I’ve already posted about Wrinkle in Time, but I’ve been thinking about this passage lately.
She felt only anger toward this boy who was not Charles Wallace at all. No, it was not anger, it was loathing; it was hatred, sheer and unadulterated, and as she became lost in hatred she also began to be lost in IT. . . . With the last vestige of consciousness she jerked her mind and body. Hate was nothing that IT didn’t have. IT knew all about hate.
If she could give love to IT perhaps it would shrivel up and die, for she was sure that IT could not withstand love. But she was incapable of loving IT. Perhaps it was not too much to ask of her, but she could not do it.
But she could love Charles Wallace.
She could stand there and she could love Charles Wallace. Her own Charles Wallace, the real Charles Wallace.
This moment had a profound impact on a friend of mine, and shaped her adult world view. And she is the kindest, most loving person I know. (Never assume children’s literature is a trivial topic. It has the power to shape generations.)
Though it seems like a very simple and direct message, it has multiple layers, and this is what has been occupying my thoughts.
First and clearest is that we shouldn’t foster hate against evil-doers, because it will eat us alive. If we’re not careful, we’ll find ourselves saying, like the guy in Falling Down, “You mean I’m . . . the bad guy?”
Closely related but saying something additional: We should extend to all people an attitude of love, or at least compassion — what is practiced in Buddhism as loving-kindness meditation (which is distinct from focused-attention meditation). Easier said than done, but it’s something worth striving for.
But this incident is not just about loving Charles Wallace, it’s about saving Charles Wallace. This leads to the the third and fourth messages, which swim just below the surface of our culture. Both messages are false, and both are swallowed along with the first two messages by too many young women: it is possible to save another person from being horrible, and, it is her job to do so.
It implies that evil is something overlaid on a basically good person, an external thing that has a grip on them, and if that grip can be broken they will be fine. There is the puppet Charles Wallace controlled by IT, and there is the “real” Charles Wallace underneath, if we can just get to him. THIS IS NOT HOW PEOPLE ACTUALLY WORK. I’m sorry, Meg Murray, but if Charles Wallace has taken to crouching in the basement reading men’s-rights forums, Charles Wallace is an asshole. You cannot save him by loving him. No matter how sweet he used to be, or could have been if his life had been different.
It is this dynamic that led advice columnist Captain Awkward to coin the term “Darth Vader Boyfriend.” The key here is not just that Darth Vader is awful, but how Luke reacts to him. Worth quoting at length:
“Luke, your dad is totally evil.”
“There’s good in him. I’ve felt it.”
“Luke, he blew up a planet just to make a point.”
“There’s good in him! I’ve felt it!”
“Luke, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but he severed your hand. From your arm. He cut it off.”
“Dueling to the death is just how we relate. You wouldn’t understand it. Now that we both have prosthetic robot limbs, it’s only brought us closer together.”
“Luke, he lured your friends into a trap so that he could murder them in front of you. We had to be rescued by Ewoks. It was embarrassing.”
“Yeah, that was pretty bad, I admit! But there’s good in him! I’ve felt it!”
And then Luke is risking his own life to carry Darth Vader out of the Death Star before it explodes so he can look upon that swollen purple face and experience one shining moment of real connection that would justify everything he’s invested in this completely dysfunctional relationship and he’s like “See? IT WAS ALL TOTALLY WORTH IT!”
Children’s literature has great power, and with great power comes great responsibility. Madeleine L’Engle did the world a disservice when she told us that love could not only defeat IT, but could save Charles Wallace as an individual. In reality, the only rescue that is possible has to be an inside job. He has to decide he wants to be a different person than that. (Spoiler: Most of them don’t.)
If you meet the grown-up Charles Wallace and he says he only acts this way because of IT (whatever IT is, fill in the blank), he is telling you he is an asshole. Believe him.