When I first heard the news that Jennifer Lee, best known for writing Disney’s Frozen(2013), was officially set to adapt Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time into a feature film, I felt simultaneously gleeful and apprehensive.
My excitement came from the vision of a complex character like Meg Murry, the protagonist of A Wrinkle in Time, on the big screen:
“Meg has it tough,” Charles Wallace said. “She’s not really one thing or the other.”
Mainstream films still sorely lack complex female characters, and Meg is definitely the girl for the job.
My ambivalence undoubtedly arose from my personal connection to Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quintet series, especially A Wrinkle in Time. When my parents and I immigrated to the United States from Vietnam, I was 8 and spoke hardly any English. Of course, we practiced a few common American English words and phrases before leaving Vietnam, but the reality is that you can’t really prepare to use a language. You just have to do it, like plunging into freezing water. My introverted tendencies coupled with the culture and language barriers didn’t exactly earn me a lot of friends. Parallel to this public life was the struggle that I had to connect with family members who had been living in the U.S. for years. My well-meaning cousins, despite not really knowing how to interact with me, began gifting me with books. Four of the most influential books in my life were ones that they gave me during this period.
I’m sure you can already guess one of them. At the time, I was too young to truly comprehend why the character of Meg Murry resonated so deeply with me. I always chalked it up to L’Engle’s wonderful imagination and unique writing style. Looking back, I see it’s also the fact that the Murry family was full of weirdos. The Murry children and their parents had issues that made them outstandingly odd. They often had trouble getting along and connecting despite their deep love for each other.
“I’ve heard that clever people often have subnormal children,” Meg had once overheard. “The two boys seem to be nice regular children, but that unattractive girl and the baby boy certainly aren’t all there.”
Without spoiling anything, their father’s lack of presence and eventual re-emergence subtly portrays complicated parent-child relationships. This quirky family spoke to me, because the members of my own family, being immigrants, were often offbeat and somewhat out of touch.
As I became older and more aware of the role of women in fiction, it became apparent that Meg was unforgettable, because she was a true protagonist. By this, I mean she was flawed, expressed emotions, made choices–she was a three dimensional character (no pun intended). She and her rag-tag band of adventurers were swept up in a grand journey, but they overcame challenges by being true to themselves.
Markedly, the budding relationship between Meg and Calvin was not even the second most important plot point of the book, despite its gravity overall. L’Engle shows a deep respect for the nuances of young lives and manages to balance the many facets of growing up in a way that few writers can achieve.
“I do face facts,” Meg said. “They’re lots easier to face than people I can tell you.”
L’Engle draws a parallel between Meg’s external galactic battle with the internal turmoil of discovering oneself as a person. It might seem silly to compare “growing pains” to a grand battle against evil forces, but when you are young, finding yourself and keeping true to it can feel equally epic.
That bookish Meg Murry and golden boy Calvin O’Keefe end up on the same journey serves as a reminder of the common tribulations that all young people must endure to grow into their own, despite their differences.
The wide, often outlandish scope of L’Engle’s Time Quintet series will be the very thing that makes adapting them into film so difficult. As much as I enjoy Frozen, it had a relatively simple plot and cast of characters. Sure, Ana and Elsa’s ultimate triumph over evil required a surprising amount of character growth, but it ultimately sacrificed character complexity for the sake of, albeit catchy, show tunes.
It is unfortunate that, in the attempt to make the recent spate of adapted Young Adult novels appeal to more people, these stories often have to be simplified for marketability (e.g. The Giver). It will be up to Jennifer Lee and the production team to keep Wrinkle out of the “teen romance adaptation” genre that has been gaining momentum due to the popularity of Young Adult novels.
“She’s a little one-sided, I grant you,” Mrs. Murry said, “though I blame her father and myself for that. She still enjoys playing with her dolls’ house, though.”
“Mother!” Meg shrieked in agony.
I truly hope that Jennifer Lee, who is a self-proclaimed fan of the book, will do it justice. This is a perfect opportunity to introduce a whole new generation of young readers to a wonderful book that has been dear to so many of us. It would be greatly disappointing if Lee and company let L’Engle’s grander themes fall to the wayside in favor of a simple romance. It would be even more disappointing if we erase the real Meg Murry for the sake of making her more “appealing.” That would just defeat the purpose of bringing Meg to the big screen.