Authors: Madeleine L’Engle
Charles Wallace accepted the explanation serenely. Even Calvin did not seem perturbed.
,” Meg sighed. “I guess I
a moron. I just don’t get it.”
“That is because you think of space only in three dimensions,” Mrs Whatsit told her. “We travel in the fifth dimension. This is something you can understand, Meg. Don’t be afraid to try. Was your mother able to explain a tesseract to you?”
“Well, she never did,” Meg said. “She got so upset about it. Why, Mrs Whatsit? She said
it had something to do with her and Father.”
“It was a concept they were playing with,” Mrs Whatsit said, “going beyond the fourth dimension to the fifth. Did your mother explain it to you, Charles?”
“Well, yes.” Charles looked a little embarrassed. “Please don’t be hurt, Meg. I just kept at her while you were at school till I got it out of her.”
Meg sighed. “Just explain it to me.”
Charles said. “What is the first dimension?”
“Okay. And the second dimension?”
“Well, you’d square the line. A flat square would be in the second dimension.”
“And the third?”
“Well, you’d square the second dimension. Then the square wouldn’t be flat anymore. It would have a bottom, and sides, and a top.”
“And the fourth?”
“Well, I guess if you want to put it into mathematical terms you’d square the square. But you can’t take a pencil and draw it the way you can the first three. I know it’s got something to do with Einstein and time. I guess maybe you could call the
fourth dimension Time.”
“That’s right,” Charles said. “Good girl. Okay, then, for the fifth dimension
you’d square the fourth, wouldn’t you?”
“I guess so.”
“Well, the fifth dimension’s a tesseract. You add that to the other four dimensions and you can travel through space without having to go the long way around. In other words, to put it into Euclid, or old-fashioned plane geometry, a
straight line is
the shortest distance between two points.”
For a brief, illuminating second Meg’s face
had the listening, probing expression that was so often seen on Charles’s. “I see!” she cried. “I got it! For just a moment I got it! I can’t possibly explain it now, but there for a second I saw it!” She turned excitedly to Calvin. “Did you get it?”
He nodded. “Enough. I don’t understand it the way Charles Wallace does, but enough to get the idea.”
“Sso nnow wee ggo,” Mrs Which said. “Tthere
iss nott all thee ttime inn tthe worrlld.”
“Could we hold hands?” Meg asked.
Calvin took her hand and held it tightly in his.
“You can try,” Mrs Whatsit said, “though I’m not sure how it will work. You see, though we travel together, we travel alone. We will go first and take you afterward in the backwash. That may be easier for you.” As she spoke the great white body began to waver, the wings
to dissolve into mist. Mrs Who seemed to evaporate until there was nothing but the glasses, and then the glasses, too, disappeared. It reminded Meg of the Cheshire Cat.
—I’ve often seen a face without glasses, she thought;—but glasses without a face! I wonder if I go that way, too. First me and then my glasses?
She looked over at Mrs Which. Mrs Which was there and then she wasn’t.
a gust of wind and a great thrust and a sharp shattering as she was shoved through—what? Then darkness; silence; nothingness. If Calvin was still holding her hand she could not feel it. But this time she was prepared for the sudden and complete dissolution of her body.
When she felt the tingling coming back to her fingertips she knew that this journey was almost over and she could feel again the
pressure of Calvin’s hand about hers.
Without warning, coming as a complete and unexpected shock, she felt a pressure she had never imagined, as though she were being completely flattened out by an enormous steam roller. This was far worse than the nothingness had been; while she was nothing there was no need to breathe, but now her lungs were squeezed together so that although she was dying
for want of air there was no way for her lungs to expand and contract, to take in the air that she must have to stay alive. This was completely different from the thinning of atmosphere when they flew up the mountain and she had had to put the flowers to her face to breathe. She tried to gasp, but a paper doll can’t gasp. She thought she was trying to think, but her flattened-out mind was as unable
to function as her lungs; her thoughts were squashed along with the rest of her. Her heart tried to beat; it gave a knifelike, sidewise movement, but it could not expand.
But then she seemed to hear a voice, or if not a voice, at least words, words flattened out like printed words on paper, “Oh, no! We can’t stop here! This is a
-dimensional planet and the children can’t manage here!”
was whizzed into nothingness again, and nothingness was wonderful. She did not mind that she could not feel Calvin’s hand, that she could not see or feel or be. The relief from the intolerable pressure was all she needed.
Then the tingling began to come back to her fingers, her toes; she could feel Calvin holding her tightly. Her
heart beat regularly; blood coursed through her veins. Whatever
had happened, whatever mistake had been made, it was over now. She thought she heard Charles Wallace saying, his words round and full as spoken words ought to be, “
, Mrs Which, you might have killed us!”
This time she was pushed out of the frightening fifth dimension with a sudden, immediate jerk. There she was, herself again, standing with Calvin beside her, holding onto her hand for dear
life, and Charles Wallace in front of her, looking indignant. Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which were not visible, but she knew that they were there; the fact of their presence was strong about her.
“Cchilldrenn, I appolloggize,” came Mrs Which’s voice.
“Now, Charles, calm down,” Mrs Whatsit said, appearing not as the great and beautiful beast she had been when they last saw her, but in her
familiar wild garb of shawls and scarves and the old tramp’s coat and hat. “You know how difficult it is for her to materialize. If you are not substantial yourself it’s
difficult to realize how limiting protoplasm is.”
ssorry,” Mrs Which’s voice came again; but there was more than a hint of amusement in it.
funny.” Charles Wallace gave a childish stamp of his foot.
Mrs Who’s glasses shone out, and the rest of her appeared more slowly behind them.
“We are such stuff as dreams are made on.”
She smiled broadly. “Prospero in
like that play.”
“You didn’t do it on
” Charles demanded.
“Oh, my darling, of course not,” Mrs Whatsit said quickly. “It was just a very understandable mistake. It’s very difficult for Mrs Which to think in a corporeal
way. She wouldn’t hurt you deliberately; you know that. And it’s really a very pleasant little planet, and rather amusing to be flat. We always enjoy our visits there.”
“Where are we now, then?” Charles Wallace demanded. “And why?”
“In Orion’s belt. We have a friend here, and we want you to have a look at your own planet.”
“When are we going home?” Meg asked anxiously. “What about Mother? What
about the twins? They’ll be terribly worried about us. When we didn’t come in at bedtime—well, Mother must be frantic by now. She and the twins and Fort will have been looking and looking for us, and of course we aren’t there to be found!”
“Now, don’t worry, my pet,” Mrs Whatsit said cheerfully. “We took care of that before we left. Your mother has had enough to worry her with you and Charles
to cope with, and not knowing about your father, without our adding to her anxieties. We took a time wrinkle as well as a space wrinkle. It’s very easy to do if you just know how.”
“What do you mean?” Meg asked plaintively. “Please, Mrs Whatsit, it’s all so confusing.”
“Just relax and don’t worry over things that needn’t trouble you,” Mrs Whatsit said. “We made a nice, tidy little time tesser,
and unless something goes terribly wrong we’ll have you back about five minutes before you left, so there’ll be time to spare and nobody’ll ever need to know you were gone at all, though of course you’ll be telling your mother,
dear lamb that she is. And if something goes terribly wrong it won’t matter whether we ever get back at all.”
“Ddon’tt ffrrightenn themm,” Mrs Which’s voice came. “Aare
yyou llosingg ffaith?”
“Oh, no. No, I’m not.”
But Meg thought her voice sounded a little faint.
is a nice planet,” Calvin said. “We can’t
much of it. Does it ever clear up?”
Meg looked around her, realizing that she had been so breathless from the journey and the stop on the two-dimensional planet that she had not noticed her surroundings. And perhaps this was not very surprising,
for the main thing about the surroundings was exactly that they
unnoticeable. They seemed to be standing on some kind of nondescript, flat surface. The air around them was gray. It was not exactly fog, but she could see nothing through it. Visibility was limited to the nicely definite bodies of Charles Wallace and Calvin, the rather unbelievable bodies of Mrs Whatsit and Mrs Who, and a faint
occasional glimmer that was Mrs Which.
“Come, children,” Mrs Whatsit said. “We don’t have far to go, and we might as well walk. It will do you good to stretch your legs a little.”
As they moved through the grayness Meg caught an occasional glimpse of slaglike rocks, but there were no traces of trees or bushes, nothing but flat ground under their feet, no sign of any vegetation at all.
ahead of them there loomed what seemed to be a hill of stone. As they approached it Meg could see that
there was an entrance that led into a deep, dark cavern. “Are we going in there?” she asked nervously.
“Don’t be afraid,” Mrs Whatsit said. “It’s easier for the Happy Medium to work within. Oh, you’ll like her, children. She’s very jolly. If ever I saw her looking unhappy I would be very depressed
myself. As long as she can laugh I’m sure everything is going to come out right in the end.”
“Mmrs. Whattsitt,” came Mrs Which’s voice severely, “jusstt beccause yyou arre verry youngg iss nno exxcuse forr tallkingg tooo muchh.”
Mrs Whatsit looked hurt, but she subsided.
“Just how old
you?” Calvin asked her.
“Just a moment,” Mrs Whatsit murmured, and appeared to calculate rapidly upon
her fingers. She nodded triumphantly. “Exactly 2,379,152,497 years, 8 months, and 3 days. That is according to
calendar, of course, which even you know isn’t very accurate.” She leaned closer to Meg and Calvin and whispered, “It was really a
great honor for me to be chosen for this mission. It’s just because of my verbalizing and materializing so well, you know. But of course we can’t
take any credit for our talents. It’s how we use them that counts. And I make far too many mistakes. That’s why Mrs Who and I enjoyed seeing Mrs Which make a mistake when she tried to land you on a two-dimensional planet. It was
we were laughing at, not at you. She was laughing at herself, you see. She’s really terribly nice to us younger ones.”
Meg was listening with such interest to what
Mrs Whatsit was saying that she hardly noticed when they
went into the cave; the transition from the grayness of outside to the grayness of inside was almost unnoticeable. She saw a flickering light ahead of them, ahead and down, and it was toward this that they went. As they drew closer she realized that it was a fire.
“It gets very cold in here,” Mrs Whatsit said, “so we asked her to have a
good bonfire going for you.”
As they approached the fire they could see a dark shadow against it, and as they went closer still they could see that the shadow was a woman. She wore a turban of beautiful pale mauve silk, and a long, flowing, purple satin gown. In her hands was a crystal ball into which she was gazing raptly. She did not appear to see the children, Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs
Which, but continued to stare into the crystal ball; and as she stared she began to laugh; and she laughed and laughed at whatever it was that she was seeing.