Monday, November 23, 2009

You don't have to understand things for them to be

Just to see what it would be like, Laura Nieman and I watched the made-for-tv movie of A Wrinkle in Time over the weekend after we had both finished the book. Aside from the horrible "special effects" and the incredibly schmaltzy score, what annoyed me the most about the adaptation was the interpretation of the two main characters, Meg and Charles Wallace. Meg is stripped of her braces and glasses, and Charles Wallace is older than he is in the book (though that I can understand-- I'm not sure how many real-life five year olds can pronounce words like tesseract and speak in such a grown-up manner.

My main problem was with Charles Wallace. Instead of making him a calm, adult-seeming child who simply understands things, such as like "language" he talks about when he's explaining to Meg how he always knows about her, they basically turned him into a little kid. He was annoying. I didn't understand why they would make such a change-- was there a harm in showing kids that parents can let you down and be wrong while the children sometimes know more?

Though there were many reasons for this books being banned (L'Engle's liberal Christianity not flying with the Catholic Church being one), I think that a huge part of it was showing a strong female lead and having the strong male lead smaller than her in stature and age. The movie did include Charles losing himself to IT, but basically it watered down everything. I think that the biggest asset that the book has and that the movie lacks is that the book knows that children can handle it. The book is labelled for children 9-12, and those who have banned or challenged the book claim that it is unsuitable for that age group. It's tough for children, but it certainly isn't anything they can't handle. I was surprised to find that family values were a huge central theme in this novel, since it's been so controversial, and I was also surprised to see such lines as, "we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." It made me realize that there's always going to be someone who is offended by or disagrees with something in a novel. In an interview on the dvd disc, L'Engle says that she was "so excited" to hear that her book was being banned because, she says, "only the banned books really have something to say."

So when I heard her say that, I first of all agreed with her, and I knew that I would feel similarly if someone cared about something I wrote so much that they actively pursued its removal from libraries and/or schools, and then I wondered what A Wrinkle In Time was saying. She didn't say, exactly, but she did say that "it leaves you with unanswered questions [,,,] it leave you with the hope that the questions have answers." L'Engle doesn't underestimate the power of human understanding, but as she says through Meg's mother, "you don't have to understand things for them to be."
So when Charles Wallace is waiting for Meg in the kitchen, or when he is trying to decipher the songs on Uriel, or when he goes into IT because he thinks he'll be able to get out on his own, he is both more than and simply human. He has human faults, but a greater understanding than an ordinary human-- and the people he connects with most closely don't really try to understand him, they just let him be.

So even though the movie is horrible (L'Engle had to say about it, "I expected it to be bad, and it is"), it did offer a little insight into the book and what we present to our children and why. Plus one of my favorite actors is in it.

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