‘A Wrinkle in Time’ rarer than unicorn: 5 females mentor female protag

I just finished A Wrinkle in Time, and I have chills. This is the book I have been waiting to read. Not only do I love the story and the characters, but it’s beautifully written.

Wrinkle

 

The protagonist, Meg, is not a Minority Feisty.

So many books I love with strong female protagonists like The Wizard of Oz, Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Alice and Wonderland, The Golden Compass, surround the girl with males, males, males. So many writers seem comfortable allowing a female be powerful as long as her gender is resresented by a minority of characters in the book. Not so with Wrinkle. Not only do we have Meg, but also Meg’s mother, a scientist. Wrinkle is, in fact, all about science. How cool is that?

Besides Meg’s mother, there is a trio of powerful and magical females: Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which. That’s not all. Near the end of the book we meet another amazing female, the incredible Aunt Beast. In Wrinkle in Time, readers see five powerful females mentor a female protagonist. Does anyone know of another narrative on earth where we see this? If so, please tell me, because from my experience, this scenario is like seeing a unicorn in the real world.

Here’s the passage where Aunt Beast names herself for Meg:

“What should I call you, please?” Meg asked.

 

“Well, now. First, try not to say any words for a moment. Think within your own mind. Think of all the things you call people, different kinds of people.”

 

While Meg thought, the beast murmured to her gently. “No, mother is a special,a one-name; and a father you have here. Not just friend, nor teacher, nor brother, nor sister. What is acquaintance? What a funny, hard word. Aunt. Maybe. Yes, perhaps that will do. And you think of such odd words about me. Thing, and monster! Monster, what a horrid sort of word. I really do not think I a am a monster. Beast. That will do. Aunt Beast.

Part of what I love about this passage is that every writer goes through a similar process as she thinks of how to name a character. So often, a writer will assign this kind of powerful character the male gender, but the character could be any gender as this writing shows.

For much of Wrinkle, there is the typical one female (Meg) to two male (Charles Wallace and Calvin) trio. But given all the female characters in the book, Meg is still, not a Minority Feisty.

Meg saves the world alone.

Every hero gets to a point where she realizes that she, and only she, can save the world and she must do it alone. (That premise was hilariously mocked by the ‘one man’ video. If you haven’t watched it yet, you should. What I liked about the video was how clearly it demonstrated the repetition of one MAN.)

Narratives mimic real life and real life mimics narratives, it’s all the same thing really. If we are willing to recognize it, we all get to the point where we realize we must do it alone. Sometimes that thing is dramatic,  when we give birth or it could be when we write a novel or when we confront someone we’ve been afraid to. But it can also be something like cleaning your house or making your bed. If you live your life heroically, realizing only you can do it, happens all the time, without resentment but with a sense of destiny. It is this revelation upon which endless narratives are based, but so often, in fiction, this human situation is assigned to males. I just wrote about an exception to this rule in Land of Stories. Here it is in Wrinkle the whole sequence: Someone else do it, I can’t; okay, I will. I must be me, here I go. Resistance, choice, action:

Meg could no longer stand it,and she cried out desparingly, “Then what are you going to do? Are you just going to throw Charles Wallace away?”

 

Mrs Which’s voice rolled formidably across the hall. “Ssilencce cchilldd.”

 

But Meg could not be silent. She pressed closely against Aunt Beast, but Aunt Beast did not put the protecting tentacles around her. “I can’t go!” Meg cried. “I can’t! You know I can’t.”

 

“Did annybbodyy ask yyou ttoo?” The grim voice made Meg’s skin prickle into gooseflesh.

 

She burst into tears. She started beating at Aunt Beast like a small child having a tantrum. Her tears rained down her face and spattered Aunt Beast’s fur. Aunt Beast stood quietly against the assault.

 

“All right, I’ll go!” Meg sobbed. “I know you want me to go!”

“We want nothing from you that you do without grace,” Mrs. Whatsit said, “or that you do without understanding.”

Meg’s tears stopped as abruptly as they had started. “But I do understand.” She felt tired and unexpectedly peaceful. Now the coldness that, under Aunt Beast’s ministrations, had left her body had also left her mind. She looked toward her father and her confused anger was gone and she felt only love and pride. She smiled at him, asking forgiveness, and then pressed up against Aunt Beast. This time Aunt Beast’s arms  went around her.

 

Mrs. Which’s voice was grave. “Whatt ddoo yyou unnnddersstanndd?”

 

“That it has to be me. It can’t be anyone else. I don’t understand Charles, but he understands me. I’m the one who’s closets to him. Father’s been away for so long, since Charles Wallace was a baby. They don’t know each other. And Calvin’s only known Charles for such a little time. If it had been longer, then he would have been the one, but–oh, I see, I understand. It has to be me. There isn’t anyone else.”

 

In the passage where Meg fights IT, just as Harry Potter with Voledemort, she wins by using love over hate. This is the scene I was longing for in kidlit while reading all 7 of the Harry Potter series. Reading ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ felt, to me, like a starving person getting food.

Though Wrinkle is not without sexism. Here’s a scene from the planet Camazotz:

She walked along the quiet street. It was dark and the street was deserted. No children playing ball or skipping rope. No mother figures at the doors. No father figures returning from work.

There are other instances like that one, but there is so much positive here. Wrinkle is a writer’s book, too. I’ll leave you with one last passage that is one of the most beautiful metaphors for creativity, God, raising children, life, that I’ve ever read. Here’s Mrs Whatsit explaining a sonnet to Calvin.

 

“It is a very strict form of poetry, is it not?”

“Yes.”

“There are fourteen lines, I believe, all in iambic pentameter. That’s a very strict rhythm or meter, yes?”

“Yes,” Calvin nodded.

“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?”

“No.”

“But within this strict form, the poet has complete freedom to say whatever he wants, doesn’t he?”

“Yes,” Calvin nodded again.

The trick here, for me anyway, is figuring out what the form is. Sometimes, we believe that the “rules” are the rule, that they are “natural.” For example, in so many narratives for kids, not to mention adults, like Ratatouille, have seen a Minority Feisty complain about sexism, instead of getting to see a female hero. That is “rule” that desperately needs to be broken. The resistance, choice, action is a rule I believe in.

Many of you have asked me to clarify what ages books are appropriate for. It’s hard for me to say that.  We get different things about books at different times.

When I look at books or movies for my kids, the number one offensive thing is sexism. I would rather my kids hear swear words than see Cinderella any day. I’ve also written quite a lot of Reel Girl about violence. I don’t like gore, but much of violence in stories is metaphorical, it raises the stakes to depict visually what we, as humans, feel. Can you imagine dreams without violence? My daughter whipped through Wrinkle in Time. She just turned 7.  I’m 44 and I’m blogging about it. I could tell my daughter really liked it, and she read a lot of it by herself.  I’m not sure what she ‘got.’ I remember being confused by parts of this book as a kid. I do know that while reading this book, my daughter saw many females being brave and heroic, respected, admired, and loved my the males in their lives.

Reel Girl rates Wrinkle in Time  ***HHH***

 

 

 

 

8 thoughts on “‘A Wrinkle in Time’ rarer than unicorn: 5 females mentor female protag

  1. You might try Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching series (Wee Free Men, Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith, & I Shall Wear Midnight). They feature a female protag, at least 5 female mentors over the course of the series, and at least one female antagonist.

  2. I loved A Wrinkle in Time as a child, and I read it over and over again. I also loved the scene you talk about, when Meg doesn’t want to be the hero, but realizes that she must. It was the kind of big lesson that didn’t necessarily sink in on a conscious level as I read (and re-read) the book, but it was something I truly admired about the character. She was a normal girl in so many ways, and what normal girl would want to face down IT? Wouldn’t we all prefer to curl into a ball and ask if someone else could do it? But even normal girls have the grit and strength to handle it (and IT) if they only try.

    Anyway, I’m glad your 7-year-old devoured this book. (And I think that was the age at which I first read it). There’s so much in there–acceptance of difference, what a happy and functional family looks like, the importance of science.

    I also loved A Wind in the Door, although I could never get into A Swiftly Tilting Planet, despite trying several times. I didn’t like the shift from Meg to Charles Wallace as protagonist.

  3. I mentioned this already, but I love the Tiffany Achings serie.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiffany_Aching
    She is a witch in training and she has new mentors in every book, all of them witches (and a mage/witch) and, of course, all of them women. Her relationship with her late grandmother is very important in the books too, (she wasn’t a witch, but she was the most respected person in her land) and Tiffany admires her. And there are other female characters that are important for the story: her friends, the keldas (queens of the Pictsies), the Queen of the Elves (the villain of the firs book)…

  4. HI Jenn,

    Thank you for this list! I was referring not only a female cast but mentorship. It is so rare to see a female protag get mentored by other females. I should have made that more clear in my post. But these books may have that, and even so, I am psyched to read and your book too, which I have not read yet but its on my list.

    Margot

  5. A Wrinkle In Time was a formative book for me (I’m actually wearing my A Wrinkle In Time t-shirt today, coincidentally). There are a lot of good middle-grade novels that also feature large casts of women. Off the top of my head, I recommend:

    KAT, INCORRIGIBLE by Stephanie Burgis (Magic-filled adventure in Austen times)
    WINTERLING by Sarah Prineas (almost every character in book 1 is female)
    THE WIG IN THE WINDOW by Kristen Kittscher (contemporary mystery w/many girls)

    Jenn

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