Friday, September 13, 2013

It was a dark and stormy night

So begins Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. "It was a dark and stormy night." What kind of deprived childhood did I have that I'm reading it only now?

It's touted as a classic, and I'd picked up a copy this summer thinking it would make for perfect mother-daughter bedtime story reading. I hadn't read it, and I figured I could force it into Helena's perfect childhood, or rather, with this act I would perfect her childhood, and right my own.

(Also, she reads at this level comfortably in French, and readily picks up whatever her peers deem the cool livre du jour. She's not exposed to English books much except through me, and I continue to find it tough to inspire her with anything other than comic books and compilations of weird facts [not that there's anything wrong with that]. This novel seemed likelier than some.)

So we started. And she fell asleep. A few nights later, we decided to continue. Only she didn't remember anything, so we went back to the beginning. And she fell asleep. And some nights after that... Lather, rinse, repeat.

I know chapter 1. I know every square inch of Meg's attic. I can picture every shelf of the pantry. I know intimately Mrs Whatsit's socks. (Helena has not yet had the pleasure. Or at least, she doesn't remember it.)

One dark and stormy night this week I'd had enough and stormed off to read the rest on my own.

Suddenly she was aware of her heart beating rapidly within the cage of her ribs. Had it sopped before? What had made it start again? The tingling in her arms and legs grew stronger, and suddenly she felt movement. This movement, she felt, must be the turning of the earth, rotating on its axis, traveling its elliptic course about the sun. And this feeling of moving with the earth was somewhat like the feeling of being in the ocean, out in the ocean beyond this rising and falling of the breakers, lying on the moving water, pulsing gently with the swells, and feeling the gentle, inexorable tug of the moon.

Beautiful! And it reminded me of something else I'd heard by a fellow also familiar with time travel.

Do you know like we were saying? About the Earth revolving? It's like when you're a kid. The first time they tell you that the world's turning and you just can't quite believe it 'cause everything looks like it's standing still. I can feel it. The turn of the Earth. The ground beneath our feet is spinning at 1,000 miles an hour and the entire planet is hurtling around the sun at 67,000 miles an hour, and I can feel it. We're falling through space, you and me, clinging to the skin of this tiny little world, and if we let go... That's who I am.

Verdict: utterly charming. Space travel, time travel. A showdown between good and evil. A two-dimensional planet. Alien music. A dystopian planet with some semblance of a hivemind but controlled by an evil intelligence. Furry, tentacle creatures of wisdom. What's not to like? The religious references felt a bit heavy and unnecessary, but really, I didn't mind. I think Helena would like it.

Oh, and! Tesseract! And lots of useful quotations in various languages! And a general appreciation for math and science and history and words.

"In your language you a have a form of poetry called the sonnet." [...] "It is a very strict form of poetry, is it not?" [...] "There are fourteen lines, I believe, all in iambic pentameter. That's a very strict rhythm or meter, yes?" [...] "And each line has to end with a rigid rhyme pattern. And if the poet does not do it exactly this way, it is not a sonnet, is it?" [...] "But within this strict form the poet has complete freedom to say whatever he wants, doesn't he?"


"You're given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you."

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