Censorship and A Wrinkle in Time? What???? Yes, this classic by my grandmother, Madeleine L'Engle is on many top ten lists of most censored books in America.
Okay, now that I've got your attention, my experience is not as crazy as all that. I was recently asked to do what I thought would be my Wrinkle in an Hour's Time workshop the other day at a local library.
What it turned out to be was an intense learning experience.
Wrinkle has been criticized from both ends of the spiritual spectrum - from the intellectuals for being too overtly religious and then from the evangelical Christians for being downright pagan. (Those rascally Mrs W's!)
Yes, our society is a beautiful and rich tapestry of different cultures, but Christianity is still the dominant religion. It isn't surprising that we see some sensitivity around this subject.
The librarian had set it up with me months ago to correspond with the first day of spring. We are on the heels of the 50th anniversary of Wrinkle - and the librarian had put it in the calendar as a "celebration". No problem - just add cupcakes to the mix and voila! You have an instant party situation.
Okay, what does this have to do with censorship and adaptation? Well . . . I sent the librarian - who I really like and respect as a deep thinker - the outline of my workshop including the passages that I use.
She wrote back saying that it was great, but could I please not quote anything religious. I frowned at the email. It confused me. I am not "religious". I personally would never dream of pushing a religious agenda.
Could she mean the passage that I base the whole workshop on? The one that posits that it is our creativity that fights darkness?
“Who have our fighters been?” Calvin asked.
“Oh, you must know them, dear,” Mrs Whatsit said.
Mrs. Who’s spectacles Shone out at them triumphantly, “And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.”
“Jesus!” Charles Wallace said. “Why of course, Jesus!”
“Of course!” Mrs Whatsit said. “Go on, Charles, love. There were others. All your great artists. They’ve been lights for us to see by.”
“Leonardo da Vinci?” Calvin suggested tentatively. “And Michelangelo?”
“And Shakespeare,” Charles Wallace called out, “And Bach! And Pasteur, and Madame Curie, and Einstein!”
Now Calvin’s voice rang out with confidence. “And Schweitzer, and Ghandi, and Buddha and Beethoven, and Rembrandt and St.Francis!”
Okay, so, there's Jesus and Buddha and Michelangelo. Is that religious?
Oh. There's that part where Mrs Who quotes the bible.
The librarian said that she would love to have a discussion about this, but that she didn't think the library was the proper forum. I could have pushed, and I could have at least asked why, but I didn't. I wanted to act my way into flexible thinking.
I focused on loving the challenge of adapting, of improvising. My original workshop closes with the above passage, and I like to give out a certificate to participants with that quote and their own name scrawled at the bottom. Of course it went over well for the Cathedral of St. John the Divine where I originally created it. And down South in Alabama, where folks are predominantly Christian.
I see that passage of the book as the ultimate interfaith message, and I know my grandmother. She saw the act of creating something, be it in the arts or sciences as an act of faith. And not limited to Christians. So do I.
Yet I have to give props to the librarian for knowing her patrons, and for making me think outside of the confines of my own experience. Yes, me, the free thinker.
But I still have to cop to being uncomfortable with not including that passage. For me it encapsulates the message of the book: that we ALL matter, regardless of our race, creed or religion. My grandmother was a devout Christian, so of course her beliefs informed her work. I am not, but I can't escape my upbringing, and the fact that I value faith as I seek to understand many religions and many points of view. I read stories to learn alternate ways of thinking and being. To teach me.
The arc of the workshop became more focused on the characters as archetypes and how we use books to learn more about ourselves and the world. We still did some group brainstorming and individual writing exercises. And I asked the kids to start looking at books, at stories, at characters differently. How does the protagonist view the world? How do you view the world?
Yes, thanks to the librarian, I looked past my own point of view, stretching myself and learning something through adapting.
It's certainly something to keep thinking and talking about.