Studies in imperfect book covers: A Wrinkle in Time
Monday, May 4th, 2009
If you’ve read A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle’s 1961 sci-fi children’s classic, you’ve met Charles Wallace, one of fiction’s great perfect babies. At five years old, he’s not exactly tongue-tied (“Let’s be exclusive…that’s my new word for the day. Impressive, isn’t it?”); he’s also psychic, eerily clairvoyant when it comes to anticipating his family’s midnight cravings for hot milk and liverwurst.
Unfortunately, the book’s various cover designs over the years have been less consistently impressive, as this PBH exclusive analysis reveals:
1. The Original Cover: Vertigo in space.
Things started off well, with this Saul-Bass-esque take on the the Murray children's intergalactic search for their scientist father, who (in highly irresponsible fashion) ran off into space without his cellphone. Grade: A-
2. The Gross “Sci-Fi” Cover: Design by Pink Floyd.
This circa early 1970s iteration is less abstract, but more lousy. It appears to be targeted at suicidal teenage potheads (can you imagine today's moms buying their kids this trippy, forboding book?). I just noticed how the red dot in the "R" is a nod to the viilain brain's glowing eyes, which is...clever, I guess. Grade: C
This is the edition I took out of the Southgate Library (repeatedly) so perhaps I'm biased, but I think it rocks. Note the less dorkily literal interpretation of "rainbow wings," and the ominously mammoth Rousseau-esque flowers. I was always highly impressed by the way the Mrs. Whatsit centaur-thing could fly with its hands poised in such a graceful yoga-like-position, but I now see they're just prayer-hands, a reference to the novel's regrettably heavy-handed Christianity. Grade: B+.
4. Some 1990s Disaster: The cover starts getting cute.
If the Pink Floyd cover is too menacing, this is too meek. The centaur has metamorphosed into a chubby dove? It all takes place on a gentle Swiss ski slope? The children now float through space inside a transparent L'Eggs container? Cloying, wimpy, and suspiciously French. Grade: D.
5. The 2009 Cover: A reflection of our overprotective era.
This cover reflects today's parenting anxieites, disguising the terror of the book in a cloak of whimsy. (This is a novel, after all, in which children are stranded, parentless, on uncharted planets; in which their parents are blatantly flawed and unable to protect them.) Even in the 1970s Dell Yearling cover, you sense the danger involved in riding a giant creature who's too busy perfecting its graceful hand gestures to care if you fall off. Here, the kids look like sweet, flying pigs—too stylized to be facing any real risk. Grade: C.