To call Hope Larson’s graphic novel of Madeleine L’Engle’s classic novel A Wrinkle in Time an adaptation doesn’t feel right. Larson’s work stays so true to the source material, right down to the chapter breaks and titles, that it feels more accurate to call the book a translation. Larson took L’Engle’s text and translated it into the visual language of comics. Given the strength of the original book, she was wise to remain as faithful as she did, and Larson’s talent as a graphic storyteller makes the whole package that much stronger.
A Wrinkle in Time tells the story of Meg Murry, her younger brother Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin O’Keefe, as the three of them take a journey to rescue Meg and Charles’s father. It starts when Charles and Meg meet three strange women called Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which. The women are actually interdimensional beings who take the Murry children and Calvin on a trip through space. They travel by ‘tessering,’ which they describe as creating a wrinkle in time that allows them to move from one place to the next in no time at all. This is just the first piece of a fantastic adventure that includes winged alien centaurs, an immeasurable evil moving through space in the form of a huge Black Thing, a blind alien called Aunt Beast, and a planet under the control of a creature known only as IT.
Larson uses L’Engle’s original text almost as if it’s the script to a comic, including nearly everything in her art that is described in the novel, and never changing a word of the dialogue. That said, Larson still puts her own visual stamp on each of the characters. Meg’s otherwise straight hair has a single curl in front, tall and lanky Calvin has distinctive freckles, and Charles Wallace, in particular, has eyes so large that they threaten to overtake the rest of his face. Those eyes are important to the story, and their size adds an otherworldly quality to the youngest Murry, already presented as being preternaturally intuitive and well-spoken for a five-year-old boy.
The color palette of the book is distinct, utilizing only three colors – black, white, and a very light blue. The use of the blue gives everything a warm look that’s very easy on the eyes. It’s easy to imagine things being muddied or harsher had a different color been chosen. The way that Larson utilizes those three colors goes a long way towards setting the mood of the book. There are moments when the blacks overcome the blues and whites – during a storm at the beginning of the book, when the characters are tessering, or when they’re viewing the Black Thing. Conversely, when the trio of kids are on the alien planet Camazotz, where the entire population is under the control of IT, the blues and whites are very prominent, creating an eerie calm as Meg, Charles, and Calvin make their way farther into the city and further into danger.
Ultimately the strength of Larson’s work here is in her ability to choose which moments to emphasize, the speed at which events should unfold, and when to use Meg’s inner monologue as narration versus letting the imagery speak for itself. Splash pages are used sparingly throughout, so when they do show up they hit particularly hard and to great effect. Larson’s pacing is excellent, and the climax of the book may actually be more effective here than it is in the original novel. Things move very quickly in the final chapter of the novel, whereas here Larson’s art allows events time to unfold and tension to build before the ultimate conclusion. It’s a strength of the comic format that the creator can use page layout and visual tricks to control the pace at which the reader reads, and Larson does it exceptionally well here.
A Wrinkle in Time was the first in a series of five books by L’Engle, but don’t look for Larson to start work on any of the others anytime soon – she recently tweeted that, “if I kept on doing adaptations I would shrivel up and die from the inside out.” Nevertheless, A Wrinkle in Time is a wonderful book on its own, and would serve as an excellent ‘gateway’ book for any prose reader who hasn’t tried comics yet.