Time Quintet: Planet Death Bat

[Content Note: Child Abuse, Christian Hell]

A Wrinkle in Time, Chapter 6: The Happy Medium

Okay! We've been stuck in Chapter 6 for a while, but now things are going to start happening! The children have been dropped off on a planet (Camazotz, "death bat" from Mayan mythology, cultural appropriation discussed here and here), given ill-defined gifts of dubious usefulness, and sent on their merry way to bumble around until they find Mr. Murry.

Does everything make sense? No. But things are happening and that's exciting!

   “Come on,” Meg said impatiently. “Come on, let’s go!” She was completely unaware that her voice was trembling like an aspen leaf. She took Charles Wallace and Calvin each by the hand and started down the hill.

It is convenient that Meg and the boys do not linger because this is where we would point out that the angels gave them no directions, no instructions, and they have an entire planet on which Mr. Murry is hidden.

Anyway, they come down the hill and find tract housing, which honestly could be a commentary on a lot of things and I think is more likely a blend of influences. Communism is the obvious bug-bear, and Rugged American Exceptionalism is strong with this series, but I will also here note that the Murrys live out in the countryside away from the cities and suburbs for Strong Moral Reasons that are hinted out throughout the series and which are never outright characterized as White Flight but man there sure are a lot of dog-whistles about cities and violence and violent cities.

   Below them the town was laid out in harsh angular patterns. The houses in the outskirts were all exactly alike, small square boxes painted gray. Each had a small, rectangular plot of lawn in front, with a straight line of dull-looking flowers edging the path to the door. Meg had a feeling that if she could count the flowers there would be exactly the same number for each house. In front of all the houses children were playing. Some were skipping rope, some were bouncing balls. Meg felt vaguely that something was wrong with their play. It seemed exactly like children playing around any housing development at home, and yet there was something different about it. She looked at Calvin, and saw that he, too, was puzzled.
   “Look!” Charles Wallace said suddenly. “They’re skipping and bouncing in rhythm! Everyone’s doing it at exactly the same moment.”
   This was so. As the skipping rope hit the pavement, so did the ball. As the rope curved over the head of the jumping child, the child with the ball caught the ball. Down came the ropes. Down came the balls. Over and over again. Up. Down. All in rhythm. All identical. Like the houses. Like the paths. Like the flowers.
   Then the doors of all the houses opened simultaneously, and out came women like a row of paper dolls. The print of their dresses was different, but they all gave the appearance of being the same. Each woman stood on the steps of her house. Each clapped. Each child with the ball caught the ball. Each child with the skipping rope folded the rope. Each child turned and walked into the house. The doors clicked shut behind them.

This is, of course, impossible. As a child, this worked for me; the impossibility of this scene created a creepy air because it was impossible. Clearly we're dealing with a hive mind (like the Formics in Will Wildman's Ender deconstructions) that is capable of keeping everyone perfectly on track such that no one ever stumbles, no ball is ever dropped, no mother ever arrives at the door a moment later than the others. Everyone is in sync to the second, which implies a tremendous amount of magic or science-magic in play. Good! Cool!

   “How can they do it?” Meg asked wonderingly. “We couldn’t do it that way if we tried. What does it mean?”
   “Let’s go back.” Calvin’s voice was urgent.
   “Back?” Charles Wallace asked. “Where?”
   “I don’t know. Anywhere. Back to the hill. Back to Mrs Whatsit and Mrs Who and Mrs Which. I don’t like this.”
   “But they aren’t there. Do you think they’d come to us if we turned back now?”
   “I don’t like it,” Calvin said again.
   “Come on.” Impatience made Meg squeak. “You know we can’t go back. Mrs Whatsit said to go into the town.” She started on down the street, and the two boys followed her. The houses, all identical, continued, as far as the eye could reach.

This is an interesting interlude to me for a few reasons. For one, Calvin plays the role that is usually assigned to the Token Girl in the group: he suggests that they Abandon The Quest because this is creepy and unsettling. On the one hand, I kind of like that; L'Engle is very devoted throughout the book to having Calvin take on the role of the Token Girl. He's the one who doubts the quest, he's the one with the good communication, he's the one who is randomly sexualized for no apparent reason (see our last chapter with the adult woman who wanted kisses from him), he's the one with the tragic backstory which is not given nearly enough weight all things considered. Calvin is the traditional Girl and it's pretty clear that's what L'Engle was going for.

But on the other hand, as harmful as those tropes all are bundled up into girl characters, I'm not really sure the reversal is worth more than just not doing those tropes. Calvin is the victim of parental abuse, which makes his sexualization by an adult women extremely uncomfortable to me. Especially when he's been raised all his life to do whatever an adult woman says to him or be beaten for his refusal. Would he have felt safe saying no to the request for kisses? Consent doesn't stop being important when we're talking about boys instead of girls!

And then you have moments like here when Calvin's "Refusal Of The Call" trope intersects badly with his "Abusive Parents" backstory. If you've forgotten that he was abused by his parents, this can read like a normal "hey, let's not" objection which could come from any of the trio. Someone had to say it, so why not have the suggestion come from the tall strapping boy of the group? Then it doesn't seem as 'cowardly' as it would have coming from the girl or the littler boy.

But if you remember his abusive backstory--which was, I note, underscored in this very chapter with a peek into his home life where his mother is, right this moment, beating his siblings with kitchen utensils--then now Calvin being troubled by the Identical Tract Houses and the behavior of their inhabitants can be read in a whole new light. Have these children been abused in order to render them so perfectly compliant to the schedule everyone is on? How much abuse would be necessary to turn ordinary little children into automatons like this?

Charles Wallace doesn't have experience with little kids and Meg's experience is largely with Charles Wallace (who isn't ordinary in any way), but Calvin has eight little siblings who are all rowdy and underfoot. Is he imagining the abuse at home used to "keep order", and how much worse the abuse would have to become in order to beat his siblings into this level of impossible submission and synchronization? Is Calvin having flashbacks, is he triggered, is all this bringing him back to the abuse he just witnessed in a magical crystal ball and which he knows is still happening and he's helpless to stop it?

The thing is, if you're going to given random trauma to a side-cast member, you do need to be sensitive to it as an author. Most authors aren't--they have Plot to get to!--which is why these tropes are bad. Not just because they're given to girls (though they are, and that too is a problem), but because abuse shouldn't be a minor characterization side-note up there with hair color and eye color. So just giving the Abuse Backstory to a different gender of the dream team doesn't change the fact that you've brought abuse into your story and that changes everything unless and until you deal with it.

So right now, Calvin's response to the Camazotz children is colored by his abusive backstory. And, incidentally, if you're wondering whether it will become part of a plot to save the Camazotz children, I'm sorry to say that it pretty much doesn't. We're going to keep a laser-focus on Mr. Murry. Which, you know, fine--I understand that not all stories can be about saving everyone. But your heroes really need to notice and care that they didn't save the children being abused, otherwise you've stumbled into Protagonist-Centered Morality territory.

Hooray! The people whose names I know are saved! — Elan (while an allosaurus eats dozens of unnamed mooks), The Order of the Stick

   Then, all at once, they saw the same thing, and stopped to watch. In front of one of the houses stood a little boy with a ball, and he was bouncing it. But he bounced it rather badly and with no particular rhythm, sometimes dropping it and running after it with awkward, furtive leaps, sometimes throwing it up into the air and trying to catch it. The door of his house opened and out ran one of the mother figures. She looked wildly up and down the street, saw the children and put her hand to her mouth as though to stifle a scream, grabbed the little boy and rushed indoors with him. The ball dropped from his fingers and rolled out into the street.

This is where the scene breaks down a little for me as an adult reader, because we're about to see that (apparently?) Camazotz isn't run by hive-mind and that everyone really is just impossibly synchronized. Which... isn't really possible. Humans can't work like that. Granted, these people apparently aren't human in the sense of "evolved on earth", but they are oddly human in the sense of "look exactly like the children".

Which is something I didn't notice before, actually. The first planet they went to had winged centaurs and the next planet after this will have, like, furry bear people, but this one has humanoids who assume the children are natives to the planet. That seems odd? The narrative requires it to be this way so that the children can briefly blend in with the populace, but the blending-in isn't actually necessary to the story and they might have advanced more organically if they didn't look local, since the plot is advanced by the children walking up to what is basically the Emerald City gates and demanding to see The Wizard. You'd think that might work better if they seemed Obviously Alien.

   Charles Wallace ran after it and picked it up, holding it out for Meg and Calvin to see. It seemed like a perfectly ordinary, brown rubber ball.
   “Let’s take it in to him and see what happens,” Charles Wallace suggested.
   Meg pulled at him. “Mrs Whatsit said for us to go on into the town.”
   “Well, we are in the town, aren’t we? The outskirts anyhow. I want to know more about this. I have a hunch it may help us later. You go on if you don’t want to come with me.”
   “No,” Calvin said firmly. “We’re going to stay together. Mrs Whatsit said we weren’t to let them separate us. But I’m with you on this. Let’s knock and see what happens.”
   They went up the path to the house, Meg reluctant, eager to get on into the town. “Let’s hurry,” she begged, “please! Don’t you want to find Father?”
   “Yes,” Charles Wallace said, “but not blindly. How can we help him if we don’t know what we’re up against? And it’s obvious we’ve been brought here to help him, not just to find him.”

Technically, Mrs Which was the one who told them to "Ggo ddownn innttoo tthee ttownn. Ggo ttogetherr. Ddoo nnott llett tthemm ssepparate yyou," not Mrs Whatsit, but this continues to raise a lot of questions about why the angels told them what they did while withholding all the things they didn't say.

For Doylist reasons, of course, the angels told them nothing at all because it's more interesting for the reader if we're as lost and confused as the children. For Watsonian reasons... I have absolutely nothing. The angels acted as if they knew some of the future (or possible futures), but I know of no Christian denomination wherein angels know the future; that power is usually firmly in the hands of God and no one else. But then we also have a fortuneteller in this universe who (maybe?) can see the future or possible futures, and that doesn't jive well with most the Christianity I know either. (Tolkien managed with Galadriel's Mirror, but Tolkien had the luxury of not writing our world. The theological implications of future-seeing were a little softer for his setting.)

I think the angels knew that Mr. Murry is being held at the Emerald City and I think they dropped the kids on the outskirts of the nearby town with the intent that the children ask around, learn about Central Command or whatever, and then decide to walk there and ask to see the Wizard, but I'm not sure how this would have played out differently if the angels had just said that. They could even have said it in an ambiguous way ("Go to Central Command and ask to see the Wizard!") and the children still could have stumbled around asking what that meant. Instead we get... this. Which makes it seem like the angels really aren't invested in their safety or the saving of their father.

   He walked briskly up the steps and knocked at the door. They waited. Nothing happened. Then Charles Wallace saw a bell, and this he rang. They could hear the bell buzzing in the house, and the sound of it echoed down the street. After a moment the mother figure opened the door. All up and down the street other doors opened, but only a crack, and eyes peered toward the three children and the woman looking fearfully out the door at them.
   “What do you want?” she asked. “It isn’t paper time yet; we’ve had milk time; we’ve had this month’s Puller Prush Person; and I’ve given my Decency Donations regularly. All my papers are in order.”
   “I think your little boy dropped his ball,” Charles Wallace said, holding it out.
   The woman pushed the ball away. “Oh, no! The children in our section never drop balls! They’re all perfectly trained. We haven’t had an Aberration for three years.”
   All up and down the block, heads nodded in agreement.
   [...] Charles Wallace held the ball out beyond the woman so that the little boy could see it. Quick as a flash the boy leaped forward and grabbed the ball from Charles Wallace’s hand, then darted back into the shadows. The woman went very white, opened her mouth as though to say something, then slammed the door in their faces instead. All up and down the street doors slammed.
   “What are they afraid of?” Charles Wallace asked. “What’s the matter with them?”
   “Don’t you know?” Meg asked him. “Don’t you know what all this is about, Charles?”
   “Not yet,” Charles Wallace said. “Not even an inkling. And I’m trying. But I didn’t get through anywhere. Not even a chink. Let’s go.” He stumped down the steps.

Calvin, the one person in their group who is familiar with violence in a family setting, and who Meg and Charles know he is because he was just "outed" to the group via crystal ball, is silent. He isn't asked what he thinks and he doesn't interact with the woman in any way, despite being the Communicator of the group. So... that's a thing that just happened.

They walk down the street and see a boy about Calvin's age on a bicycle. The boy is clearly a paperboy but he too seems afflicted with the Mysterious Impossible Precision:

   The rhythm of the gesture never varied. The paper flew in identically the same arc at each doorway, landed in identically the same spot. It was impossible for anybody to throw with such consistent perfection.
   Calvin whistled. “I wonder if they play baseball here?”

I... I just...

Newbery medal, y'all. Who am I to say that this is a totally bizarre and inappropriate response in the face of something mysterious and scary and impossible, coming from someone with a background in abuse who has strong reason to suspect that domestic terrorism is at play here. Clearly, Calvin would have gotten over his previous (and perfectly understandable) fear and is now thinking about Sports because he's a sporty guy who loves sport. Clearly, a paperboy who is going full Uncanny Valley by acting like a robot after being forcibly conditioned ("The children [are] all perfectly trained. We haven’t had an Aberration for three years.") is more interesting as a potential pitcher in a ball game than pitiable as a victim of some kind of governmental abuse.

Like, for fuck's sake, L'Engle: is this supposed to be creepy or not? You can't have your kids careen back and forth between "oh god scary shivers let's flee" and "look at the arm on that kid, sign him up for sportsball, amiright". If you wanna pull a There Is No War In Ba Sing Se creepy-vibe, you have to pick a response and stick with it. You can't have all the emotional responses or your characters look like clowns.

Picture of a Salt Shaker
Pictured: The Blogmistress

Anyway, the paperboy challenges their right to be out here on the street and I'm wondering what time of day it is. As a kid, I read the women as calling in the kids to dinner but that would mean that newspapers go out in the evening. That seems a little odd, but maybe that's just because I'm used to my Earth Customs.

Charles says they're strangers here and this whole conversation is so weird because Calvin doesn't say a thing. Calvin is their communicator! He's also the person closest in age to the paperboy! Why is the five year old of the group doing all the talking? Even Meg is silent throughout this, which doesn't fit her character at all. It's like L'Engle couldn't juggle four characters in a conversation (which is not easy, for the record) so Meg and Calvin just go into Standby Mode and idle any time talking needs to happen.

It's-- Look, here, I'll just quote it.

   “No, we don’t know it,” Charles Wallace said. “We’re strangers here. How about telling us something about this place?”
   “You mean you’ve had your entrance papers processed and everything?” the boy asked. “You must have if you’re here,” he answered himself. “And what are you doing here if you don’t know about us?”
   “You tell me,” Charles Wallace said.
   “Are you examiners?” the boy asked a little anxiously. “Everybody knows our city has the best Central Intelligence Center on the planet. Our production levels are the highest. Our factories never close; our machines never stop rolling. Added to this we have five poets, one musician, three artists, and six sculptors, all perfectly channeled.”
   “What are you quoting from?” Charles Wallace asked.
   “The Manual, of course,” the boy said. “We are the most oriented city on the planet. There has been no trouble of any kind for centuries. All Camazotz knows our record. That is why we are the capital city of Camazotz. That is why CENTRAL Central Intelligence is located here. That is why IT makes ITs home here.” There was something about the way he said “IT” that made a shiver run up and down Meg’s spine.
   But Charles Wallace asked briskly, “Where is this Central Intelligence Center of yours?”
   “CENTRAL Central,” the boy corrected. “Just keep going and you can’t miss it. You are strangers, aren’t you! What are you doing here?”
   “Are you supposed to ask questions?” Charles Wallace demanded severely.
   The boy went white, just as the woman had. “I humbly beg your pardon. I must continue my route now or I will have to talk my timing into the explainer.” And he shot off down the street on his machine.

This is especially weird because you could easily slot Calvin or Meg in for several of those lines and it'd flow just as well, without having two of the three Heroes on standby for the entire scene. Like, Meg could easily ask what the boy was quoting from and where Central is; briskness is her thing. And Calvin could hop in with that parting "are you supposed to ask questions", demonstrating that he's been analyzing the boy this whole time and figured out (with his Communication Powers) the precise thing that would send the boy scampering away. Why is Charles Wallace doing everything?

   Charles Wallace stared after him. “What is it?” he asked Meg and Calvin. “There was something funny about the way he talked, as though—well, as though he weren’t really doing the talking. Know what I mean?”
   Calvin nodded, thoughtfully. “Funny is right. Funny peculiar. Not only the way he talked, either. The whole thing smells.”
   “Come on.” Meg pulled at them. How many times was it she had urged them on? “Let’s go find Father. He’ll be able to explain it all to us.”

Okay, is this a hive-mind or not? If the boy isn't "really doing the talking", then he's a puppet or possessed or controlled--in which case, how did the ball-dropping boy absent himself from the hive-mind without the hive noticing? Even if the hive didn't notice the absence of the boy, they should be observing his aberrant behavior through the eyes of the other people the hive-mind controls, like, you know, his mother. Is she free from the hive-mind too? Are they going to be in danger now that Charles and the others have outed them to their watching neighbors?

...It's probably a bad sign that I care way more about the ball-dropping boy and his mother and their story than I do about Mr. Murry.

   They walked on. After several more blocks they began to see other people, grown-up people, not children, walking up and down and across the streets. These people ignored the children entirely, seeming to be completely intent on their own business. Some of them went into the apartment buildings. Most of them were heading in the same direction as the children. As these people came to the main street from the side streets they would swing around the corners with an odd, automatic stride, as though they were so deep in their own problems and the route was so familiar that they didn’t have to pay any attention to where they were going.

Okay, this doesn't really make sense. In this Orderly World, the children are an aberration--they're in a space with no children and they're moving all wrong and out of sync with the normal order. Either people are going to notice and challenge them (the way the paperboy did) or they're so drugged they don't notice the children at all (in which case the paperboy ought not have challenged them). Are these people Mindless Zombies or Strict Communist Automatons, because they can't be both. You have to pick one. Unless... did the hive-mind give everyone orders to not impede the children because it wants to meet them? But in that case, wouldn't someone pause to be helpful at them?

   After a while the apartment buildings gave way to what must have been office buildings, great stern structures with enormous entrances. Men and women with briefcases poured in and out.
   Charles Wallace went up to one of the women, saying politely, “Excuse me, but could you please tell me—” But she hardly glanced at him as she continued on her way.

Case in point: If the woman is plugged into the hive-mind, you'd think she'd stop to help the children. The person in charge--IT--wants to meet the kids. That IT's minions aren't being helpful towards that goal suggests that IT doesn't have perfect direct control over them, so IT isn't a Formic Hive Queen. Okay. Parameter established.

But if IT isn't a hive queen, then what is going on with these people? How are they able to perfectly adhere to a bodily activity like jumping rope (DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY MUSCLES ARE INVOLVED IN JUMPING ROPE? THEY HAVE PERFECT CONTROL OVER THEIR ARM, HAND, AND LEG MUSCLES!) and speak as though they're hand-puppets and yet not be directly controlled?

   “Look.” Meg pointed. Ahead of them, across a square, was the largest building they had ever seen, higher than the Empire State Building, and almost as long as it was high.
   “This must be it,” Charles Wallace said, “their CENTRAL Central Intelligence or whatever it is. Let’s go on.”
   “But if Father’s in some kind of trouble with this planet,” Meg objected, “isn’t that exactly where we shouldn’t go?”
   “Well, how do you propose finding him?” Charles Wallace demanded.
   “I certainly wouldn’t ask there!”
   “I didn’t say anything about asking. But we aren’t going to have the faintest idea where or how to begin to look for him until we find out something more about this place, and I have a hunch that that’s the place to start. If you have a better idea, Meg, why of course just say so.”

SPOILER: For all that Charles snarks that he "didn't say anything about asking", he will in fact do literally nothing in this building except wander around asking people for help. This will work, sort of, even though it really shouldn't, but really underscores just how railroaded this feels. The angels dropped them off on a hill, the kids walked down through a town, an apartment complex, a business district, and then oh, hey, their spot check yields a building as big and wide as the Empire State Building. WHAT.

WHERE WAS THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING BEFORE? They've been on foot, walking for less than an hour or so, there's no way they wouldn't have seen the building in the distance, right? So why haven't they been aiming for that from the start? Why didn't the angels point to the huge building back when they were on the hill and say Mr. Murry is in there? How are they literally just now seeing this building when Meg points and says "Look"? And this building is as wide as it is tall. But they just stumbled onto it rather than aiming for it deliberately all this time.

Empire State Building

In short: Who edited this book? I have harsh words to say to them.

   “Oh, get down off your high horse,” Meg said crossly. “Let’s go to your old CENTRAL Central Intelligence and get it over with.”
   “I think we ought to have passports or something,” Calvin suggested. [...]
   “If we needed passports or papers Mrs Whatsit would have told us so,” Charles Wallace said.
   Calvin put his hands on his hips and looked down at Charles Wallace. “Now look here, old sport. I love those three old girls just as much as you do, but I’m not sure they know everything.”
   “They know a lot more than we do.”
   “Granted. But you know Mrs Whatsit talked about having been a star. I wouldn’t think that being a star would give her much practice in knowing about people. When she tried to be a person she came pretty close to goofing it up. There was never anybody on land or sea like Mrs Whatsit the way she got herself up.”
   “She was just having fun,” Charles said. “If she’d wanted to look like you or Meg I’m sure she could have.”

This is one of those passages that I do think works, because it's easy to read Charles as peevish and stubborn (he is five years old!) and Calvin is finally making good points. If they don't have their papers in order and they're detained at Central, they can't exactly run around saving Mr. Murry. And considering the angels didn't even give them food (which Charles noted the children needed but the angels wouldn't think to provide) or sleep (which we're just ignoring as a factor), it is entirely reasonable that they would forget to give the children papers or passports if those were needed.

Hell, even Charles' insistence that the angels were "just having fun" isn't exactly a ringing endorsement. Their father is being held captive and this is a mission of life and death, it's not exactly the time to be bumbling about stealing bed-sheets. (Remember when the angels were stealing bed-sheets from humans? So they could make fake 'ghosts' to scare children off from the abandoned house they were inhabiting? Even though they had no reason to inhabit a house and they have nothing to fear from curious children because they're literally angels who can disappear on a whim?)

Annoyingly, even though Calvin is right about everything here, the narrative will make sure Charles is right. And it's noticeable to me that we're no longer talking about the three angels; everything is "Mrs. Whatsit" (as per above when they attributed instructions to the wrong angel). This is odd and makes me wonder if there was a version of the novel with only one angel. We really haven't needed three angels, but then again I'm not sure anything that has come before couldn't have been substantially reworked. Did we need the singing winged centaurs and the verses from Isaiah? Did we learn anything from the Happy Medium that we couldn't have done without? Arguable.

   Calvin shook his head. “I’m not so sure. And these people seem to be people, if you know what I mean. They aren’t like us, I grant you that, there’s something very off-beat about them. But they’re lots more like ordinary people than the ones on Uriel.”
   “Do you suppose they’re robots?” Meg suggested.
   Charles Wallace shook his head. “No. That boy who dropped the ball wasn’t any robot. And I don’t think the rest of them are, either. Let me listen for a minute.”

Charles tries to "listen" to the people and declares they're not robots and he can "feel minds" but he can't get at them at all. I here note that I think we're again firmly in the realm of Theologies; this is a Fallen Planet where Satan reigns supreme, so the minds of the people here are all in thrall to him.

In some ways, I think Camazotz is a very effective vision of hell. This isn't the Murder-and-Orgy planet; there are no Gratuitous Rape Gangs. Instead, everyone is uniform, monochrome, stamped into perfect unquestioning obedience. Abuse is implied, and very effectively, with the fear of the woman and the ball-dropping boy; we get a strong sense that aberrant people are killed or emotionally destroyed. Broken down. Glimpses of 1984 and Room 101. As a metaphor of hell, this is done well.

But, and this is the crux of the problem of Camazotz, this isn't hell. The people here aren't dead spirits who can't be reached or saved, and there's definitely no suggestion that they deserve this. We're meeting kids and housewives, not serial killers who've died and been given over to Satan. (Not that I don't have problems with that model too, but that's another post for another time.) Christians are trained to be okay with Damned Innocents in their fiction (or, at least, I was), but most non-Christians are going to find that jarring as heck--especially when the protagonists don't care.

Charles declares the people around them aren't robots but rather minds in bondage. The Christian reader nods at the metaphor; this is what we're raised to believe about the people next door. Those nice atheist neighbors seem nice but their minds are in bondage. They are miserable wretches, just going through the motions. Sheeple. Only we are free, only we know joy. Meanwhile, the non-Christian reader is boggling a little at Camazotz because it's not a metaphor to slip into; these people are in trouble and ought to be rescued or at least pitied.

If you're not in on the metaphor, Meg and Charles and Calvin look monstrous for not caring, for not trying to save people from this oppressive planet they can't leave. If you are in the metaphor, you understand that there's nothing they can do because your Satanically-bonded non-Christian neighbors are determined to live life their way and all you can do is be a shining light and hope they convert at the yearly summer barbecue you host in your backyard. The prayer before everyone eats is the lifeline you throw out, but it's up to them to leave Camazotz bondage on their own.

Some things don't metaphor well, basically.

   “They’re not robots,” he said suddenly and definitely. “I’m not sure what they are, but they’re not robots. I can feel minds there. I can’t get at them at all, but I can feel them sort of pulsing. Let me try a minute more.”
   [...] One white-faced man in a dark suit looked directly at the children, said, “Oh, dear, I shall be late,” and flickered into the building.
   “He’s like the white rabbit,” Meg giggled nervously.

I mean, you see what I mean about the children seeming monstrous if you're not in on the metaphor. Sure, we can forgive Meg some nervous giggling, but never once in this novel (that I can recall, anyway) will they express sympathy for the people trapped on Camazotz. Certainly no effort will be made to rescue the people. They didn't choose to be born here in hell, but the angels and heroes aren't going to offer to tesser any of them to a better place.

   Charles punched one small fist into an open palm with a gesture of great decision. “Let’s go to CENTRAL Central Intelligence.”
   Calvin reached out and caught both Charles and Meg by the arm. “You remember when we met, you asked me why I was there? And I told you it was because I had a compulsion, a feeling I just had to come to that particular place at that particular moment?”
   “Yes, sure.”
   “I’ve got another feeling. Not the same kind, a different one, a feeling that if we go into that building we’re going into terrible danger.”

And the chapter ends there! I'm... honestly not sure why. This chapter has been the longest chapter of anything ever and really should have cut when they tessered to Camazotz and landed on the hill. There's some attempt at a cliffhanger here--Calvin's premonition! What does it mean! How will it affect their plans!--but literally on the next page Charles and Meg will overrule Calvin and they'll all walk into the building, so it's not a very good cliffhanger.

Next time: Charles wanders around a big building asking questions, exactly the way Meg predicted he would! Things go badly, just as Calvin thought! This is all according to the angels' plan, apparently!


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