Monday, May 3, 2010

Know your audience

I loved A Wrinkle in Time when I read it in elementary school—I still list it among my favorite books of all time. To read about an awkward, adolescent heroine with braces and low self-esteem who saves her brother, and possibly the fate of the entire universe, was deeply gratifying. It's one of the things that got me through early adolescence.

I shared it this winter with E-girl, my tween-aged daughter, reading aloud a chapter a night and she, too, loved it (though she said "Eww-www!" whenever Calvin touched Meg or complimented such things as her "dreamboat eyes.")

So we finished the book and, she being intent on reading book series in an unbroken stream once started, went on to the next book in the quartet, A Wind in the Door, which we read with less enthusiasm, plowing through all the tedious discussions of (what turned out to be fictitious) farandolae, hoping that Meg would re-emerge as the spunky heroine.

And she did, at least enough for us to go on to the third book, A Swiftly Tilting Planet. But here's where we stopped, only a few pages in—something my series-insistent child hardly ever allows. The book begins back in the family kitchen (a nice homey setting that children crave hearing about). But this time, Meg is grown-up, pregnant and married to Calvin, who has gone off to an important conference in England, leaving Meg to arrange flowers and contemplate her pregnancy. Worse, everyone else in the family seems to have a job or task of high importance while Meg - is - just - pregnant.

Maybe, later in the book, Meg will once again be heroic and important on a universal scale, but we just couldn't keep reading. The pages felt like lead in my hand. Meg had become boring.

What was Madeline L'Engle thinking? Maybe she just wanted Meg to be happy, or to show awkward girl readers that they might also become pretty and loved. Or maybe she wanted girl readers to know that the simple acts of life are important, too, and get them used to the idea that being a housewife was more like their real fate than the possibility of conquering wide-scale evil or saving the earth from destruction.

But I can't imagine many girl readers (or any boy readers) who had thrilled at Meg's adventures on other planets and within nano-universes equally thrilled at Meg's domesticity. We wanted her wrinkling through space and time ready to battle evil for those she loved—not for her to grow up and be ordinary.

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