Authors: Madeleine L’Engle
Mrs Which’s voice rang out clear and strong, echoing against the walls of the cavern, and the words fell with a sonorous clang.
The woman looked up from the ball, and when she saw them she got up and curtsied deeply.
Mrs Whatsit and Mrs Who dropped small curtsies in return, and the shimmer seemed to bow slightly.
“Oh, Medium, dear,” Mrs Whatsit said, “these are the children. Charles Wallace Murry.” Charles Wallace bowed. “Margaret Murry.” Meg felt that if Mrs Whatsit and Mrs Who had curtsied, she ought to, also; so she did, rather awkwardly. “And Calvin O’Keefe.” Calvin bobbed his head. “We want them to see
their home planet,” Mrs Whatsit said.
The Medium lost the delighted smile she had worn till then. “Oh,
must you make me look at unpleasant things when there are so many delightful ones to see?”
Again Mrs Which’s voice reverberated through the cave. “Therre willl nno llonggerr bee sso manyy pplleasanntt thinggss too llookk att iff rressponssible ppeoplle ddo nnott ddoo ssomethingg abboutt
thee unnppleassanntt oness.”
The Medium sighed and held the ball high.
“Look, children,” Mrs Whatsit said. “Look into it well.”
“Que la terre est petite à qui la voit des cieux!
How small is the earth to him who looks from heaven,”
Mrs Who intoned musically.
Meg looked into the crystal ball, at first with caution, then with increasing eagerness, as she seemed to see an enormous sweep
of dark and empty space, and then galaxies swinging across it. Finally they seemed to move in closer on one of the galaxies.
“Your own Milky Way,” Mrs Whatsit whispered to Meg.
They were headed directly toward the center of the galaxy; then they moved off to one side; stars seemed to be rushing at them. Meg flung her arm up over her face as though to ward off the blow.
“Llookk!” Mrs Which commanded.
Meg dropped her arm. They seemed to be moving in toward a planet. She thought she could make out polar ice caps. Everything seemed sparkling clear.
“No, no, Medium dear, that’s Mars,” Mrs Whatsit reproved gently.
to?” the Medium asked.
!” Mrs Which commanded.
The bright planet moved out of their vision. For a moment
there was the darkness of space; then another planet. The
outlines of this planet were not clean and clear. It seemed to be covered with a smoky haze. Through the haze Meg thought she could make out the familiar outlines of continents like pictures in her Social Studies books.
“Is it because of our atmosphere that we can’t see properly?” she asked anxiously.
“Nno, Mmegg, yyou knnoww thatt itt iss nnott tthee attmosspheeere,” Mrs Which said. “Yyou mmusstt
“It’s the Thing!” Charles Wallace cried. “It’s the Dark Thing we saw from the mountain peak on Uriel when we were riding on Mrs Whatsit’s back!”
“Did it just come?” Meg asked in agony, unable to take her eyes from the sickness of the shadow which darkened the beauty of the earth. “Did it just come while we’ve been gone?”
Mrs Which’s voice seemed very tired. “Ttell herr,” she said
to Mrs Whatsit.
Mrs Whatsit sighed. “No, Meg. It hasn’t just come. It has been there for a great many years. That is why your planet is such a troubled one.”
“But why—” Calvin started to ask, his voice croaking hoarsely.
Mrs Whatsit raised her hand to silence him. “We showed you the Dark Thing on Uriel first—oh, for many reasons. First, because the atmosphere on the mountain peaks there is
so clear and thin you could see it for what it is. And we thought it would be easier for you to understand it if you saw it—well, someplace
first, not your own earth.”
“I hate it!” Charles Wallace cried passionately. “I hate the Dark Thing!”
Mrs Whatsit nodded. “Yes, Charles dear. We all do. That’s another reason we wanted to prepare you on Uriel. We thought it would be too frightening
for you to see it first of all about your own, beloved world.”
“But what is it?” Calvin demanded. “We know that it’s evil, but what is it?”
“Yyouu hhave ssaidd itt!” Mrs Which’s voice rang out. “Itt iss Eevill. Itt iss thee Ppowers of Ddarrkknesss!”
“But what’s going to happen?” Meg’s voice trembled. “Oh, please, Mrs Which, tell us what’s going to happen!”
“Wee wwill cconnttinnue tto ffightt!”
Something in Mrs Which’s voice made all three of the children stand straighter, throwing back their shoulders with determination, looking at the glimmer that was Mrs Which with pride and confidence.
“And we’re not alone, you know, children,” came Mrs Whatsit, the comforter. “All through the universe it’s being fought, all through the cosmos, and my, but it’s a grand and exciting battle. I know
it’s hard for you to understand about size, how there’s very little difference in the size of the tiniest microbe and the greatest galaxy. You think about that, and maybe it won’t seem strange to you that some of our very best fighters have come right from your own planet, and it’s a
planet, dears, out on the edge of a little galaxy. You can be proud that it’s done so well.”
our fighters been?” Calvin asked.
must know them, dear,” Mrs Whatsit said.
Mrs Who’s spectacles shone out at them triumphantly,
“And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”
“Jesus!” Charles Wallace said. “Why of course, Jesus!”
“Of course!” Mrs Whatsit said. “Go on, Charles, love. There were others. All your great artists. They’ve been lights for us to
“Leonardo da Vinci?” Calvin suggested tentatively. “And Michelangelo?”
“And Shakespeare,” Charles Wallace called out, “and Bach! And Pasteur and Madame Curie and Einstein!”
Now Calvin’s voice rang with confidence. “And Schweitzer and Gandhi and Buddha and Beethoven and Rembrandt and St. Francis!”
“Now you, Meg,” Mrs Whatsit ordered.
“Oh, Euclid, I suppose.” Meg was in such an agony
of impatience that her voice grated irritably. “And Copernicus. But what about Father? Please, what about Father?”
“Wee aarre ggoingg tto yourr ffatherr,” Mrs Which said.
“But where is he?” Meg went over to Mrs Which and stamped as though she were as young as Charles Wallace.
Mrs Whatsit answered in a voice that was low but quite firm. “On a planet that has given in. So you must prepare to
be very strong.”
All traces of cheer had left the Happy Medium’s face. She sat holding the great ball, looking down at the shadowed earth, and a slow tear coursed down her cheek. “I can’t stand it any longer,” she sobbed. “Watch now, children, watch!”
Again they focused their eyes on the crystal ball. The earth with its fearful covering of dark shadow swam out of view and they moved rapidly through the Milky Way. And there was the Thing again.
“Watch!” the Medium told them.
The Darkness seemed to seethe and writhe. Was this meant to
Suddenly there was a great burst of light through the Darkness. The light
spread out and where it touched the Darkness the Darkness disappeared. The light spread until the patch of Dark Thing had vanished, and there was only a gentle shining, and through the shining came the stars, clear and pure. Then, slowly, the shining dwindled until it, too, was gone, and there was nothing but stars and starlight. No shadows. No fear. Only the stars and the clear darkness of space,
quite different from the fearful darkness of the Thing.
“You see!” the Medium cried, smiling happily. “It can be overcome! It is being overcome all the time!”
Mrs Whatsit sighed, a sigh so sad that Meg wanted to put her arms around her and comfort her.
“Tell us exactly what happened, then, please,” Charles Wallace said in a small voice.
“It was a star,” Mrs Whatsit said sadly. “A star giving
its life in battle with the Thing. It won, oh, yes, my children, it won. But it lost its life in the winning.”
Mrs Which spoke again. Her voice sounded tired, and they knew that speaking was a tremendous effort for her. “Itt wass nnott sso llongg aggo fforr yyou, wwass itt?” she asked gently.
Mrs Whatsit shook her head.
Charles Wallace went up to Mrs Whatsit. “I see. Now I understand. You
were a star, once, weren’t you?”
Mrs Whatsit covered her face with her hands as though she were embarrassed, and nodded.
“And you did—you did what that star just did?”
With her face still covered, Mrs Whatsit nodded again.
Charles Wallace looked at her, very solemnly. “I should like to kiss you.”
Mrs Whatsit took her hands down from her face and pulled Charles Wallace to her in a quick embrace.
He put his arms about her neck, pressed his cheek against hers, and then kissed her.
Meg felt that she would have liked to kiss Mrs Whatsit, too, but that after Charles Wallace, anything that she or Calvin did or said would be anticlimax. She contented herself with looking at Mrs Whatsit. Even though she was used to Mrs Whatsit’s odd getup (and the very oddness of it was what made her seem so
comforting), she realized with a fresh shock that it was not Mrs Whatsit herself that she was seeing at all. The complete, the true Mrs Whatsit, Meg realized, was beyond human understanding. What she saw was only the game Mrs Whatsit was playing; it
was an amusing and charming game, a game full of both laughter and comfort, but it was only the tiniest facet of all the things Mrs Whatsit
“I didn’t mean to tell you,” Mrs Whatsit faltered. “I didn’t mean ever to let you know. But, oh, my dears, I did so love being a star!”
“Yyouu arre sstill verry yyoungg,” Mrs Which said, her voice faintly chiding.
The Medium sat looking happily at the star-filled sky in her ball, smiling and nodding and chuckling gently. But Meg noticed that her eyes were drooping, and suddenly her head
fell forward and she gave a faint snore.
“Poor thing,” Mrs Whatsit said, “we’ve worn her out. It’s very hard work for her.”
“Please, Mrs Whatsit,” Meg asked, “what happens now? Why are we here? What do we do next? Where is Father? When are we going to him?” She clasped her hands pleadingly.
“One thing at a time, love!” Mrs Whatsit said.
Mrs Who cut in. “
As paredes tem ouvidos
. That’s Portuguese.
Walls have ears
“Yes, let us go outside,” Mrs Whatsit said. “Come, we’ll let her sleep.”
But as they turned to go, the Medium jerked her head up and smiled at them radiantly. “You weren’t going to go without saying good-bye to me, were you?” she asked.
“We thought we’d just let you sleep, dear.” Mrs Whatsit patted the Medium’s shoulder. “We worked you terribly hard and we know you must be
“But I was going to give you some ambrosia or nectar or at least some tea—”
At this Meg realized that she was hungry. How much time had passed since they had had their bowls of stew? she wondered.
But Mrs Whatsit said, “Oh, thank you, dear, but I think we’d better be going.”
don’t need to eat, you know,” Charles Wallace whispered to Meg. “At least not food, the way we do.
Eating’s just a game with them. As soon as we get organized again I’d better remind them that they’ll have to feed us sooner or later.”
The Medium smiled and nodded. “It does seem as though I should be able to do something
for you, after having had to show those poor children such horrid things. Would they like to see their mother before they go?”
“Could we see Father?” Meg asked eagerly.
“Nno,” Mrs Which said. “Wwee aare ggoingg tto yourr ffatherr, Mmegg. Doo nnott bbee immpatientt.”
see her mother, couldn’t she?” the Medium wheedled.
“Oh, why not,” Mrs Whatsit put in. “It won’t take long and it can’t do any harm.”
“And Calvin, too?” Meg asked. “Could he see his mother, too?”
Calvin touched Meg in a quick gesture, and whether it was of thanks or apprehension
she was not sure.
“I tthinkk itt iss a misstake.” Mrs Which was disapproving. “Bbutt ssince yyou hhave menttionedd itt I ssupposse yyouu musstt ggo aheadd.”
“I hate it when she gets cross,” Mrs Whatsit said, glancing over at Mrs Which, “and the trouble is, she always seems to be right. But I really don’t see how it could hurt, and it might make you all feel better. Go on, Medium dear.”
Medium, smiling and humming softly, turned the crystal ball a little between her hands. Stars, comets, planets, flashed across the sky, and then the earth came into view again, the darkened earth, closer, closer, till it filled the globe, and they had somehow gone through the darkness until the soft white of clouds and the gentle outline of continents shone clearly.
“Calvin’s mother first,” Meg
whispered to the Medium.
The globe became hazy, cloudy, then shadows began to solidify, to clarify, and they were looking into an untidy kitchen with a sink full of unwashed dishes. In front of the sink stood an unkempt woman with gray hair stringing about her face. Her mouth was open and Meg could see the toothless gums and it seemed that she could almost hear her screaming at two small children
who were standing by her. Then she grabbed a long wooden spoon from the sink and began whacking one of the children.
“Oh, dear—” the Medium murmured, and the picture began to dissolve. “I didn’t really—”
“It’s all right,” Calvin said in a low voice. “I think I’d rather you knew.”
Now instead of reaching out to Calvin for safety, Meg took his hand in hers, not saying anything in words but trying
to tell him by the pressure of her fingers what she felt. If anyone had told her only the day before that she,
Meg, the snaggle-toothed, the myopic, the clumsy, would be taking a boy’s hand to offer him comfort and strength, particularly a popular and important boy like Calvin, the idea would have been beyond her comprehension. But now it seemed as natural to want to help and protect Calvin as
it did Charles Wallace.