I was talking with a friend about old children’s books just yesterday, and she mentioned that one of my favorites, A Wrinkle in Time, had just been adapted by Hope Larson into the graphic novel format. And then today, I happened across a copy at a bookstore while trading in some old books. So this review seemed as fated to happen as Meg and Charles Wallace meeting with Calvin at Mrs. Whatsit’s house.
There’s not much to say about the story, partly because Larson is borrowing it from Madeline L’Engle and partly because it’s so widely known. But in case you didn’t read it as a child: it’s an implicitly Christian story, like the Narnia series, in the way that it deals with virtue, vice, and temptation without explicitly casting the characters as Christian or even mentioning God. (Though I didn’t know it when I was younger, it actually owes more of a debt to Lewis’ Space Trilogy than to his Narnia books. I’d highly recommend The Space Trilogy to any Narnia fans, since it was written for adults, touches on more interesting themes, and has avoids what Neil Gaiman refers to as “The Problem of Susan.”) Also like Lewis, L’Engle expertly creates a world where the heroes are simply smarter, more interesting, and more enjoyable to spend time with than the villains, who are all suffocating dullness.
Larson’s version is a superb adaptation, though. The two challenges a graphical adaptation of a prose work faces are to depict through art, composition, and panel layout what is explicitly stated in the written word, and to make choices about what remains not explicitly stated in the written word yet must necessarily be a part of any depiction of the same scene. Larson’s strength in both areas is her expressive faces and character design. The precocious Charles Wallace, whose great failing in the book is being too sure of his own abilities, frequently wears a smug, sly expression when dealing with people outside his own family, which Meg responds to with obvious exasperation and rolled eyes.
Meg, the book’s protagonist, is especially well handled. In one of the book’s best touches, Larson picks up on L’Engle having established that Meg was in a fight to defend Charles Wallace and gives Meg a bruise under her eye. In Larson’s graphic adaptation, the bruise becomes a constant presence in the story and a visual shorthand for Meg’s open emotional wounds about her brother, her father, and herself. The bruise only heals toward the end of the book in the care of Aunt Beast, shortly before Meg comes into her own as the story’s heroine.
If Larson’s adaptation has any drawbacks, it’s the sometimes stiff poses, as well as the clash between her impressionistic style and some of the more sci-fi aspects of the book. While she does a great job with Aunt Beast’s race and Mrs. Whatsit’s true form, some of the extraplanetary landscapes that the children visit don’t feel quite as alien as a reader’s imagination might have rendered them, and the stark, inhuman perfection of the Central Intelligence Center doesn’t come across as well in Larson’s style.
Still, the point comes across clearly enough, and the adaptation excels in so many other ways that harping on one or pages’ worth of art in the book feels like nitpicking. (Most of the book is set on Earth or the very Earth-like Camazotz, anyway.) Reading it, especially in these serendipitous circumstances, felt like a gift, and I thank Ms. Larson for the chance to see an old favorite in a new light.