One stormy night, Meg Murry can’t sleep after yet another bad day at school. She ends up downstairs having a late-night snack with her mother, a scientist, and Charles Wallace, her genius five-year-old brother. They are joined, unexpectedly, by Mrs. Whatsit—a mysterious old woman, dressed in layers of rags, who has started living in the haunted house in the woods near the Murrys.
Mrs. Whatsit only stays for a short while, but she startles Mrs. Murry by telling her that there are such things as tesseracts, or wrinkles in time and space that one can travel through. Meg’s father, Mr. Murry, a brilliant physicist who has been missing for over a year, had been studying that very idea before his disappearance.
The following day, Charles Wallace and Meg visit Mrs. Whatsit in the woods, along with Meg’s schoolmate Calvin. The three are introduced to Mrs. Who, who tells them that she, Mrs. Whatsit and their friend Mrs. Which—who are indeed magical, shape-shifting beings who just appear to be old women—will help Meg find and rescue her father. To do so, they will have to tesser—travel rapidly across wrinkles in space—to combat the evil Black Thing that is threatening the whole universe.
To get Mr. Murry back, they must travel to the planet Camazotz, which has already succumbed to the Black Thing’s brainwashing, making everyone think and act the same. For their rescue mission to be a success, Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin must all come to grips with their unique strengths and weaknesses—and discover the power of the strong bond they share.
What’s a Tesseract?
Near the beginning of A Wrinkle in Time
, Mrs. Murry is shocked when Mrs. Whatsit—who has never met Mrs. Murry or her missing physicist husband—tells her that there are such things as tesseracts, the very thing Mr. Murry had been trying to prove before his disappearance.
But what is a tesseract? Science and fiction have somewhat different definitions. Real-life physicists and mathematicians describe a tesseract as a four-dimensional analog of a cube. It’s also sometimes called a hypercube or a cubic prism. British mathematician and science fiction writer Charles Howard Hinton created the term for his 1888 book A New Era of Thought
. The word derives from the Greek for “four rays.”
In A Wrinkle in Time
, “tesseract” is used to mean something slightly different—a wrinkle in time or space, belonging to a fifth dimension. To “tesser” is to travel along a tesseract, to move almost instantaneously across otherwise insurmountable distances, like from planet to planet, as the children and three Mrs. Ws do in the story. This allows them to move faster than the speed of light, which Mrs. Whatsit calls “the impractical, long way around.”
Mrs. Who demonstrates the concept to the children using the example of an ant crawling across her skirt. If the ant tried to walk from one side of the skirt to the other normally, it would take quite a long time, but if that ant can simply walk across the fold in the skirt, he can get to the same end point much more quickly.
L’Engle isn’t the only writer to be inspired by tesseracts. The 1941 short story, “And He Built a Crooked House,” by science fiction writer Robert Heinlein describes an architect’s attempt to build a house in the shape of a tesseract. The concept may also sound familiar to fans of Marvel comic books or the recent movie adaptations—the Cosmic Cube, taken from the fictional planet of Asgard to wreak havoc on Earth, is described as a tesseract and is a key plot point in the 2012 film The Avengers
An edited version reprinted from OSF’s 2014
Illuminations, a 64-page guide to the season’s plays. For more information, or to buy the full
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