Another one off that challenge list of mine! Yahoo! Okay, now I must confess. I had never read this book before. Yeah, I know it was published in 1962, won a Newberry Award and all that, still I never read it. When I was younger I started to read it, I distinctly remember that, but I put it aside thinking it was weird. This was the nature of my fastidiously real world child self. Fantasy and sci-fi weren’t in my house and simply existed out of my experience. As a child, when one feels “odd man out” on every possible level it’s hard to commit to something that only perpetuates and encourages that feeling of ostracism. Strangely, I loved Matilda and Witches, though. Their struggles of singularity were ones that gave me hope and in a setting I could more readily latch onto. Enough of that. Here goes!
This well known classic in children’s literature is about a family without a father. The main character would be an adolescent girl named Meg who suffers bullying (one who fights back, though – yeah!) and no small degree of humiliation as people talk of her behavioral issues, a lack of interest in doing school work, a father who is gone, and a brother who is viewed as weird because he doesn’t talk. She is adrift in a sea of people who condemn and can occasionally find respite when she lands on an island filled with the support of family. All except her father.
A friend introduces himself to her and her brother, Charles Wallace (the young and gifted one who doesn’t speak to strangers), and thus begins their journey into space to find Meg and Charles’ father with the aid of three lovely looks- to – be – humans – who – aren’t- really-humans. They travel with the aid of what can only be described as magic. They move from world to world, one is two dimensional, the other is beauty incarnate with merely a view of evil from the highest peak, and another is owned and operated by evil itself. This is the one which is imprisoning the beloved family member who has long been missing.
Calvin, the friend, Charles Wallace, and Meg journey together into a world which everyone is the same. There are no flaws, all bounce the ball to the same rhythm, intruders must have identification to show they’re supposed to be there, and when there is an issue it is to be corrected via IT. This is essentially reprogramming, the spirit of a person gone, and it can be warranted due to something as simple as a child not bouncing a ball correctly. It’s a world where conformity is the necessity and individuality is the highest crime.
Take this excerpt where Charles Wallace has been taken over by IT:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident!” she (Meg) shouted, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
As she cried out the words she felt a mind moving in on her own, felt IT seizing, squeezing her brain. Then she realized that Charles Wallace was speaking, or being spoken through by IT.
“But that’s exactly what we have on Camazotz. Complete equality. Everybody exactly alike.”
For a moment her brain reeled with confusion. Then came a moment of blazing truth, “No!” she cried triumphantly. “Like and equal are not the same thing at all!”
What amazes me about the work is how insightful the author is to make a distinction few people understand or even see the relevance of. This book, in conjunction with others on the banned list, has opened up my eyes greatly. For grade school children (fourth grades and up) I can think of few works more important to share with them. Support for the individual, for their differences, the sense of community still found and supported for them, as well as the potential for amazing and wondrous things they can impact is all there. What better messages can we hope to impart?
There will be a post coming up shortly about the observations I have about commonalities amongst the banned books that were written for children.