We Are All Flawed Heroes

The Little Bookworm

Ever since I can remember, Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” has been one of my favorite books. I mean, that’s where I learned everything I know about time travel, a topic which still fascinates me today. But the main reason I loved it was because the heroine wasn’t beautiful or brave or brilliant. Meg had a wild adventure, sure, but she didn’t mean to. She was lost, overshadowed by literally everyone else in her family, stubborn and insociable. She messed up a lot. She accidentally put people in danger. She was self-deprecating and mousy and a little slow on the uptake. But my God, in a book full of mad science and fantasy, she was so real.

I’ve been devouring books for a long time (read: since age three #sorrynotsorry), and I say devouring because my love of reading is probably borderline carnivorous. From the time I entered school until my life became a giant supernova of chaos, I flipped through every novel, poem, and short story I could get my hands on. I came in contact with a huge number of characters – many with whom I sympathized, several I hated, a few with whom I fell in love. I can trace periods of my childhood to which one was my favorite at the time; for example, my “Harriet the Spy” phase resulted in some very mean journals about my classmates and a deeply rooted misunderstanding of the word “dumbwaiter.” But no one ever stuck with me the way Meg Murry did. No literary love of mine has lasted so far into adulthood.

There’s something special about the kind of heroes that don’t realize they’re heroes. The ones that don’t realize they’re part of an adventure until it’s halfway over. The ones that defy every stereotype of heroism because it would never occur to them that they could be important. Their lack of faith in their own magic is what makes us believe in them, because every one of us could just as easily become a hero without realizing it. We believe in them because it reaffirms a belief in ourselves.

At the moment of truth, when Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which are presenting Meg with what she needs to fight for her father on Camazotz (if none of those words make sense, go read the book), she is dumbstruck by what they tell her.

“Meg, I give you your faults.”
“My faults?” Meg cried.
“Your faults.”
“But I’m always trying to get rid of my faults!”
“Yes,” Mrs. Whatsit said. “But I think you’ll find they’ll come in very handy on Camazotz.”
(6.82-86)

What makes Meg different, for me, is that she never needed to overcome her faults in order to succeed. She never had a sudden burst of self-confidence or a rapid transformation of personality. All she needed to do was realize that it was her faults that made her different from everyone else, and it was her faults that made her strong. A little change in perspective, and suddenly her flaws could be strengths, strengths beyond anything she’d ever dreamed.

There is value in being imperfect. You don’t have to be sure of yourself every step of the way, or love everything about yourself all the time. You don’t have to be beautiful and brave and brilliant to matter.

For every Superman, for every Doctor, for every Harry Potter, there are thousands of Meg Murrys. And their stories are just as important, if not more so, than the comic book sagas of saving the world. They teach us that we are enough, exactly as we are, with all of our idiosyncrasies and blemishes and cynicisms. We are more powerful than we will ever realize.

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11 comments

  1. Unfortunately for me, I have had A Wrinkle in Time on my reading list for a damn long time. Just so many new books keep coming in the way of the older ones! It surely does seem like that book has a strong influence on you and I say, for all the good reasons. 🙂

  2. I can tell you are a carnivorous reader – it shows in your eloquent writing! This not only was beautifully architected, but also brought an important message home. Hurray for all the Meg Murrys with all their perfect imperfections and chaotic togetherness!
    Loved this post, thanks!

  3. Like you I grew up devouring books. It was my escape. I agree it is the imperfect character that we can all identify with. He is the one I pull for.

  4. I love A Wrinkle in Time! Can’t wait to read it again with my daughter. Meg is a way better heroine than many others out there in books today.

  5. I was the same way about reading when I was young. A Wrinkle in Time is a book I loved so much, I used it to tutor kids in English. 🙂

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