A Wrinkle in Time
Chapter 6: The Happy Medium
The Happy Medium next uses her crystal ball to show the children a battle between the Dark Thing and the stars. Mrs. Whatsit explains that they have just witnessed a star sacrificing its life to fight the Dark Thing, and Charles Wallace correctly guesses that Mrs. Whatsit was once a star who gave up her celestial existence in this way. The children are deeply moved by her sacrifice, and Charles Wallace kisses her in token of their gratitude.
The Happy Medium wishes to leave the children with a more pleasant vision before they depart, so despite Mrs. Which's protestations, she provides them with a glimpse of their mothers. Calvin's mother, however, is spanking one of her little ones with a wooden spoon, and Meg sees this and reaches out to Calvin compassionately. Mrs. Murry is busy writing her daily letter to her husband, a sight that brings tears to Meg's eyes.
After saying goodbye to the Happy Medium, the group tessers to the planet of Camazotz, where Mr. Murry is imprisoned. They stand on a hill overlooking a town and Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Who inform them that they will not be able to accompany the children into the town. Instead, they supply each child with a gift that will help them in their battle. Mrs. Whatsit's "gifts" are really mere enhancements of traits the children already possess: she reinforces in Meg her own faults, strengthens Calvin's innate ability to communicate with people of all different types, and bolsters in Charles Wallace the natural resilience of his childhood. Mrs. Who gives Meg her thick funny spectacles, Calvin an excerpt from Shakespeare's "The Tempest," and Charles a quotation from Goethe. Mrs. Which's "gift" to all three children is the command that they go down into the town and stay strong together. Mrs. Whatsit tells Calvin to take care of Meg and warns Charles that of all the children he will be the most susceptible to the danger on Camazotz. The three children leave their supernatural companions and descend the hill into the town.
In Camazotz, every house is the exact same size, shape, and color. In front of each house, children bounce balls and skip rope in a synchronized rhythm that seems to govern the whole town. One boy drops his ball and when the children knock on the door to return it to the mother, she is horrified by this "Aberration." The children are then confronted by a paper delivery boy on a bicycle, who asks them what they are doing out of doors. He informs them that they live in the most oriented city on the planet, governed by IT in the CENTRAL Central Intelligence. When the boy rides off, Charles Wallace notes that he seems to talk as though the words were not his own. Charles concentrates very hard to try to listen to the thoughts of these people, to figure out who they are, but all he hears is a steady pulsing.
Prepared to confront the forces of Camazotz at their source, the children decide to enter the CENTRAL Central Intelligence building. Charles expresses concern that he will not recognize his father after so many years, but Meg reassures him that this will not be a problem. Calvin voices his strong sense that entering the building means facing a terrible danger; however, the children realize that they have no choice.
Once again, Meg must accept that reality is not always as it seems. When she learns that Mrs. Whatsit was once a star that gave up its life fighting the Dark Thing, she realizes that the creature she knows as Mrs. Whatsit is "only the tiniest facet of all the things Mrs. Whatsit could be." Although Meg does not realize it now, this is also a lesson she will have to apply to her father when he seems powerless to rescue them from Camazotz, to Charles Wallace when he is caught in the grip of IT, and finally to herself when she feels inadequate in the face of IT's tyrannical control. Throughout the course of her travels with Charles and Calvin, Meg learns that people are usually far more complex and capable than they initially appear.
The planet Camazotz represents the dangers of a world devoid of creativity and individuality. Unlike the creative geniuses mentioned in the previous chapter--Einstein, Picasso, Bach, etc.--everyone on Camazotz is exactly like everyone else. The architectural uniformity and total synchrony do not allow for any individuality or freedom of expression. Camazotz, then, is the extreme realization of Meg's desire for conformity: there are no "oddballs" on this planet. Meg must find a happy medium that is neither the extreme conformity represented by Camazotz nor the alienation of her own high school experience, but somewhere between the two.
Camazotz is named for a malignant Mexican deity worshipped as a dark and evil vampire. Critics have suggested that the planet represents Cold War totalitarianism, much like the mechanical, robot-like creatures that inhabit Orwell's 1984. Other critics interpret Camazotz as a comment on the burgeoning American suburbia, with its rows of identical houses. However, L'Engle herself never suggests her novel be read historically; rather, she intends her book to portray the timeless struggle between good and evil.
Not only is Camazotz a parody of Meg's personal desire to be like everyone else, but the evil planet is also a parody of her hometown, in that both communities are devoid of love. Faced with an unconventional situation such as Mr. Murry's mysterious disappearance, the gossipy postmistress cruelly assumes the worst, spreading rumors that Mr. Murry has run off with another woman. Yet this woman differs little from the mothers on Camazotz who consider the "Aberration" of the dropped ball a cause for horror. In both worlds, there is no room for love amidst an overwhelming demand for conformity, order, and logical explanation. Although Meg does not recognize these parallels now, her ultimate understanding of them will enable her to rescue her brother from the clutches of IT.