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Story stands the test of time

Sarah Olowofoyeku discovers more about the author behind Disney's latest film

Meg discovers the only force that can conquer the darkness

WHEN schoolgirl Meg Murry (Storm Reid) learns that her father, who had mysteriously disappeared, is alive but in danger, she sets off to try to save him. Cinemagoers who watch A Wrinkle in Time, released yesterday (Friday 23 March), will find out if she is successful.

Meg is the daughter of two world-renowned scientists. Her family was devastated by the disappearance of Mr Murry (Chris Pine) after he discovered ‘tessering’ – ‘a wrinkling of time and space through which intergalactic travel is possible’. Mrs Murry is heartbroken, and Meg is struggling with low self-esteem and the harsh reality of life without her father. One day, Meg meets three ethereal visitors, Mrs Which (Oprah Winfrey), Mrs Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) and Mrs Who (Mindy Kaling), who reveal that her father’s life is threatened by a darkness that has infiltrated the universe. Guided by the otherworldly trio and joined by her brother and a friend, Meg embarks on a mission to rescue her father, and, in learning to embrace her flaws, discovers the only force that can conquer the darkness.

The film is an adaptation of the bestselling book of the same name, written by American author Madeleine L’Engle and published in 1962. During her life, Madeleine was open about her Christian faith, and its themes appeared in her writing. She wrote more than 60 books, which included Christian essays, adult fiction, children’s books, memoirs and reflections.

Shortly before the cinema release of A Wrinkle in Time, I spoke with her granddaughter, Charlotte Jones Voiklis. Charlotte, a former academic, is responsible for Madeleine’s literary estate and, with her sister Léna Roy, has written a biography of their grandmother – Becoming Madeleine – which was published last month ahead of what would have been Madeleine’s 100th birthday later this year.

‘My grandmother used to love celebrating her birthday, and we had wanted to do something special for her 100th,’ Charlotte says. ‘My sister, a writer, had wanted to write about our grandmother for a long time but didn’t want to do it alone. As an academic, I was reluctant, but I came around when I realised that we had a unique perspective and access to certain materials. It was an opportunity to tell our grandmother’s story. I thought what a wonderful gift that would be – to us and to her.’

The sisters were close to their grandmother, spending summers with her as children. Charlotte later lived with her in her New York apartment. Charlotte and Léna carried out research for the biography by reading letters and journals their grandmother had written, but, out of respect for her privacy, only those from the time before they knew her.

In their reading, the pair made a surprising discovery about a friendship Madeleine had in young adulthood that broke down. Madeleine had not spoken to them about it, but they chose to mention it in the book because, Charlotte says, ‘friendships are often painful and difficult for people of any age, so we thought that including some real-life, tougher stuff was important’.

Madeleine did not shy away from the ‘tough stuff’ either. When I ask Charlotte about her grandmother’s faith, she reflects: ‘It wasn’t something she talked about as much as it was something I witnessed. It was important to her in the daily practice of Bible reading and prayer, but more important than what she believed was what she did and how she treated other people.

‘Faith gave her a certain grounding, but it didn’t lead to complacency,’ she continues. ‘It wasn’t easy. It led her to act. She believed that what God gave us was the promise not of safety, but of creativity.’

Madeleine’s commitment to creativity and to truth sustained her throughout her writing career and ultimately led to her success – despite the odds. A Wrinkle in Time was rejected by publishers 26 times before it finally appeared. Madeleine had been discouraged by the rejections, but did not give up or compromise the story. Her resilience was rewarded. The year after its publication, the book won the Newbery Medal for children’s books. It has sold millions of copies and is now being retold to a new generation of young people through the film.

‘What has made the story stand the test of time,’ Charlotte says, ‘is the idea that darkness and evil do exist, but they can be overcome. Not by physical fitness and training, but by love. Not by love as a feeling but love as what you do for others.’

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