Monday, March 11, 2013

Review: A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel by Hope Larson and Madeleine L'Engle

My fifth grade teacher, Miss Wocher, read Madeline L'Engle's classic science-fiction children's novel A Wrinkle in Time to our class, one chapter each Friday afternoon. After a few weeks, I bought my own copy so that I could read along with her. It quickly became one of my favorite books; I was enchanted with its fantastic premise (a group of children travel through time and space, guided by three mysterious women, to rescue their father), its quirky characters, and L'Engle's overall way with words. (Although I was devastated when I looked up tesseract in my dictionary only to conclude that, apparently, she had made it up!) I never forgot the book, and, when I taught Children's Literature courses many years later, AWiT was always on my syllabus.

So I approached Hope Larson's adaptation, A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel, with no little trepidation, even though I had liked earlier work of Larson's that I had seen. Could this adaptation possibly compare to my experience with the original? (Even though, as I've written about before, hoping for absolute fidelity to an original work in an adaptation is a sucker's game.) However, my fears were for naught. Larson actually achieves a remarkable amount of fidelity to L'Engle's original novel, and the publisher (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) is to be commended for allowing Larson to produce a truly substantial adaptation: At just shy of 400 pages long(!), this book has the room few other adaptations are afforded to really slow down the storytelling and include the smaller, character-enhancing moments that almost always get sacrificed in adaptations for the sake of "just getting the plot across," usually as economically (i.e., briefly) as possible.

We get to see lead character Meg Murray's awkwardness, her hesitancy, her headstrong nature, and her bravery in full measure, and the other characters are also allowed to develop and to shine. For example, during the first and most difficult "tesser" (a sort of space/time dimensional warp), Meg's disconcerting reaction to the process is given about seven full pages to play out, really allowing the reader to experience her disorientation almost as fully as one does in reading the novel itself. If you haven't read many comics adaptations, you cannot imagine how refreshing this luxury of space is. Even most film adaptations of literary works must cut out more detail and texture than Larson needed to here.

The artwork, in black and white with blue tones, manages to be both straightforward and carefully delineated in equal measure. Larson's inkwork is lush and bold, appealingly simple and, yes, cute, but without ever seeming too cloyingly cartoonish. Larson is equally adept at depicting subtle character emotions and otherworldly dimensional realms. Some readers might find the more alien landscapes a bit thinly detailed in places, but I think this is very much in keeping with L'Engle's original book, which excels at creating feeling and mood over intricate technical descriptions. At these books' heart is the emotional arcs of the characters - especially that of Meg, a character with whom I identified a lot as a child - and not thick science-fiction detail.

Is reading the graphic novel the same experience as reading L'Engle's original? Of course not - but then, it's not meant to be. The original novel is still there to thrill and delight young readers. But Hope Larson's A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel is a more-than-worthy companion to L'Engle's classic book. It's a very assured and appealing work in its own right, one which offers readers a new and richly imagined version of a tale which has already endured for more than fifty years.

Madeleine L'Engle's
A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel
adapted and illustrated by Hope Larson
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012
ISBN-10: 0374386153
ISBN-13: 978-0374386153
392 pages, $19.99