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Lost Book Club: 'A Wrinkle in Time'

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Jen Chaney and Liz Kelly
washingtonpost.com Staff
Wednesday, December 19, 2007; 12:00 PM

Jen Chaney and Liz Kelly -- co-authors of washingtonpost.com's weekly "Lost" analysis (in season) -- continue the "Lost" Book Club series with a discussion of Madeleine L'engle's "A Wrinkle in Time," one of several books that may offer some clues into the past, present and future of "Lost."

Liz Kelly's day job is Celebritology blogging, while Jen Chaney presides over washingtonpost.com's Movies section. Both consider "Lost"-watching a passion.

Visit washingtonpost.com's new "Lost" hub.

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Liz Kelly: I'd just like to start off by thanking Jen, Madeleine L'Engle and everyone here participating today for saving me from a morning completely consumed by Jamie Lynn Spears and her love child. I can feel my IQ rising already.

Though "love child" isn't the worst place to start as "A Wrinkle in Time" centered on children and the day was saved by one child's love for her small brother. We'll explore that and more in the next hour. We've already got some good, meaty questions and comments to get this thing going.

Jen?

Jen Chaney: I'll refrain from commenting about Jamie Lynn. But I will say that I enjoyed this selection. I am sure I read "Wrinkle" as a child but this was like a first read because I had forgotten so much.

Between the Black Thing and all the time travel, there are certainly parallels. The real question is: Which Lostie is Aunt Beast? I say maybe Juliet? And either Kang or Kodos from "The Simpsons." All right, let's get rolling.

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Washington, D.C.: It's funny you chose to do this book today. NPR had a discussion of it today. Could it be coincidence or a wrinkle in... sorry, had to do it.

Liz Kelly: Dismissed as coincidence.

Though actually I'll have to see if I can find the audio clip on the Web. I'm sure it's a good listen.

Jen Chaney: Man, how many times do Liz and I have to tell NPR to stop copying us?

Joking, of course. That is a funny coincidence. I quickly scanned their Web site and couldn't find a link to it. But maybe some astute listener/Web user can hunt one down for us.

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Austin, Tex.: Book, schmook. How cool is that Lost trailer on the Web?

Liz Kelly: Very. I saw it on a massive screen leading into a screening of "Juno" over the weekend. Definitely roped me right back in.

For anyone who hasn't yet seen it, happy holidays.

Jen Chaney: This longer version is even better. Locke holding a gun to Ben's head and saying "Goodbye, Benjamin"? Oh, that's tasty stuff.

Jen Chaney: This longer version is even better. Locke holding a gun to Ben's head and saying "Goodbye, Benjamin"? Oh, that's tasty stuff.

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Mumbai, India: Posting early because I'm pretty sure i'll be asleep during the chat...(or not near a computer).

I loved this month's book. I read it during elementary school and again when I was in high school -- and while I like some of the others in the series a smidgen more the crazy time shifting, the black monster was an interesting paralel to LOST.

I do want to say that I love how strong Meg and her mother are -- as a girl growing up, it was nice to read a sci-fi book with strong female charachters...

As for LOST: The idea of faith is clearly an issue in this book. Is evil really taking over the universe, and how much do you have to believe in order to not be swallowed up by conformity. Also to some extent it indicated (much how each of our characters the back story reveals) the eternal struggle between right and wrong. The discussion of Charles Wallace (at 5!) and his ego, and his need to jump in head first and opening himself to that influence in a willing manner, also made me think of Sawyer and his entering the con man biz willingly to find his father or of Desmond and his willingness and decisions regarding the passage of time.

I also kept thinking about how the planet (the name escapes me) where Meg and Company found her dad reminded me of the Others (orig. Others, before Ben took over) search for Utopia.

Happy early holidays all! Can't wait to find out what the next book is. (or January 31st!)

Liz Kelly: In matters of faith, I usually defer to Jen -- who tends to be more tuned in to "Lost's" spiritual side than I.

But the spiritual thread is impossible to ignore in "Wrinkle." As Mr. Murry said to Meg when he was trying to revive her from her deep freeze: "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose."

The implication is that Meg and Calvin and Charles Wallace -- and even the Mrs. Ws and Aunt Beast -- are all righteous warriors in God's army, fighting the "black thing," "IT" -- the force of evil trying to take over the universe.

Though as Anna Quindlen wrote in the intro to the version I read, this book was also written in the early days of the Cold War and references to the evils of Communism are rife... the Camazotz population who are all cookie cutter clones of each other, all controlled by IT.

In the "Lost" world, though, are the Others IT or merely the victims of IT?

Jen Chaney: I also thought the Camazotz population was eerily similar to the Dharma people. The descriptions of kids playing ball made me immediately think of the barracks and the opening of last season's first ep, where we see Juliet baking cookies.

As for your question, Liz, at the moment I think the Others are victims as opposed to IT. Based on what the writers have been saying and on that trailer for next season, Ben's insistence that he is not a bad guy and that something terrible will happen if the Losties are rescued may be dead-on. In which case, some other malevolent force is at work here.

And the "pride comes before the fall" concept -- as we see with Charles Wallace -- is very much at work in "Lost." I would argue that Jack is the prime example of that. He thought he knew better than Ben, and that he could be everyone's savior. But evidently he was dead wrong, and it may have cost people's lives.

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Charleston, S.C.: Enjoyed this book and thought the plot of "Wrinkle" had more parallels to the plot of Lost of any book we've read since Watership Down. But I sure hope Lost doesn't wrap up as abruptly. I mean, 5 pages to go and our heros are still locked in the battle with IT, then just like that everyone is safe and sound and it's all over with lots of questions left unanswered. Do you see the ending of Lost unfolding a bit slower than that?

Jen Chaney: Yes, the parallels were striking. Although I thought the ones in "Watchment" were pretty notable, too.

I agree with you about the resolution. It happened very quickly. For a minute or two, I thought Meg might not rescue her brother until the second book because I could not figure out how L'Engle would wrap it all up in so few pages.

I absolutely think the "Lost" ending will takes its time to a much larger extent. The narrative of the show is much more complicated, simply because the story is being told over a much, much longer amount of time. It won't just be like: Oh, and by the way, they're all in purgatory. The End!

Liz Kelly: Yes, the ending was kind of an anticlimax, a "Scooby Doo" ending if you will. But I'm not sure what more we should have expected from it? Special effects? An over-dramatic back and forth with IT? Maybe there wasn't much to be done there beyond the simple, pure victory achieved by Meg.

As for "Lost" parallels, I have to think this book may have had a big influence on "Lost's" Walt storyline and the Others' mania to take all the kids and to reproduce. In "Wrinkle" L'Engle hints that Calvin and Charles Wallace are "new" and "different" -- that they are somehow more evolved than their parents and even Meg. They are a new breed. Is Walt also?

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Re: Diane Rehm: Forgot to mention that if anyone wants to listen Diane's Readers Review of "Wrinkle" it's available online at wamu.org

washingtonpost.com: Readers Review:"A Wrinkle in Time" (wamu.org)

Liz Kelly: Thank you!

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Alexandria, Va.: Fringes of celebrity -- about 10 years ago, a small opera company in NoVa performed "A Wrinkle in Time" as a children's opera and Madeline L'Engel was there for a post-performance reception. She was totally gracious and listened patiently to all of us who had to tell her for what must be the thousand and first time that we loved Meg as a role model and heroine. Just sayin'!

Liz Kelly: I'm sure she was tickled to know that her book was still touching children's (and adults) minds decades after it was first published.

As one commenter noted earlier, this book was pretty forward thinking for its time. Both Meg and her mother are strong characters. In fact, it is largely up to women -- Meg, The Mrs. Ws, the Happy Medium and Aunt Beast -- to save Mr. Murry and Charles Wallace.

I am Madeleine L'Engle, hear me roar?

Jen Chaney: A close friend of mine, and a big L'engle admirer, met her on the street in New York once. Said she was very friendly and happy to chat. I always like hearing stories like that.

On a vaguely related note, the presence of the Happy Medium also reminded me of all the reliance on psychics in the "Lost" backstories. Claire, Hurley and Rose all visited them for guidance.

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Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: I know nothing about "Lost," but I read "A Wrinkle in Time" in fourth grade and it was the first and last science-fiction book I've ever read. I just hate that genre, and yet L'Engle's exploration of teenage boy-girl relationships drew me in. I'm a straight male who's otherwise pretty geeky -- I just can't stand sci-fi. Yes, I'm weird.

Liz Kelly: See, that's the thing about L'Engle. She herself said she's hopeless when it comes to math and science and was always more of a word person. But she doesn't give herself enough credit. She managed to give a dolt like me an understanding of some of the science behind her text and her text would not have rung true if her own understanding of time was not spot on.

And she's not the only author capable of incorporating high level scientific ideas into a well-told story. I'm sure some of the chatters can chime in with other titles to check out...

Jen Chaney: It's definitely sci-fi-ish but universally enjoyable, which is a neat trick. "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," while not a children's book, falls in that category, too.

I also found it helpful to have just read "A Brief History of Time," since L'Engle touches on similar concept, albeit in a much more digestible way.

Was I the only one who wondered any of what happens in the story is real? I was reminded a little of "Pan's Labyrinth" in that maybe Meg's adventure is really just her escape in her own head, one that allows her to cope with her father's absence and the fact that her little brother, in real life, is really just weird rather than "special." I'm guessing that wasn't L'Engle's intent, but it struck me as one potentially valid interpretation.

Liz Kelly: Hmmm, that is interesting. But would her fantasy stretch to encompass the happy Murry reunion at the end?

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Columbia, Md.: Can I still participate if I have not watched Lost since the first three episodes but I love Wrinkle in Time and recently read it again?

Jen Chaney: Um, no.

Just kidding, of course you can. All are welcome here.

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16th Street, NW Washington, D.C.: I like the whole tesseract idea...but when are you going to talk about "The Third Policeman"?

Jen Chaney: For the record, that was one of the options in our poll. But the readers chose L'Engle and -- almost -- "Are You There God, It's Me Margaret?"

If we do "Lost" Book Club again next year, that would certainly be a title to consider.

Liz Kelly: And, well, if we really are off the air after 8 episodes the book club may be back quicker than you can say Camazotz?

(Speaking of which, the similarity to close-sounding "Camelot" can't be coincidental, can it? Yet another utopia that ate itself.)

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Bethesda, Md.:

Is the move to Thursday no big deal, especially since so many people watch the show time-shifted on their DVRs?

Jen Chaney: I'm of two minds about the move.

On one hand, I think consistency of timeslot is extremely important on TV. We've always watched "Lost" on Wednesdays, even if the time wasn't always the same. To move it to another night, especially coming off of a season when ratings were down, seems potentially hazardous.

On the other hand, with virtually no new content -- and I really don't count "American Gladiators" as new content -- on the air, maybe more people will watch "Lost" out of desperation for fresh episodes of something scripted.

And then there's the third point, which is that with only eight episodes to air anyway, it probably won't matter much as far as ratings go. It's hard to get a sense of the audience trend with only an octet of installments.

I'm just glad it won't be up against "The Office," although not glad that "The Office" won't have new eps.

Liz Kelly: Well, and it will be airing in the slot previously occupied by mega-hit "Grey's Anatomy." That's sure to count for a bounce -- at least for the season opener.

And as Jen says, people will be desperate for something new to watch that isn't a reality show (sorry "Idol" fans) by the end of January. Hey, eight episodes is better than nothing.

In the final analysis, I think the move can only help the show -- especially the return to a 9 p.m. slot. Ten was really late for some of us lame-os who like to go to sleep early.

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Liz Kelly: Maybe we should talk about fathers -- a recurring theme in "Lost" (Jack's dad, Locke and Sawyer's dad, Walt and Michael, Sun's father, etc.).

What struck me about "Wrinkle" was the passage in which Meg realizes her father isn't capable of saving Charles Wallace. Her image of dad as someone who is capable of making anything right and providing instant security is shattered in that moment.

I liked it so much, I transcribe it here:

She had found her father and he had not made everything all right. Everything kept getting worse an worse. If hte long search for her father was ended, and he wasn't able to overcome all their difficulties, there was nothing to guarantee that it would all come out right in the end.

In a way, we all have a moment in which we realize our parents are fallible and this is Meg's. Interestingly, though, "Lost" seems to invert this formula. On the show, we have fathers who enter the storyline at the bottom of their arc -- Jack's drunken dad, Locke and Sawyer's duplicitous one. Will an opposite transformation happen? Will there come a moment when the Losties with daddy issues realize there was some good in these men?

Or is my brain addled by too much Spears news?

Jen Chaney: It's possible your brain is addled, but not when it comes to this father theory.

I would extend it even further to the Others -- the Losties have assumed that the Others are the "fathers" of the island, or at the very least in control. So they, too, started at the bottom of the arc. But I see them on an upswing in this next season. Or should I call it a mini-season? Perhaps a seasonlet?

Liz Kelly: Petit-season?

And good point re: the Others. It certainly seems there may be some alliance making in the offing.

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Liz Kelly: One thing that struck me about this text, since it was aimed at a tween audience, was some of the overt sensuality. There are definitely sparks flying between Calvin and Meg that would have had my little 11-year-old heart racing and the relationship between Aunt Beast and Meg, although wholly pure, is also incredibly sensual.

I guess it just goes to show that you can't go wrong by adding a little sexual tension to any tale (hence the Kate/Jack/Sawyer triangle, etc.)

Jen Chaney: That's another reason I thought maybe some of this was Meg fantasizing, especially the stuff about Calvin. The moment when she takes off her glasses and he tells her she has gorgeous eyes just sounded like something I would have dreamed up when I was that age. Although the guy saying it to me would have been John Taylor from Duran Duran, but you get what I'm saying.

I loved the Aunt Beast stuff. It really made me want to go get a massage or hang out in a sensory deprivation tank or something. L'Engle does a wonderful job of conveying that sense of peace. Not to get all spiritual again, but I felt like a lot of those descriptions had a religious bent to them, as though she was trying to describe what happens when your soul is at peace. Which ties back in with what we said earlier about the Mrs. Ws and Aunt Beast being angels or ministers of God.

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Seattle, Washh.: One of the immediate implications of "Wrinkle" to Lost is that in Wrinkle, much of the advanced science, like traveling or walking through walls, depends on altering your perspective so that the supernatural becomes the natural.

Also, any chance that One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey is on the list?

Jen Chaney: The supernatural becomes the natural ... that so sounds like something John Locke would say. A good point, too.

We have a pretty sizeable running list and if "Cuckoo's Nest" isn't on it, it certainly can be added. The episode featuring Hurley's friend Dave seemed inspired in part by Kesey's tale.

Liz Kelly: I like that, too. Though no matter how she shifted her perspective, Meg would not have been able to travel through a wall on her own -- at least not without the help of Mrs. Who's glasses. (It was Mrs. Who, right?)

Which again makes me think there are some who are more evolved than others -- both in "Wrinkle" and "Lost." On "Lost" I would say those people are definitely Walt and John Locke. Though some other characters have "accidentally" crossed the line into the supernatural -- Kate seeing her horse, for example.

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Liz Kelly: Ooh, one other thing I wanted to mention before I forget.

There's been a lot of criticism in the past of the "Lost" writers and producers perhaps not knowing where the show is leading, not having a clear endgame in sight. To that charge, I'd like to respond with some words from Madeleine L'Engle's Newberry Award win speech.

When discussing how she crafted this book, she said:

I can't possibly tell you how I came to write it. It was simply a book I had to write. I had no choice. And it was only after it was written that I realized what some of it meant.

I really like this quote, first, because as a writer it gives me hope that I'm not just filling thumb drives with insane ravings but also because it allows for the creative spark to take precedence over planning. Sure, "Lost" may have mis-stepped with Nikki and Paulo, but ultimately they may end up as an important part of bring "Lost" to a satisfying end.

Jen Chaney: Liz, you are all about the L'Engle trivia today.

I really like that, too, because I think that's what most writers do: Dump out what's in their heads then look back at it and go, "Oh, that's what that symbolizes."

I may be naive, but I think when LindeCuseAbrams (a new hybrid I have just now coined, and also the name of a law firm somewhere in New Jersey) initially developed the show, they may have had a germ of an idea as to how it would end. Obviously they have developed the "Lost" narrative and mythology since then, but I think they had an inkling as to what the end would be, which is why they felt so strongly about choosing an end date for the show. Which, of course, may now shift thanks to this crazy strike.

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Washington, D.C.: One thing about "A Wrinkle in Time" to keep in mind is that it is 45 years old. Some of the plot devices, like the warping of space, not to mention that whole "saved by the power of love" bit might seem a little cheesy today. But when it was first written it seemed fresh and original. So much of the science fiction and fantasy written since then owes a debt to "A Wrinkle in Time," "Lost" is clearly included.

Jen Chaney: Absolutely, D.C. It's very important to think of this book in the context of its time, and I think you're quite right that the plot devices must have seemed revolutionary back then. Great works of fiction not only break new ground for their time, but are timeless.

This is clearly one of those. Although I have to admit that the use of the phrase "golly day" made me laugh out loud.

Liz Kelly: Though, as Jen says, a lot of this is timeless. A tweener would totally identify with Meg's dissatisfaction with herself and her elation at drawing the interest of a stud like Calvin. Some things never change.

For any "Juno" viewers out there, Calvin was like the Paulie Bleeker of his time.

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Wrinkle backstory: A little backstory on AWIT, from L'Engle's memoir, Two-Part Invention. The book took two years to sell, and racked up an impressive number of rejection slips:

"The Idea for AWIT had come to me during our (cross-country) camping trip, a response too my discovery of Einstein and Planck and the other physicists with their entirely new view of the universe. I had started Wrinkle as soon as we got home, and finished it in a white heat. It was very different from my six earlier published books but I loved it, and I hoped it would mark a turning point. So the continuing rejection slips were especially painful." (p 177)

Liz Kelly: Thanks for that insight.

A good lesson in perserverence. I read in the notes at the back of this book that how she eventually got the book published was by giving a copy of the manuscript directly to publisher John Farrar, a friend of a friend. Timing is everything.

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Liz Kelly: Well, this has been a fabulous discussion. Thanks to all for participating today. I think we've learned a lot about "Lost."

We've also learned that when shopping for holiday gifts for that pre-teen on your list, go with a copy of L'Engle's book and not "Zoey 101" DVDs.

Without further ado, Jen Chaney tessers a month into the future to reveal next month's book club selection...

Jen Chaney: Man, that tessering is painful. It amazes me that Bill and Ted never talked about how much all that time travel hurt.

Now, on to January, the month when (joy!) "Lost" returns to television. Before we can resume our story, we need to look back at where we left off. And that's why our January book is ... "Through the Looking Glass," the Lewis Carroll tale that shares a title with the "Lost" season three finale. Between the chess game and the time shifts, not to mention the mimsy borogroves, we think there will be plenty to discuss. We'll see you back here on Jan. 31 to dissect every detail.

Until then, continue poring over that season three DVD for clues, read up on your Lewis Carroll and have a lovely holiday.

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