Octavia Butler’s piece Bloodchild disarmed me when I first read it. The way that T’Gatoi would speak to the narrator was something that disturbed me, and the idea that the male narrator would end up carrying an egg for T’Gatoi, in a situation where the affirmative consent was unclear, frightened me deeply. What made the story more concrete in my head was the thesis that this story was not about slavery, but was drawing from an post-apacolyptic future where aliens landed on Earth and humanity had to negotiate with the aliens on Earth already. Bloodchild could be based in past events and conflicts, such as colonialism, but the vision is ultimately based in a future, a time far away from now.
Bloodchild is futuristic both in content and authorial vision, but throughout reading Bloodchild and Big Machine (which I have talked through in depth in the linked posts above), I have been thinking of the very first science fiction/fantasy novel that I read long ago. This novel is A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle.
A Wrinkle in Time is set in the 1960s, with Meg Murry as the protagonist. She faces a lot of bullying due to her math abilities, her outspoken personality, and her conviction that her scientist father Charles Murry did not leave the family or die. One night, a woman named Ms. Whatsit comes into the Murry house on a stormy night, and scares Meg’s mother with the word “tesseract”. Before Charles Murry left, he and Meg’s mother were experimenting with the ability to travel through time and space. Charles Murry was the first volunteer, and he disappeared and hadn’t been found since.
When Meg, her younger brother Charles Wallace, and her friend Calvin O’Keefe tesser off to find Charles Murry, they travel with Ms. Whatsit, Ms. Who, and Ms. Which. Ms. Who, due to her age, can only communicate to the children with words from other people, and she quotes from The Tempest once they find Meg’s father:
“. . . For that he was a spirit too delicate
To act their earthy and abhorr’d commands,
Refusing their grand hests, they did confine him
By help of their most potent ministers,
And in their most unmitigable rage,
Into a cloven pine; within which rift
Imprisoned, he didst painfully remain. . . .” (1.2.275-281)
When I read this book in fifth grade, this line profoundly changed my reading of the book. I’ve used that line to interpret a lot of science fiction ever since, looking for the person like Ariel in The Tempest and Mr. Murry in A Wrinkle in Time. Mr. Murry was not just some scientist who abandoned his family, he now was someone who was fighting a literal representation of the forces of evil, and was unjustly imprisoned for his cause. This quote showed me how Shakespeare could be integrated into modern text, and I still have an appreciation for Shakespeare to this day. Throughout A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L’Engle draws from Christian theological themes and canonical authors such as Shakespeare and uses those old stories to create a science fiction tale that feels utterly new.
There are a number of differences with Bloodchild and A Wrinkle in Time that are important to note in comparing them both. Bloodchild looks to the the past events of colonialism and the future events of the apacolypse and encounters with aliens, while A Wrinkle in Time looks to the past canonical literature. Bloodchild deals with more sexually explicit themes, while A Wrinkle in Time deals with mature philosophical themes, but nothing sexually explicit. Due to her themes, I assume that Butler wrote for an older and narrower audience range, while I assume that L’Engle wrote for a younger and broader audience range for the same reasons. As a creative writer, I find the examples of Butler and L’Engle incredibly inspiring, and I hope to integrate more of their style, techniques, and themes into my own work.
I also wanted to briefly point out that A Wrinkle in Time has been made into a movie by Ava DuVernay, one of my favorite directors. She has envisioned the Murry family as biracial, and Storm Reid plays Meg Murry (at the right age, as opposed to the made-for-TV version, where Meg is 16 instead of 13.) A lot of coverage of the movie, including from Matt Zoller Seitz, stated that “In its multicultural casting, its child-centric story, and its emphasis on the validity of feelings, it’s so different from every other recent big-budget live-action fantasy (superhero films included) that its very existence amounts to a contrarian statement.” (Zoller Seitz, 2018) There seemed to be an impression that this vision of A Wrinkle of Time was pioneering. However, Ava DuVernay stands on the shoulders of other African-American science fiction creators, Octavia Butler being one of them. This movie getting the funding and press it did was pioneering, but the concept of African-American people in space has been a very old one.