / different from the Accepted Norm" might have been an easier question away from the family. I know for me it was.

I have digressed again.

   Calvin led Meg across the lawn. The shadows of the trees were long and twisted and there was a heavy, sweet, autumnal smell to the air. Meg stumbled as the land sloped suddenly downhill, but Calvin’s strong hand steadied her. They walked carefully across the twins’ vegetable garden, picking their way through rows of cabbages, beets, broccoli, pumpkins. Looming on their left were the tall stalks of corn. Ahead of them was a small apple orchard bounded by a stone wall, and beyond this the woods through which they had walked that afternoon. Calvin led the way to the wall, and then sat there, his red hair shining silver in the moonlight, his body dappled with patterns from the tangle of branches. He reached up, pulled an apple off a gnarled limb, and handed it to Meg, then picked one for himself. “Tell me about your father.”
   “He’s a physicist.”
   “Sure, we all know that. And he’s supposed to have left your mother and gone off with some dame.”
   Meg jerked up from the stone on which she was perched, but Calvin grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her back down. “Hold it, kid. I didn’t say anything you hadn’t heard already, did I?”
   “No,” Meg said, but continued to pull away. “Let me go.”
   “Come on, calm down. You know it isn’t true, I know it isn’t true. And how anybody after one look at your mother could believe any man would leave her for another woman just shows how far jealousy will make people go. Right?”
   “I guess so,” Meg said, but her happiness had fled and she was back in a morass of anger and resentment.
   “Look, dope.” Calvin shook her gently. “I just want to get things straight, sort of sort out the fact from fiction. Your father’s a physicist. That’s a fact, yes?”

I like Calvin, I really do, but hooboy this is one of those passages that really only works in fiction and really only works because my brain immediately edits it heavily upon reading it. It's like the scene where Edward is holding Bella by the jacket and hauling her backwards across the parking lot; it doesn't work. Calvin is holding Meg's arm while she tries to yank away (that hurts), and shaking her, and calling her names. Not just names, but names that he knows will sting--he already knows she feels stupid in contrast to him and intimidated by him and her genius family.

We're back to the problem that Calvin's and Charles' superpowers of Communication and Empathy are told more than shown. Nothing here screams "good communication" yet this is literally Calvin's superpower, as will be later pointed out by actual angels. Where is that here? He accuses Mr Murry of unfaithfulness with the flimsiest of dodge words ('I didn't say he ran off, I said he was supposed to have, geez') and then grapples with Meg and shakes her and insults her. Sure, he means it in a gentle way but intention is a low bar to clear.

Can we re-write this?

"May I ask about your father?"

"He's a physicist."

"He's missing, right? I've only heard the stupid stuff jealous people say: that he ran off with some dame. I know it's not true--anyone only has to meet your mother to know how ridiculous that is. Do you know what really happened?"

Or something. As it is, this smacks of the romantic trope where the heroine thinks badly of the hero, then realizes she was wrong, and in the awareness that she is wrong she sees she has wronged him with her assumptions, and now he is good and honorable and noble and they should be together. I mean, better to get it over with on one page than the entirety of Pride and Prejudice, but I dislike this trope. Being wrong about a guy in your head isn't wronging him and being not-a-total-jackass doesn't make a guy sponge-worthy.

...I swear I'm not bashing Calvin on purpose. I do like him.

   “He’s a Ph.D. several times over.”
   “Most of the time he works alone but some of the time he was at the Institute for Higher Learning in Princeton. Correct?”
   “Then he did some work for the government, didn’t he?”
   “You take it from there. That’s all I know.”

Here's what I want to know: how old are these people? Mother has two Ph.Ds (Biology and Bacteriology) and Father has "several" so I'm guessing more than two? He's worked at Princeton (New Jersey) and Cape Canaveral (Florida) and in a few moments Meg will name-drop New Mexico which I presume is meant to make us think of the Manhattan Project.

As an aside, a thought occurs. If Mr Murry was involved in the Manhattan Project, it's interesting that we never hear anything about his feels on that. There's no sign of depression or feelings that science has Gone Too Far. Indeed, even after what he's seen and been through in this book (which is, spoiler: Not Good), he seems remarkably upbeat about Science! being the answer to all the things. In a series where Evil and Chaos are linked inextricably with Destruction, it's interesting that someone who might have been involved in the making of nuclear weapons doesn't seem fazed by the use of those weapons. I can see why the author isn't (Science!), but many of the Manhattan Project scientists were plagued with regrets afterwards. Mr Murry appears not to be.

He may have been too young to be involved in the Manhattan Project, of course. We really don't have an age for him. If I recall correctly, his hair is not white and I think he's relatively close to Mrs Murry's age, who previously described herself as "quite a young woman" so god only knows. I think we're supposed to read them as being in their early 30s, but... they have a daughter who might be fourteen and five or six Ph.Ds between them so I don't know how that adds up.

In modern 2016, a Ph.D takes approximately 5-6 years to complete and most students take 8-9 years. Some of that time could have been doubled up for Mr Murry's triple-doctorate, I suppose, but most schools won't award duplicate degrees or even necessarily degrees in nearby subjects if they're too similar. (Depends on school and circumstance.) So it's not like he could get a Ph.D in Physics from Yale and then resubmit all his work for a second Ph.D in Physics at Harvard. You get one Ph.D in the thing. So presumably he has three Ph.Ds in different subjects (say... Physics, Maths, and... Nuclear Science? I dunno) and maybe compressed them into 6 years + 3 years + 3 years if he overlapped them? Let's say he went to college at 18, finished a bachelor in 3 years at 21, got the first Ph.D in 6 years at 27, had Meg at 27, finished the next two Ph.Ds in 6 years at 33, worked for 6 years until Meg was 12 and he was 39, then disappeared for 1-2 years so that Meg is now ~14 and he's 41? Ish?

That's a tight timeline and I'm far from certain that it fits the text at all because I do think he's supposed to be younger than that, but I've no idea how to tighten that any further. Degrees take time to complete, they aren't just a test you show up and ace because you're so smart. This is the problem Speaker for the Dead ran into and which Edinburgh Eye pointed out was so jarring:

But, that Novinha is already better than a graduate student - that at thirteen, independently, she's already gone through all the work she would have done in three or four years at college: that's just unbelievable. She's supposed to have done it without a mentor, without any help from the school (Dona Crista says that Novinha "claims" to have been studying xenobiology "since she was a little child", meaning that Crista doesn't know).

Really. Unbelievable, Novinha just wouldn't have time. At what point is she supposed to have started reading xenobiology: six? This isn't like Mozart being an infant prodigy of music, it's not like being a chessmaster or a mathematical genius, understanding scientific concepts and learning not merely the whats but the whys takes time.

So we may have to file this under Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale.

Anyway, Meg says her father was involved in Classified Top Secret work with no way to work out what he was doing save for the places they lived.

   “Out in New Mexico for a while; we were with him there; and then he was in Florida at Cape Canaveral, and we were with him there, too. And then he was going to be traveling a lot, so we came here.”
   “You’d always had this house?”
   “Yes. But we used to live in it just in the summer.”
   “And you don’t know where your father was sent?”
   “No. At first we got lots of letters. Mother and Father always wrote each other every day. I think Mother still writes him every night. Every once in a while the postmistress makes some kind of a crack about all her letters.”
   “I suppose they think she’s pursuing him or something,” Calvin said, rather bitterly. “They can’t understand plain, ordinary love when they see it. Well, go on. What happened next?”
   “Nothing happened,” Meg said. “That’s the trouble.”
   “Well, what about your father’s letters?”
   “They just stopped coming.”
   “You haven’t heard anything at all?”
   “No,” Meg said. “Nothing.” Her voice was heavy with misery.
   Silence fell between them, as tangible as the dark tree shadows that fell across their laps and that now seemed to rest upon them as heavily as though they possessed a measurable weight of their own.

It is interesting to me that Calvin was all hands when Meg needed steadying on the various walks to and from the house so far, but there's no mention here of holding her hand or placing a hand on her back or even just sitting close enough for their arms to touch. No human contact, nothing to emotionally steady her as she talks about something clearly very painful. Again we have the problem that empathy is being told more than shown.

   At last Calvin spoke in a dry, unemotional voice, not looking at Meg. “Do you think he could be dead?”
   Again Meg leaped up, and again Calvin pulled her down. “No! They’d have told us if he were dead! There’s always a telegram or something. They always tell you!”

But he has hands! He uses them to pull her down when she tries to get away! Calvin, this is not how to be a Good Person, please do better. 

   “What do they tell you?”
   Meg choked down a sob, managed to speak over it. “Oh, Calvin, Mother’s tried and tried to find out. She’s been down to Washington and everything. And all they’ll say is that he’s on a secret and dangerous mission, and she can be very proud of him, but he won’t be able to—to communicate with us for a while. And they’ll give us news as soon as they have it.”
   “Meg, don’t get mad, but do you think maybe they don’t know?”
   A slow tear trickled down Meg’s cheek. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”

We've already talked about this but the most interesting thing to me here is that the government hasn't just told the family that Mr Murry is dead. "He died in an experiment and there was nothing left behind" is, from the government's point of view, exactly what happened. He's secretly still alive and he will come back eventually, but they don't know that because no one has ever managed it before. How long are they going to keep sending paychecks home? That's mischarging on a government contract, and that's kind of a big deal--yes, even when there are Secrets to keep. So much easier to tell the unclassified truth: they're pretty sure he's not coming back.

   “Why don’t you cry?” Calvin asked gently. “You’re just crazy about your father, aren’t you? Go ahead and cry. It’ll do you good.”
   Meg’s voice came out trembling over tears. “I cry much too much. I should be like Mother. I should be able to control myself.”
   “Your mother’s a completely different person and she’s a lot older than you are.”
   “I wish I were a different person,” Meg said shakily. “I hate myself.
   Calvin reached over and took off her glasses. Then he pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped her tears. This gesture of tenderness undid her completely, and she put her head down on her knees and sobbed. Calvin sat quietly beside her, every once in a while patting her head. “I’m sorry,” she sobbed finally. “I’m terribly sorry. Now you’ll hate me.
   “Oh, Meg, you are a moron,” Calvin said. “Don’t you know you’re the nicest thing that’s happened to me in a long time?”
   Meg raised her head, and moonlight shone on her tearstained face; without the glasses her eyes were unexpectedly beautiful. “If Charles Wallace is a sport, I think I’m a biological mistake.” Moonlight flashed against her braces as she spoke.
   Now she was waiting to be contradicted. But Calvin said, “Do you know that this is the first time I’ve seen you without your glasses?”

This has come up eleventy billion times and will come up again in Book #2 that Meg fishes for compliments from her family and they (or at least her mother) are weary of giving them and have stopped humoring her. And I get this on an intellectual level--we all know people who fish and fish and fish--but I'm not okay with this.

One time on Twitter I said something and people rushed to compliment me (like nice people do) and I felt bad because I hadn't been intending to make folks feel obliged to soothe my anxieties. I said something like, "Sorry, I swear I wasn't fishing for compliments." And a dear friend said to me something like, "Even if you were, people fish because they are hungry."

Meg is hungry, starving, for some kind of affirmation. She feels ugly and stupid, she calls herself a monster. Has anyone in this book complimented her in a genuine way? Charles agreed she was horrid but this meant she was luckily still in the lottery for maybe gaining beauty later. Charles then said she wasn't like Charles and Calvin in a way that seemed derogatory. When Meg asked her mother about what Charles said, Calvin was dismissive and contemptuous of the question, refusing to let Mrs Murry answer. Now Meg says she hates herself, that Calvin will hate her, and she waits to be contradicted. She doesn't receive that contradiction. Not now, not ever.

Here's what she does get:

   “I’m blind as a bat without them. I’m near-sighted, like Father.”
   “Well, you know what, you’ve got dream-boat eyes,” Calvin said. “Listen, you go right on wearing your glasses. I don’t think I want anybody else to see what gorgeous eyes you have.”
   Meg smiled with pleasure. She could feel herself blushing and she wondered if the blush would be visible in the moonlight.

And, okay. "You're secretly pretty and I don't want the other boys to know because I want you all for myself" has some appeal for some lonely ugly preteen / young adult kids seeking affirmation. It can be read as controlling and terrifying because it is, in essence, an isolating statement: I don't want other men to see you as valuable because I don't want them to present competition to my claim. But romantic possessiveness can be an attractive fantasy. I get it. But.

Meg has just said she hates herself. Teenage hyperbole aside, I... kinda believe her? She goes around calling herself a monster and gets into fights and fails classes and cries a lot. I think she's depressed and I think she has valid reasons to be. (Oh god, it's Bella Swan again, everything comes back to Twilight.) Instead of reassuring her that she has value and she is a biological triumph rather than a mistake, Calvin says she's pretty to him and he wants her to be his. Her value, the very little bit of it that he affirms, is about how he is benefited. "You're the nicest thing that's happened to me," he says, and yes it's a figure of speech but Meg is a thing here. A thing that benefits him.

Maybe it wouldn't be Realistic Teenage Dialogue for Calvin (master of communication) to earnestly tell Meg that she has value, that she is a biological triumph. But we've already seen Calvin hold himself up as a biological specimen of specialness (as a Sport) and we had a very lengthy conversation between Mrs Murry and Mrs Whatsit about how special Charles Wallace is and how no one is on his level of specialness. We've had three chapters about how Charles Wallace and Calvin and Mrs Murry are, objectively, the best things since sliced bread. Yet when Meg voices her self-hatred and waits to be contradicted... no one ever does.

It is difficult to avoid the impression that Meg's "specialness", such as it will be, is a conciliatory "honorable mention" sort of specialness to Charles' and Calvin's winning blue ribbons. Her specialness feels like the "you have a great personality!" told to the ugly girls who lament their lack of suitors. Meg's power--which we will come to later--is Heart, and ought to be the most powerful power of the trio. The cosmology in these books is that Hate can actually literally kill someone and Love is healing and life. In theory, Meg is the strongest of the three and saves the others when the chips are down.

But the way we see this played out undercuts the message somewhat. Charles Wallace has smarts and telepathy and is on a level that no one can understand. Calvin has popularity and communication and connections and the recognition of his peers. Meg has none of that--no affirmation, no accolades, nothing to hold in her heart as an objective measure of her value. She loves these men and saves their lives and secretly wields great power, but her power is always secretive and goes un-praised.

It feels to me like the fantasy of a trapped housewife--loving her family, she saves them from monsters and no one ever knows!--and somehow I notice with a stab of sadness that Bella Swan has the same trajectory. She's the strongest of the Cullens and arm-wrestles Emmett with ease, but will anyone outside the family ever know? Will she be allowed to compete on American Gladiators to the cheering of crowds? Or is she expected to remain silently smug in her security as the strongest, never looking for validation because she doesn't need it? It feels like a very lonely life.


   “Okay, hold it, you two,” came a voice out of the shadows. Charles Wallace stepped into the moonlight. “I wasn’t spying on you,” he said quickly, “and I hate to break things up, but this is it, kids, this is it!” His voice quivered with excitement.

Charles Wallace, professional cock-blocker. (Side-note: I am aware this is supposed to be Slang and How The Kids These Days Talk, but I'm tickled at 5yo Charles calling Calvin and Meg "kids".)

   “This is what?” Calvin asked.
   “We’re going.”
   “Going? Where?” Meg reached out and instinctively grabbed for Calvin’s hand.
   “I don’t know exactly,” Charles Wallace said. “But I think it’s to find Father.”

Things are happening! Plot!

   Suddenly two eyes seemed to spring at them out of the darkness; it was the moonlight striking on Mrs Who’s glasses. She was standing next to Charles Wallace, and how she had managed to appear where a moment ago there had been nothing but flickering shadows in the moonlight Meg had no idea. She heard a sound behind her and turned around. There was Mrs Whatsit scrambling over the wall.
   “My, but I wish there were no wind,” Mrs Whatsit said plaintively. “It’s so difficult with all these clothes.” She wore her outfit of the night before, rubber boots and all, with the addition of one of Mrs. Buncombe’s sheets which she had draped over her. As she slid off the wall the sheet caught in a low branch and came off. The felt hat slipped over both eyes, and another branch plucked at the pink stole. “Oh, dear,” she sighed. “I shall never learn to manage.”
   Mrs Who wafted over to her, tiny feet scarcely seeming to touch the ground, the lenses of her glasses glittering. “Come t’è picciol fallo amaro morso! Dante. What grievous pain a little fault doth give thee!” With a clawlike hand she pushed the hat up on Mrs Whatsit’s forehead, untangled the stole from the tree, and with a deft gesture took the sheet and folded it.
   “Oh, thank you,” Mrs Whatsit said. “You’re so clever!”
   “Un asno viejo sabe más que un potro. A. Perez. An old ass knows more than a young colt.”
   “Just because you’re a paltry few billion years—” Mrs Whatsit was starting indignantly, when a sharp, strange voice cut in.
   “Alll rrightt, girrllss. Thiss iss nno ttime forr bbickkerring.”
   “It’s Mrs Which,” Charles Wallace said.
   There was a faint gust of wind, the leaves shivered in it, the patterns of moonlight shifted, and in a circle of silver something shimmered, quivered, and the voice said, “I ddo nott thinkk I willl matterrialize commpletely. I ffindd itt verry ttirinngg, andd wee hhave mmuch ttoo ddoo.”

And that's the end of the chapter, demonstrating once again that L'Engle knows where to cut for maximum suspense. We'll save Chapter 4 for next time, kids.


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