Time Quintet: I'm Afraid This Is Going To Hurt

[Wrinkle Content Note: Christian Gaslighting]

Wrinkle Recap: After their confrontation with IT went badly, Mr Murry teleported himself, Meg, and Calvin away. Charles Wallace was left behind.

A Wrinkle in Time, Chapter 10: Absolute Zero

When we last left our heroes, Meg was correctly pointing out that Calvin and her father choose to leave Charles Wallace behind. They did so on the assumption that tessering him while he was controlled by IT would hurt him, but they have no data whatsoever to support that claim. They also apparently think there will be an opportunity in the future to rescue Charles Wallace, but it's unclear how they expect that to work given that Murry can only tesser at random and doesn't know how to find his way back. Meg is, according to the narrative, to blame for pointing these things out.

   All Meg’s faults were uppermost in her now, and they were no longer helping her. “No! And you’d better take me back to Camazotz and Charles Wallace quickly. You’re supposed to be able to help!” Disappointment was as dark and corrosive in her as the Black Thing. The ugly words tumbled from her cold lips even as she herself could not believe that it was to her father, her beloved, longed-for father, that she was talking to in this way. If her tears had not still been frozen they would have gushed from her eyes.

I obviously can't know how L'Engle intended us to take this, but as an evangelical child who understood that the Black Thing was sin and Satan, I instinctively read this to mean Meg was tainted by sin from having passed through the cloud. Calvin and Murry passed through it easily and were calm and quiet in this scene; Meg passed through it with difficulty and it rendered her sick and querulous. Sin. Only later did I see the bind that this places women in: if they're anything other than quiet and accepting of male judgment, they're acting out with sinful disagreeableness.

There are other ways to interpret this, of course. Maybe Meg struggled with going through the Black Thing because she instinctively realized her brother had been left behind. Perhaps her anger and grief here is meant to be seen not as a fallen nature where she's sinfully talking to her "beloved, longed-for father" in an unfilial manner, but rather as the very real grief and depression she's experiencing on coming to terms with her father not being the mythical god-figure she remembers as a little girl. She's given up everything to find him only to experience the tragedy of realizing that he's just a broken-down human man as capable of disappointing her as anyone else.

I'm still inclined to lean towards the first interpretation as "correct" because I can't see how grief can be truly sympathetic once it is being compared in any way to the literal manifestation of sin in the cosmos. But the power of L'Engle's writing is arguably that we can take the passage two different ways; if this were Lewis, we would have a narrator over our shoulder telling us how wrong it was for Meg to talk back to her father this way. Though I may have spoken too soon because we go on:

   She had found her father and he had not made everything all right. Everything kept getting worse and worse. If the long search for her father was ended, and he wasn’t able to overcome all their difficulties, there was nothing to guarantee that it would all come out right in the end. There was nothing left to hope for. She was frozen, and Charles Wallace was being devoured by IT, and her omnipotent father was doing nothing. She teetered on the seesaw of love and hate, and the Black Thing pushed her down into hate. “You don’t even know where we are!” she cried out at her father. “We’ll never see Mother or the twins again! We don’t know where earth is! Or even where Camazotz is! We’re lost out in space! What are you going to do!” She did not realize that she was as much in the power of the Black Thing as Charles Wallace.

Well, okay, there's that. "Meg was as much in the power of the Black Thing as Charles Wallace" isn't something we can easily brush aside. She's in thrall to evil and sin, and if she were not then she wouldn't be saying these "hateful" (and yet entirely accurate!) things to her beloved father.

I guess there might still be some case to be made that the Black Thing isn't sin but rather is some kind of negative emotion like grief or pain or depression. But that doesn't really work when we look at the cosmos war between shrouded planets and clear ones. A "good" planet doesn't have the Black Thing, but it's hard for me to imagine a good planet without grief. Accidents will happen, things will break or be lost, and for sorrow to follow in the wake of unexpected loss is natural and normal. So it seems that the Black Thing is supposed to be sin, or at least badness, and IT is most assuredly meant to be badness, and here Meg is in thrall to them both after her recent brush with both. Great.

   Mr. Murry bent over her, massaging her cold fingers. She could not see his face. “My daughter, I am not a Mrs Whatsit, a Mrs Who, or a Mrs Which. Yes, Calvin has told me everything he could. I am a human being, and a very fallible one. But I agree with Calvin. We were sent here for something. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

This is not really an answer to the pressing questions Meg has raised--how will they find Charles Wallace and return to earth--but it is a rather standard religious question dodge. "I don't know, but my choices thus far must fit into God's overall plan or we wouldn't be here" is such a fun and easy way to gaslight people because you inarguably are here, so it must be God's plan for you to be here, Q.E.D.

Arguments to the effect that Murry should have chosen differently so that they could now be elsewhere become tantamount to questioning God's plan. Heck, even expressing disappointment in where they are becomes a question to God's plan. We're here now and He must want us to be here now, so who are you to express dismay? Don't you know He loved you and wants what's best for you? Et cetera.

   “The Black Thing!” Meg cried out at him. “Why did you let it almost get me?”
   “You’ve never tessered as well as the rest of us,” Calvin reminded her. “It never bothered Charles and me as much as it did you.”
   “He shouldn’t have taken me, then,” Meg said, “until he learned to do it better.”

This is, I think, meant to show Meg as irrational since obviously Murry only tessered her in a moment of extreme danger when she was on the verge of falling into IT's hypnotic clutches. But if he was willing to leave Charles Wallace behind because it was 'too dangerous' to tesser the boy, then it becomes a valid point that perhaps it was equally 'too dangerous' to tesser Meg. In light of the fact that Calvin and Murry are saying they'll go back for Charles Wallace, it makes sense to me that Meg would wish to have stayed behind to comfort him in his captivity.

I mean, they saw a little boy in a torture chamber for not bouncing a ball in perfect rhythm. God knows what they're doing to Charles Wallace, who is surely resisting IT as much or more than the other little boy his age. It's not unreasonable for Meg to be feeling that she should be there with him so he's not alone--nor is she wrong to poke holes in her father's bullshit reasoning. If it was too dangerous to leave Charles, then it was too dangerous to leave Meg. If we're relying on the Mrs. W's to get Charles, we can rely on them to get Meg. And so on.

   Neither her father nor Calvin spoke. Her father continued his gentle massage. Her fingers came back to life with tingling pain. “You’re hurting me!”
   “Then you’re feeling again,” her father said quietly. “I’m afraid it is going to hurt, Meg.”

I again repeat that the ludicrous backstory for Murry and his tessering is that his zap to Camazotz was the first tessering he ever did, and he only ever even observed one tesser prior to that. He has no idea what is wrong with Meg or how her body should be reacting right now. We seem to be treating her as though she has severe hypothermia? But that's not what she actually has! She either has Tesser Sickness or Black Thing Allergies or IT Withdrawal or we have no idea, we're on a fucking planet in space. Maybe she's sick from the alien grass they have her on! Maybe it's special alien leech-grass and it's slowly killing her!

   The piercing pain moved slowly up her arms, began in her toes and legs. She started to cry out against her father when Calvin exclaimed, “Look!”
   Coming toward them, moving in silence across the brown grass, were three figures.
   What were they?
   On Uriel there had been the magnificent creatures. On Camazotz the inhabitants had at least resembled people. What were these three strange things approaching?
   They were the same dull gray color as the flowers. If they hadn’t walked upright they would have seemed like animals. They moved directly toward the three human beings. They had four arms and far more than five fingers to each hand, and the fingers were not fingers, but long waving tentacles. They had heads, and they had faces. But where the faces of the creatures on Uriel had seemed far more than human faces, these seemed far less. Where the features would normally be there were several indentations, and in place of ears and hair were more tentacles. They were tall, Meg realized as they came closer, far taller than any man. They had no eyes. Just soft indentations.
   Meg’s rigid, frozen body tried to shudder with terror, but instead of the shudder all that came was pain. She moaned.

That's an interesting description because while I still don't have a clear idea of what they look like (are they furry or smooth? how many legs are they walking with? how are the four arms arranged?), I do have a distinct sense of alieness, which is far more than we ever get with Narnia.

   The Things stood over them. They appeared to be looking down at them, except that they had no eyes with which to see. Mr. Murry continued to kneel by Meg, massaging her.
   He’s killed us, bringing us here, Meg thought. I’ll never see Charles Wallace again, or Mother, or the twins. . . .

Murry...continued to kneel? Does he not see the creatures as they approach? Because, I mean, no matter how open-minded you are about aliens and appearances and whatnot, the last planet Murry tessered to had inhabitants which locked him up and tortured him for funsies for years and years and years in what he himself believes to have been a cruel time-loop which lasted far longer for him than it did for Meg and Charles back on earth, so given that prior experience I feel like I would be picking up my daughter in my arms and preparing to hoof it over the hills in search of safety, doomed though that plan might be.

   Calvin rose to his feet. He bowed to the beasts as though they could see him. He said, “How do you do, sir—ma’am—?”
   “Who are you?” the tallest of the beasts said. His voice was neither hostile nor welcoming, and it came not from the mouthlike indentation in the furry face, but from the waving tentacles.
   —They’ll eat us, Meg thought wildly.—They’re making me hurt. My toes—my fingers—I hurt. . . .
   Calvin answered the beast’s question. “We’re—we’re from earth. I’m not sure how we got here. We’ve had an accident. Meg—this girl—is—is paralyzed. She can’t move. She’s terribly cold. We think that’s why she can’t move.”

Top marks to Calvin for using his communication skills. Murry seems to have gone on literary idle, as he neither pipes up with words here nor does he do anything in the next paragraph when Meg gets a face full of tentacles. I recognize this from my own writing when there are more people in a scene than I have things for them to do; some of them just sort of go on standby even if they would normally contribute to the action or object/comment on something happening. It's nice to know that famous writers have the same problem. But seriously:

   One of them came up to Meg and squatted down on its huge haunches beside her, and she felt utter loathing and revulsion as it reached out a tentacle to touch her face.
   But with the tentacle came the same delicate fragrance that moved across her with the breeze, and she felt a soft, tingling warmth go all through her that momentarily assuaged her pain. She felt suddenly sleepy.

Face. Full. Of Tentacles. For all you guys know, that might be lethal to her. Maybe they kill people who show marks of Black Thing Poisoning. I would be asking "oh uh hey what are we doing here?" is my point. I am the world's most trusting person, but even I have limits.

   I must look as strange to it as it looks to me, she thought drowsily, and then realized with a shock that of course the beast couldn’t see her at all. Nevertheless a reassuring sense of safety flowed through her with the warmth which continued to seep deep into her as the beast touched her. Then it picked her up, cradling her in two of its four arms.
   Mr. Murry stood up quickly. “What are you doing?”
   “Taking the child.”

The chapter ends here but based on everything we know of Murry I'm going to assume he had no objections whatsoever to this plan.


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