A Wrinkle in Time
Chapter 11: Aunt Beast
In answer to the tentacled creatures' questions, Calvin explains that he is a young man from a planet engaged in fighting off the Dark Thing. The beasts seem surprised that Calvin and the Murrys are not used to meeting beings from other planets. They tell their guests that they must entrust Meg to their care because she is extremely vulnerable and weak.
Meg leans against the soft, furry chest of one of the beasts and feels warm and secure. The beasts rub something warm over her body, clothe her in fur, and serve her something "completely and indescribably delicious." She begins talking with one of the beasts, who encourages Meg to think of an appropriate name for her. After dismissing "mother," "father," "acquaintance," and "monster," Meg settles on the epithet "Aunt Beast." Meg tries to explain light and vision to Aunt Beast, who has no eyes. At the creature's urging, Meg falls into a deep sleep and wakes up feeling wonderfully rested.
Aunt Beast tells Meg that she finds it very difficult to communicate in Meg's language. Nonetheless, she tries to explain that the beasts live on a planet called Ixchel, another of the planets struggling against the Dark Thing. She then sings to Meg a beautiful song that sets Meg at peace with herself and the world.
After clothing and comforting Meg once more, Aunt Beast takes her back to her father and Calvin, who are eating a delicious but colorless meal prepared by the beasts. Meg asks impatiently whether they have tried to summon the three Mrs. W's. Meg tries to describe these women to Aunt Beast, but realizes that all physical description is useless when speaking with a creature that cannot see. She concentrates very intently on the essence of these three extraordinary women, then suddenly hears Mrs. Which's thundering voice announcing their arrival.
The planet Ixchel is named for the Mayan goddess of the rainbow and patron of medicine. This name is appropriate because Ixchel, like the Biblical rainbow of the Noah's ark story, offers Meg the opportunity for renewal and restoration, even though the planet is devoid of color. In addition, the beasts act as medics, nursing Meg back to health after her dangerous brush with the Dark Thing.
In this chapter, L'Engle challenges our fundamental assumptions about how people communicate with one another and perceive the world. Mrs. Whatsit had told Calvin that his gift was his ability to communicate with all types of creatures, and Calvin's gift at last proves useful as he struggles to explain their situation in a language that the beasts can understand. The beasts are not used to ordinary speech; their words are vocalized through their tentacles in an entirely different language. Aunt Beast tells Meg that her language is "so utterly simple and limited that it has the effect of extreme complication." Most of the wonderful things on Ixchel cannot be described in words: Aunt Beast's singing is "impossible to describe...to a human being"; she feeds Meg "something completely and indescribably delicious"; and she tells Meg that she has great difficulty expressing things the way her mind shapes them. Aunt Beast's discomfort with human language is evident from her grammatical and syntactic irregularities, such as "Would you like me to take you to your father and your Calvin?"
The beasts demonstrate the ability to read Meg's thoughts. For example, Aunt Beast's mind can join Meg's as Meg thinks of possible names for her. This type of extrasensory perception resembles Charles's ability to know Meg's thoughts, as well as the ability of the Man with the Red Eyes to bore into the children's minds. In separating verbal speech from communication, L'Engle shows that language is only one possible way of relating to one another.
Similarly, by separating sight from perception, L'Engle demonstrates that seeing is only one way of coming to know and understand the world. When challenged to explain the concepts of "light" and "sight" to Aunt Beast, Meg realizes the extent to which her sense of the world is informed by vision. This lesson is reemphasized later in the chapter when she must describe the Mrs. W's without referring to their physical appearance.
The disassociation between sight and perception functions to reinforce one of the novel's major themes: the relationship between appearances and reality. Aunt Beast tells Meg, "Think about things as they are. This look doesn't help us at all." The difference between form and essence is also relevant to the type of food that the beasts serve Calvin and the Murrys. Unlike the food on Camazotz, which looked delicious but tasted like sand to Charles Wallace, the food on Ixchel is gray and dull but tastes wonderfully delicious. In creating a planet where perceiving does not mean seeing and communicating does not mean speaking in words, L'Engle keenly reinforces the primary themes of her novel.
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