As my wife Amy will tell you, I am excited for the movie version of A Wrinkle in Time. I geeked out pretty hard over the trailer for it before Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Amy has joked with me that she only watches sci-fi movies if they star Chris Pine. Much to my delight (and her disappointment), he’s in this movie! I shall have a theater companion for A Wrinkle in Time after all. Which is good, because I’m pretty sure going solo to a children’s movie would make me officially creepy.
I read A Wrinkle in Time in 4th or 5th grade, and I remember being one of the only ones in my class who enjoyed it. I felt like a bit of an oddball for liking it—not in a bad way, just as a matter of fact. It was science-y, and it described travel to distant planets and fantastic aliens. It stretched my imagination with things like tesseracts and a 5th dimension. And I liked that the heroes were intelligent kids who were talented in things like math.
I reread the book recently, and found that it stretched my imagination in new ways. Rereading children’s books can be incredibly valuable when you’re an adult. Books like Winnie-the-Pooh or The Hobbit have a depth of wisdom that only grown-ups can appreciate. A Wrinkle in Time is no exception, particularly in the poignant scene where the hero, Meg, determines that she must be the one to save her brother. I won’t say more so as not to spoil the movie (or the book!) for you. But that one scene alone contains a lot of insight about what it means to grow up, to accept responsibility, and to begin to be the author of your own destiny.
Beyond its simple wisdom about life, A Wrinkle in Time holds science and theology together in a fascinating way. That’s what enriched my imagination this time around. Madeline L’Engle’s book brings the theological concepts of evil and original sin into focus at the cosmic level. Love and self-sacrifice stand in the book right alongside the value of scientific discovery as manifestations of goodness. Alien beings sing a strange but beautiful song that the main characters cannot understand. When their guide translates the words, the song turns out to be a Psalm from the Bible. In many ways, A Wrinkle in Time blurs the lines between theology and science. For L’Engle, both are windows into a divine reality that is shrouded in mystery, but is fundamentally good.
Science and theology complement and enrich one another in A Wrinkle in Time. The way the book understands evil is a good example. We often regard evil as more of a theological concept, which we associate with vice, sin, violence, and other overtly moral categories. Yet while these are present in the book, the more scientific focus highlights other dimensions of evil. Evil does not manifest itself primarily as violence, for instance, but as ignorance, a lack of creativity, and the loss of one’s ability—or even one’s willing refusal—to think for oneself. Beings held in the grip of evil aren’t rampantly violent, but behave as robots who have no true intellect or free will. A recent review of the book reminded me that this understanding of evil likely comes from anti-communist sentiments from the 1960s, when the book was written. Even so, the reminder that evil can take shape as an inability to think for oneself is a word we need to hear in 2018.
As another example, the main characters resist evil by maintaining their individuality of thought, battling against a form of hypnosis that would have them all think in the same way at the same time. Science, of course, values creativity and understanding, reasoning for oneself and achieving new insight. But it is ultimately a moral, theological commitment that overcomes thoughtlessness and ignorance. Where reasoning fails, love breaks the bonds of evil and releases those who are captive to ignorance. Family relationships, and the importance of love and self-sacrifice, keep the emphasis on individual free thought from descending into individualism. Creativity, knowledge, rationality, hope, virtue, and love are all manifestations of good. And, to quote the apostle Paul, “the greatest of these is love.”
I imagine that in the movie version of A Wrinkle in Time, Hollywood will have removed the Christian elements like the words of Psalms, which will be disappointing if only because it is so predictable. I hope, however, that the movie will still stand as an exhortation to think for oneself, to be creative, rational, original, and loving. I hope it will lift up these virtues without insisting on a harmful individualism. And I hope it will nurture an imagination that is both scientific and theological.