NPR logo A Four-Dimensional Tribute to the Late Madeleine L'Engle

A Four-Dimensional Tribute to the Late Madeleine L'Engle

Over the weekend, children's author Madeleine L'Engle died at 88. Her most noted work, A Wrinkle in Time, is a story about a girl's journey across the universe in an effort to rescue both her father and the galaxy itself from the evil "Black Thing." The book, which dealt with heady (and un-kid-friendly) concepts like religion, theoretical mathematics and evil, took years to finally find a publisher due to its perceived weirdness. Since finally going into print in 1962, Wrinkle has sold millions of copies and remains a favorite read for young teens today.

One concept L'Engle explored in the book was tessering, a method whereby people could traverse great distances in the universe by "folding" space and time. Although they don't behave in exactly the way L'Engle describes, tesseracts do exist, and serve as important and elegant examples of multidimensional space.

An actual tesseract is best described as a four dimensional cube...and is kind of confusing. So, in memory of L'Engle, we met up with Physicist David Morgan who took a little time out of his day to talk tesseracts with the BPP. Put your measley three-dimensional brains to work on this one.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

bravo! what a great analogy for bpp... multidemensional!

Sent by jay | 8:25 PM | 9-10-2007

Bravo! This is an example of what I hope to get from BPP and this blog. Y'all have taken a news event and covered it from an interesting angle -- pardon the pun. Further, while radio is an extremely visual medium in my opinion, this is a great example of when video enhances a story.

Sent by Steve Petersen | 9:57 PM | 9-10-2007

And there, just for a second....I got it!

Sent by Ellen | 6:18 PM | 9-11-2007

Very nice; as a math grad student having both studied 4-dimensional things in general relativity and having read Wrinkle in Time and some of the sequels, this is a great piece. Thank you.

Sent by Evan Merrell | 7:13 PM | 9-11-2007

"Wrinkle" really launched my mathematical curiosity, for which I am eternally greatful. Discovering in the 5th grade that "mathematics" was not merely "death by arithmetic", but doorway to the transcendant was a turning point for me.

Sent by Mike | 9:23 PM | 9-11-2007

This is an animated example:

Sent by Buksi | 2:38 AM | 9-12-2007

Lovely. I just wish I could save this vid.
Will certainly buy the book - did not know it.
Paul Nijenhuis, The Netherlands.

Sent by Paul Nijenhuis | 3:38 AM | 9-12-2007

I suck at maths but this blew me away. Wow. I think my brain just exploded a little.

Sent by Roy | 6:41 AM | 9-12-2007

I forgot that 'Wrinkle in Time' dealt with 4D. Another great book along the lines of Professor Morgan's discussion is Edwin A. Abbott's 'Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions.' I actually just adapted the novel into an animated movie - it's about a 2 dimensional universe populated by little sentient shapes, one of which visits lands of 0, 1, and 3 dimensions (and imagines the 4th). The trailer is at and it's meant for math teachers.

Sent by Dano Johnson | 12:07 PM | 9-12-2007

They should try and discuss this on Science-Friday. Of the practical uses for travel.
By the way, why does he believe we don t think in more than three dimensions, just because our words can t express those thoughts adequately.

Sent by David Whitmore | 11:39 AM | 9-13-2007

One way to visualize a tesseract might be to imagine a cube as it moves through time, the temporal dimension being the fourth.

Sent by chuck | 6:57 PM | 9-13-2007

Madeline L'engle was one of my favorite authors. I own all of her books, including leather-bound first-edition autographed copies of "A Wrinkle in Time" and "A Swiftly Tilting Planet." This is the first I've heard of her death and I am deeply saddened to hear so. Her work is so much more complex than simple children's books. Madeline would encourage us all to never stop asking questions.

Sent by Lauren Cleveland | 3:43 PM | 10-24-2007

A memorial service for Madeleine will be held on November 28th at 4pm at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. That is the day before her 89th Birthday--come help us celebrate Madeleine! She will always be my favorite writer.

Sent by Renee Restivo | 11:19 PM | 11-5-2007

I agree with Lauren wholeheartedly, and I wish I could be in New York to pay my respects. I am tearing up just writing this. "A Wrinkle in Time" was a blessing to all who read it, and held so much wisdom it demanded many re-readings to fathom it all.

I will truly miss her.


Sent by Daniel Brenton | 2:11 PM | 11-11-2007

Me, too, Renee. I was privileged to attend her memorial at the cathedral (the setting of two of my favorite books, The Young Unicorns and A Severed Wasp)last week and it gave me great joy. As the Dean said in his homily, "God, I love her theology!" Though I am saddened that we will have no new works from her, I am so thankful that she lives on in all her wonderful books and poetry.

Sent by Jennifer Scoggin | 10:32 PM | 12-5-2007

what in the worl does thatmean i'm just hear to learn about tesseracts

Sent by mallorgan | 9:21 AM | 12-10-2007

I read Wrinkle in Time for the first time in 3rd grade, so its not just a favorite of young teens. Madeleine was one of the people who helped "name" me, and I will be forever grateful.

Sent by Anjeanette | 11:13 AM | 12-14-2007

I also read "Wrinkle" in 3 grade for the first time, and have re-read it probably more times than any other book in the decades since. When my "baby" sister (who was born when I was 15) was about 10, I hand decorated a boxed-set of the trilogy for her.

I went on to read most of Madeline's work (I never refer to someone I've never met by their first name, but in this case, under the circumstances, I feel compelled to). I am deeply saddened by her death. had been receiving update letters about her for a number of years now after sending the only "fan" letter I've ever written to anyone. I really wish I could have made it to her Memorial, but my first child was an infant and I couldn't leave her.

A question to anyone who may know: How did Madeline come to be familiar with Tesseracts (even just the term) in the first place?

Sent by Samantha Fine | 7:05 AM | 4-8-2008

wow my teacher told me to check out this video and she said i might be confused and boy, was she right!

Sent by Tarmara | 6:33 PM | 4-23-2008

She is my most favorite author. I have read and re-read almost all of Madeleine's books. I have bought many of her books several times since I love to give them away to friends.

Sent by Margaret | 2:20 PM | 6-10-2008