I read A Wrinkle in Time a few times as a kid and I had vivid memories of it. I knew the plot and the characters long after I’d finished reading it. The memory that always stuck out to me most keenly wasn’t a big part of the story but a small one: the memory of Meg being taken care of by Aunt Beast. My memory of that part of the book is visceral; it makes me feel warmth and care and comfort, and it always stuck with me more than many of the other noteworthy parts of the book.
Aunt Beast appears after Meg, her father, and Calvin have attempted to tesser away from Camazotz to save Meg and Calvin from IT. The tesser didn’t go well and Meg isn’t fully conscious. Meg cannot open her eyes or speak but she can hear Calvin and her father talking. Much of their conversation is exposition, Mr. Murry telling the story of how he came to Camazotz. But when Meg tries to open her eyes, when she is sure she blinks, they don’t see it and think it’s “just a shadow.”
When Meg is able to open her eyes and speak, she says she can’t move and Calvin insists that she can and that she try, speaking to her with anger in his voice. Meg gets angry with her father for tessering with her when he did not do it properly, and for leaving Charles Wallace behind. Meg’s faults, which L’Engle reminds us of so often—her impatience and her temper—rise up. But more than that, she realizes that her father has not saved them and she feels a deep sense of confusion and sadness.
When the beasts arrive, Meg’s fear is still heightened but she realizes quickly that the calm and comfort she feels from them must come from something good. As she gets her strength and her body back, she is still anxious to save Charles Wallace. Aunt Beast, who has separated her from Calvin and Mr. Murry, insists that they approach the issue in a calm and measured fashion, that they find a proper solution. And Aunt Beast provides comfort, warmth, food, drink, and a listening ear.
Eventually the Mrs. Ws return and Meg realizes that she alone is the one who can return to Camazotz and save Charles Wallace.
In many ways this temporary stopover feels out of place, a way to postpone the ending a little longer. But to me, it speaks to a part of the hero’s journey that is often left out of the story.
Meg needs to have confidence in her own ability to save Charles Wallace before she can do it, and to me it would never have been possible for her to come to that realization without the care Aunt Beast provided for her body and her mind. The confidence of a true hero comes not just from understanding why you are the one to undertake a great task; it also comes from feeling strength from your body and your mind, strength that can only come from care. It can be self-care or it can be care provided by others like Aunt Beast.
L’Engle loves to remind us of Meg’s faults, loves to keep them on the surface. Meg spends so much of the book impatiently wanting to get to it. But there is a significant difference between the impatience she feels in the rest of the book and the confidence she has before her final trip to Camazotz. Meg is able to understand her quest and how she is fit for it when she has rested, when she has eaten, when she has been wrapped in fur and lovingly held.
To me, Aunt Beast is a reminder to all of us that we cannot ignore self-care, and that to do all we are capable of we must surround ourselves with people who will give us that care and understanding. As much as I love an empowered heroine, she cannot exist in a vacuum. She does not simply become empowered because she wants to be. It is work, it is care, it is understanding yourself. L’Engle wants us to know that a girl who has flaws doesn’t need to lose those flaws to become a hero, she just needs a little care to see herself for who she truly is.