Saluting That Most Stubborn of Everygirls, Meg Murry

Storm Reid as Meg Murry
Brave Meg. Image via Ava DuVernay’s Twitter

Sunday night Ava DuVernay tweeted that they’d finished principal photography on her feature adaptation of A Wrinkle In Time, including this little announcement:

Which, eeeeeek! Can we talk about that gorgeous shot, there? Are those Aunt Beast’s people, or are they just bundled up crewpeople and this is just an exceptionally well-lit behind-the-scenes shot? Right, they’re obviously not tentacled enough to be Aunt Beast’s people, but this is probably pre-CGI-ing and the whole atmosphere just reminds me so much of that planet in my head, it looks magical and I’m just happy, okay?

Anyway, she spent the evening tweeting personal shout-outs to various cast members, with TWO going to her Meg:

I’m weeping already. LOOK at her! Look at her go from helpless young-teen angst to confident determination! That’s my Meg, all right!

Last year when DuVernay put out a casting call to minority actors to play her young heroes, I noted here that all I cared about was getting to the heart of the characters, no matter what their physical description (although I confess to a flutter of disappointment when they didn’t pick a Calvin who looked like the red-dreadlocked mixed-race basketball player I’d dreamed about once, but I will trust in DuVernay’s claims of this young man’s awesomeness). And this shows it. Being Meg isn’t about a physical description, although girl-with-glasses-who-doesn’t-have-to-go-through-a-makeover-montage is certainly an important detail to a lot of us. Meg is an internal journey that many girls—and probably a lot of boys—relate to. It’s about feeling what she feels. So many readers put themselves in her place as they read that it’s safe to call her an Everygirl.

I wrote the majority of what follows on my personal blog a few years back in celebration of Wrinkle‘s 50th anniversary. Meg Murry has been the character I’d most closely identified with over the course of my life. So profound is this feeling of connection that only upon doing a fresh, objective, rereading to prepare for the Anniversary blogging did I realize how little we actually are alike.

Don’t be fooled by the glasses and braces. Meg’s not a shy, nerdy wallflower at all. Well, she IS nerdy, but not in your typical ace-student way, just in that raised-by-brilliant-scientists-so-your-interests-and-vocabulary-are-a-little-odd way. She’s a DELINQUENT. She sasses her teachers and rough-houses just “to try to make herself feel better.” She’s regularly in beat-down physical fights. She’s failing school. She blurts out whatever she’s thinking, and sees her most defining trait, for good or ill, as stubbornness.

That isn’t me. That is the POLAR OPPOSITE of me.

But whatever her outward expression of it, on the inside is a girl with terrible self-esteem. She’s a math genius, but can’t see it (and maybe doesn’t care), because it’s not what people expect of her. She thinks she looks like a monster, even though more than one person sees a lot of potential in her looks (at least one of whom isn’t even related to her). She’s quick to notice the strengths in other people only to immediately compare herself unfavorably. She’s convinced she’s a failure before she’s even begun.

Usually in stories, across media, crappy self-esteem is an issue either too easily solved (“All you need to do is BELIEVE IN YOURSELF!” “Okay, now I believe in myself—and look! I did it!”) or too easily made fun of (“Don’t say anything negative! You’ll ruin my self-esteem!”) So it’s a refreshing switch to watch Meg’s character arc develop: how slowly, subtly, she grows—from a girl convinced everyone else has some vital bit of worth that somehow skipped her, waiting for other people to solve her problems, to a young woman who volunteers to do the impossible because she sees she’s the only one who has the remotest chance.

I’ve seen Meg described as “whiny”—but what if she is? She IS terribly flawed. But that’s the point. Meg needs to learn that she DOES have worth and purpose. She needs to learn to come into her own. But it’s a slow, uneven process, just as it is in real life. She’s working against deeply internalized insecurities, and it’s hard to overcome those. Meg is not cut out to be a hero. Early on she believes everything will be better when her father is found. She gratefully accepts Calvin’s sometimes overprotective instincts and waits for the Mrs Ws to swoop in and save the day. She wants a hero. It never occurred to her that she can be the hero.

But as time goes on, the more often she stands by her own opinions, makes her own decisions, and sometimes she’s not even aware of the progress she’s making. And sometimes what seems like a minor choice is really a huge leap—as when an IT-possessed Charles Wallace is about to lead them to their father. “She wanted to reach out and grab Calvin’s hand, but it seemed that ever since they had begun their journeyings she had been looking for a hand to hold, so she stuffed her fists into her pockets and walked along behind the two boys. —I’ve got to be brave, she said to herself. —I will be.” It’s a small choice. Not that noticeable. But this is no longer the girl who expected her five-year-old brother to comfort her during a storm. She’s growing.

There are stars going supernova to cut through the darkness—and then there’s the power of love between family. Both are important. The point of Meg and her journey to the reader is summed up in the passage from Corinthians that Mrs Who offers as her final gift to Meg, from which comes the title of the last chapter: “…but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are.” —”I don’t understand what she said,” Meg thinks to herself later, “but I think it was meant to make me not hate being only me.”

This is my favorite kind of hero. This is Samwise carrying Frodo up Mt. Doom—the overlooked underdog who becomes a hero despite their apparent lack of heroic traits. The very small person who steps up to that challenge which only they can meet. It’s this kind of hero who reminds us that we all have inherent worth, more than we may ever realize.

Everyone needs to be reminded, sometimes, that they, too, can be a hero. Such is the importance of Meg Murry for all the awkward self-loathing nerds who discover her.

Amy M. Weir is a public youth services librarian in SW Pennsylvania, and there’s nothing she geeks out about more. Outside of work she obsesses over music (especially rock especially psychedelic pop especially The Beatles), sews clothes, gardens when the weather’s nice, avoids housework, and generally is the poster-child for Enneatype 9, which she attempts to counteract with yoga when she remembers. She has an RPG-and-firearms-geek husband who asked her out by playing a Paladin-in-Shining-Armor devoted to serving her character in D&D; a LEGO-and-Minecraft-geek 10yo named after a hobbit; a My Little Pony-and-art-geek 8yo named after a SFF writer; and an Imaginary Husband named Martin Freeman, who isn’t actually aware of this relationship.