Mrs. Which, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Whatsit will soon be making their big screen debut: News broke Tuesday that Selma director Ava DuVernay is set to officially direct a film adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s iconic novel A Wrinkle in Time.
Disney has had this one in the pipeline for a while now, and in 2014, Frozen writer and co-director Jennifer Lee signed on to pen the script. Lee has said that she’s a lifelong fan of the novel, and she’s not alone. Since 1962, when A Wrinkle in Time was first published, it’s sparked a legion of fans who’ve fallen in love with Meg Murry, Charles Wallace, and Calvin O’Keefe, beginning on that “dark and stormy night” all those years ago.
But even though A Wrinkle in Time is more than a half-century old, attempts to adapt L’Engle’s story haven’t ended well, and many have called the novel unfilmable. The only other attempted adaptation was a 2003 TV movie, which debuted on ABC to poor reviews, and L’Engle herself famously said that version met her expectations: “I expected it to be bad, and it is.”
With complicated math terms and musings about the nature of good and evil, A Wrinkle in Time is a weird, dark little book that doesn’t lend itself easily to adaptation. For that same reason, it has a chance to be a spectacular film — or a truly dreadful one. Here are our hopes for DuVernay’s take on L’Engle’s classic:
1. A gangly, awkward heroine with glasses and braces
With her mousy hair, braces, and glasses, our protagonist, Meg Murry, struggles to fit in, feeling like the ultimate misfit. Part of the reason that A Wrinkle in Time has endured for so many years is that Meg, with all her feelings of adolescent alienation, is an intensely relatable character, especially for young girls. When so many young female heroines are painted as cute, spunky, and unwaveringly brave, Meg Murry is messy, insecure, and impatient — and still capable of great things. Meg is a deeply flawed protagonist, but if A Wrinkle in Time has any message at all, it’s that a person’s flaws can also be her strengths. The on-screen Meg should be just as complex as her book counterpart.
2. The “science” part of “science-fiction”
When the book was first published, L’Engle’s protagonist was revolutionary. For one, Meg Murry was the female lead of a science-fiction story, a young girl who excels at math and physics. Not only did that make Meg an unconventional leading lady in 1962, but she’s important in 2016, too: We could use more on-screen portrayals of girls who love math and science.
In fact, we could use more on-screen portrayals celebrating math and science, period. L’Engle’s novel isn’t exactly realistic, (see: winged horse aliens, mind control, and travel through space and time), but it has its roots in real scientific concepts, and L’Engle drew inspiration for A Wrinkle In Time from reading Einstein’s work on relativity. One of the things that makes this book so delightful and one-of-a-kind is its casual discussion of Euclidean geometry, extra dimensions, and, of course, tesseracts.
3. Flying space centaurs
As much as A Wrinkle in Time is a sci-fi novel, it’s also a fantasy one, from Aunt Beast, with her tentacles and grey fur, to the enigmatic Mrs. Whatsit, an exploded star who oscillates between looking like an enormous winged centaur and a hobo grandma. But rendering the book’s trippy alien imagery on film could be tricky, and if the filmmakers don’t completely commit to the fantasy, it could very easily look hokey. (In the 2003 version, Aunt Beast looked something like the taxidermied hybrid of Chewbacca and Cousin It.) L’Engle builds a rich and fantastic world that has the potential to translate beautifully on film. DuVernay’s take should lean into the trippy weirdness, and embrace the flying space centaurs.
4. Disembodied brains and creepy children
For a children’s book, A Wrinkle in Time sure gets unsettling at times. From the moment Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin arrive on Camazotz, there’s something deeply disturbing about the rows and rows of identical grey houses, with all the children bouncing balls in perfect unison. Even more horrifying is the villainous IT, the bodiless brain that Meg describes as “the most horrible, the most repellent thing she had ever seen, far more nauseating than anything she had ever imagined with her conscious mind, or that had ever tormented her in her most terrible nightmares.” The film’s goal shouldn’t be to traumatize children, but it should hopefully preserve some of the horror and creepiness that’s been disturbing readers for the last five decades.
5. Deep, universal themes
A Wrinkle in Time may be a children’s story at heart, but it’s one with heavy political and religious themes — which is why the novel has become one of the most frequently banned books. Some religious readers condemned it as blasphemous, while others said its religious themes were too overt. (One particularly controversial passage lists some of the great historical figures who’ve fought for light against darkness, naming Jesus, Buddha, Einstein, Bach, Curie, and more.)
Last year, L’Engle’s granddaughter, Charlotte Jones Voiklis, published a never-before-seen excerpt from the original draft of the book, making the story’s political ties (and Cold War roots) a little more explicit. In the excerpted three-page passage, Meg’s father draws parallels between the world of Camazotz and Hitler’s Germany or Kruschev’s Russia, before explaining that oppression and totalitarianism don’t always arise from dictatorships. Instead, he argues that they can have roots in prosperity and democracy, too, derived from the desire for security.
The published novel isn’t nearly this explicit about L’Engle’s political views, but it does raise serious questions about oppression and conformity. Sure, A Wrinkle in Time tells a great story about aliens and angels and distant planets, but like all great stories, it also focuses on big, important themes. With Lee and DuVernay at the helm, the movie version has the chance to do the same.