Friday, March 26, 2010

A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle

L'Engle, Madeleine - Time 03 - A Swiftly Tilting Planet (1) From

Fifteen-year-old Charles Wallace Murry, whom readers first met in A Wrinkle in Time, has a little task he must accomplish. In 24 hours, a mad dictator will destroy the universe by declaring nuclear war—unless Charles Wallace can go back in time to change one of the many Might-Have-Beens in history. In an intricately layered and suspenseful journey through time, this extraordinary young man psychically enters four different people from other eras. As he perceives through their eyes "what might have been," he begins to comprehend the cosmic significance and consequences of every living creature's actions. As he witnesses first-hand the transformation of civilization from peaceful to warring times, his very existence is threatened, but the alternative is far worse.

This isn’t a proper review. I’m not talking much about the plot, or deeper meanings or the paradoxes involved in time travel. I’m really just gushing, because I totally loved reading this book.

While I was supposed to be rereading it for Kailana’s book challenge this month, I kept putting off starting it. This was because I remember this book with such fondness and I was afraid it wouldn't live up to my memory. I was disappointed in my reread of A Wind in the Door and I was so scared the same thing would happen again.

I needn't have worried. I loved this book all over again. It simply works for me in all ways. One the sidebar of my blog, I attempt to give some kind of explanations for my book ratings. I list 10/10 as: “I loved this; it hit all my buttons both in the writing and the emotional impact”. That describes my reactions exactly. Everything just worked together for me and I loved the book.

Which is kind of funny when I think about it, as the main characters of the previous books, especially Meg and Charles Wallace who have always been my favourites, are actually pushed into the background by all the vignettes of Madoc and Gwydyr and their descendants and the futures they might bring. It doesn't matter in the least. I found myself caught up in all their stories, and especially Mom O'Keefe's, and kept reading steadily whenever I had a chance so that I read the book in a day that included lots of after school activities.

While Meg isn’t in the action a lot, the device of her kything with Charles Wallace to follow him on his journey is brilliant. It pulls the reader in and lets him/her be part of the story with her. She also adds a sense of solidity to the fantastic of Charles Wallace and Gaudior’s quest. Her reactions to what happens match mine and we’re in this whole adventure together.

L'Engle's use of theology is much quieter here, which also helps. It's fundamental to the story in its own way (partly about the balance of the universe and partly as the tale of Cain and Abel plays out again and again) but it fits the story so much more smoothly. Yes, it is Christian theology, but it isn't shoved in your face and I think this book would be much more accessible to a non-Christian reader than the previous book. For me, it was a beautiful backdrop to the story that fitted it perfectly.

The whole story fit for me. It's beautiful and ultimately a successful ending, but it remains bittersweet throughout, which adds more power to the story. Meg’s discovery of the depths in her mother-in-law, almost too late, is a perfect example, and the story is stronger for it.

There are also some gorgeous moments of writing and phrasing. The dog’s name is beautiful and a perfect fit to the power and bittersweet tone of the story. Charles Wallace calls her Ananda, which he explains means -

That joy in existence without which the universe will fall apart and collapse.

Wow. As Mrs Murray says, it’s a mighty name for one dog to carry, but it is so beautiful and amazing.

I love the book’s title too. There’s something round, and evocative and just plain cool about it. A Swiftly Tilting Planet. Go on, say it again. It describes the story exactly (and is specifically used when Charles Wallace is Within Chuck) and sounds lovely. In fact, all three of the original books have wonderful titles: A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet. Unfortunately, after that they become much more plain and less magical. Although Many Waters comes from the most beautiful verse (which may be Biblical but I can’t remember), An Acceptable Time does sound kind of boring. I’ll be interested to see if there’s a hidden meaning in that one too. I don’t remember, but I’ll find out come May.

So in conclusion, I really loved this book all over again and I'm so glad I did get up the courage to reread it. Now I know how powerful it remains for an adult reader, I'm sure I'll be doing it again. This may be a book for children, but it is also a book for adults and there is certainly nothing childish about it.

A Swiftly Tilting Planet
Madeleine L’Engle
Time Quintet, Book 3
Read: 25-3-10 to 26-3-10

Time Quintet

  1. A Wrinkle in Time
  2. A Wind in the Door
  3. A Swiftly Tilting Planet
  4. Many Waters (Goodreads link)
  5. An Acceptable Time (Goodreads link)


xinef said...

I am a serious fan of Madeleine L'Engle's books. I own copies of most of her fiction, YR and adult, and a large part of her non-fiction. Went on a rampage several years ago and read/reread just about everything of hers that I could lay my hands on.

Anonymous said...