A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time Summary and Analysis of Chapter 5: The Tesseract


Mrs. Which tells Meg that her father is behind the great darkness that they saw in the sky. Though Meg despairs at this fact, Mrs. Whatsit comforts her and tells her that they would not have brought her here if there was no hope. Mrs. Which then tells them that it is time to “go behind the shadow” and begins to explain how they travel through space and time.

Mrs. Whatsit explains the meaning of the tesseract. Using some illustrations and diagrams, Mrs. Whatsit shows them how they “wrinkle” time and space, making travel between great distances easy and quick. The tesseract is the fifth dimension of space, a dimension the children can travel through meaning that “a straight line is not the shortest distance between two points.” It was a concept Meg’s parents have been working on for a tremendous amount of time. Meg understands the concept for a brief second before losing her comprehension. Charles Wallace, meanwhile, seems to understand it completely.

They all then begin to disintegrate again, and Meg holds Calvin’s hand. A mistake is made, however, and Meg finds herself feeling crushed and flat. She can’t expand her lungs and her mind won’t work correctly either. She hears the words “Oh, no! We can’t stop here! This is a two-dimensional planet...” and suddenly Meg is thrown through time and space once again where she regains her sense of life. Charles Wallace is angry at the women for making a mistake that almost killed them all, but they all laugh because they so rarely make such mistakes and didn’t think about the physical nature of the children.

They tell Meg that the new planet they are on is in Orion’s Belt. They calm her fears that their mother will worry over them by telling her how they created a “time tesser” that will transport all of them back to earth five minutes before they originally left so that no one would even know they were gone, unless something goes terribly wrong. The new planet they are on is gray and nondescript. Mrs. Whatsit tells Meg that they have come to see the Happy Medium and that she will show them their own planet.

Deep within a cave, next to a fire, they meet the Happy Medium, a woman dressed in a long, purple satin gown holding a crystal ball. They all introduce themselves and Mrs. Whatsit tells the Medium to show the children their own planet. The Medium doesn’t want to because she’d rather look at things that are more “delightful,” but Mrs. Which tells her that soon there “will no longer be so many pleasing things to look at if responsible people do not do something about the unpleasant ones.”

In the crystal ball, the children can see their own planet, but it is clouded by the Darkness they had seen earlier. Meg asks if it had just shown up, and Mrs. Whatsit tells her that it has actually been there for a long time. This explains why Planet Earth is so deeply troubled. They tell her that this Dark Thing is Evil, the “Power of Darkness,” but that their planet had been instrumental in fighting the Darkness through time. When Calvin asks who the fighters had been, Mrs. Who relates a quote: “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” Charles Wallace recognizes this as Jesus, and Mrs. Whatsit tells him yes, along with other great artists and scientists and thinkers such as da Vinci and Shakespeare and Einstein, as well as Buddha, Beethoven, Rembrandt, and St. Francis.

Meg is still very upset and wants to find her father, and Mrs. Whatsit tells her that they are going to a “planet that has given in.” The Happy Medium cannot stand to look at the crystal ball any longer, and tells the children to “watch!”


In this chapter, L’Engle elaborates on the themes of space and time that gird the story of the book. Through a few illustrations and charts, L’Engle explains the notions of travel in time and space, notions that she learned about through reading Einstein, which inform the scientific foundation of the book. This again illustrates the uniqueness of the novel as a work of children’s fantasy. The world that L’Engle creates is not just one of magical worlds, but one which she gives texture and reality to through advanced concepts of physics. This concept of dimensions takes a frightening turn for the children when they are accidentally transported to a two-dimensional world which flattens them, like paper dolls. This scene, in which the children are almost pancaked by the loss of one dimension, is a metaphor for the fullness of human life. Art and creativity are what gives humanity its third dimension, and the loss of such a dimension almost kills the children.

The scene where the children meet the Happy Medium is an allusion to ancient Greek philosophy and culture. The Medium is modeled after the Oracles of ancient Greece who communicate with the gods and told the fortunes of those who sought their advice. The cave that she inhabits is also an allusion to Plato’s story of the cave dwellers in which people mistake the shadows on the wall of the cave that they live in as reality and do not understand that there is an entire world outside of the cave. L’Engle alludes to this story because for Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace, visiting the Medium is a way in which the reality of the universe is opened to them. Through the medium they see the Earth as it really is and are no longer disillusioned about the reality of the universe.

In the Medium’s vision of the earth, the children see the Dark Thing they saw earlier. This Dark Thing provides an explanation for why the earth suffers under the burden of so much hardship and evil. L’Engle here draws specific religious connections to the Darkness and it’s meaning. It is characterized as the “powers of darkness” and “evil” which is only combated by people of light. Specifically, Jesus is mentioned as the first of these warriors of light. Mrs. Who’s quote is from the Gospel of John, whose opening chapter serves as an ethical and moral template for the themes that L’Engle portrays in the book. In the First Chapter of the Gospel of John, darkness and “the void” are portrayed as having overtaken humanity, but through Jesus - the light of the world - that darkness could be conquered.

L’Engle also connects religious themes with themes of science and art. Jesus is listed as first in the warriors of light, but others are added to - great artists like Shakespeare and da Vinci - as well as scientists and philosophers like Einstein and Euclid. L’Engle here clearly connects the religious mandate of love with the power of creation. These people that are listed are not necessarily as morally and ethically pure as a figure like Jesus or Buddha, but through their acts of creation in art and science L’Engle suggests that they have shown the way for bringing goodness and light into the world. In L’Engle’s view, the act of creation in art and science is a kind of religious act.