It’s very fitting this is published on February 29. This book is all about time and leaping backward and forward in time. Four year’s isn’t a lot of time the older you get so they seem to happen much more frequently, but growing up four years was a LONG time to wait for something as exciting as an extra day of the year. Okay, on to the book.
I’m sure you’re all tired of me saying it, but I had to put it at the front this time because it’s really driving me crazy! After three books: the denouement needs to be longer! UGH! Invariably, L’Engle wraps up the entire story in less than ten pages with a bit of a and this and this and this type narrative. It’s not bad, it’s just frustrating. I want the details. I want to know why things happened. I want to know how they happened and not just the hints that she leaves. It’s a little too deus ex machina for me.
That being said I of course enjoyed this novel, the third in the Time Quintet and the 48th on my Classics Club List, even though it jumped forward nine years after A Wind in the Door. (How far ahead will the others jump? I know the fifth is pretty far out, something about grandparents is mentioned.) A Swiftly Tilting Planet isn’t as quick a read as the first two, but it was still an incredibly engaging read. I did find out why I thought this was a quartet:
This novel is structured around St. Patrick’s Rune (Wikipedia link), and each chapter somehow connects to the rune.
“And the sun with its brightness,
And the snow with its whiteness,
And the fire with all the strength it hath,
And the lightning with its rapid wrath,
And the winds with their swiftness along their path,
And the sea with its deepness,
And the rocks with their steepness,
And the earth with its starkness,
All these I place
By God’s almighty help and grace
Between myself and the powers of darkness!” (164)
They connect sometimes super literally, like when Charles Wallace and the unicorn, Gaudior, crash into a melting ice age sea and need wind to save them. (“And the winds with their swiftness along their path.”) other times it’s much less subtle, but still pertinent.
But what the novel really concerns is again good vs evil. It continues to focus on the smallest of instances, this time called “Might-Have-Beens,” in which an alternative could change history.
“There are places where no one has ever heard the ancient harmonies. But there is always a moment when there is a Might-Have-Been. What we must do is find the Might-Have-Beens which have led to this particular evil. I have seen many Might-Have-Beens. If such and such had been chosen, then this would not have followed. If so and so had been done, then the light would partner the dark instead of being snuffed out. It is possible that you can move into the moment of a Might-Have-Been and change it.” (55)
And I love this idea, but it’s such a dangerous idea that you could get easily caught up into it and perseverate so much on one point you forget to live. But looking back on something you might look for that point, I’m specifically thinking now of how the US Government is constantly looking for the point when someone has become radicalized and then commits some sort of atrocity.
Rather than focusing on generalizations, L’Engle focuses on the O’Keefe and Murray families and how they’ve always been a part of their local community. Charles Wallace goes back in time to help discover the might-have-beens and how they can be changed, if they can be changed, but what he discovers is as much a truth today as when the character says it in 1865(ish).
“I have a large canvas, going all the way back to the Welsh brothers who fought over Owain of Gwynedd’s throne. Madoc and his brother, Gwydyr, left Wales, and came to a place which I figure to have been somewhere near here when the valley was still a lake left from the melting of the ice. And once again brothers fought. Gwydyr wanted power, wanted adulation. Over and over again we get caught in fratricide, as Bran was in that ghastly war. We’re still bleeding from the wounds. It’s a primordial pattern, left us from Cain and Abel, a net we can’t seem to break out of. And unless it is checked it will destroy us entirely.” (234-235)
I’m not exactly a pacifist, but when you think about it like this it really hits home how much of our time is spent fighting wars against people who are basically the same as us. We just have different belief systems that view the others as wrong. This is one of the reasons I have so many issues with organized religion.
I like that L’Engle even though she is religious doesn’t go overhanded with the religious overtones. She sticks to the myths and legends of people in general with a few christian allegories specifically, but it’s mostly about the inherent good of people and how do we get back to that.
Recommendation: This one is stronger than A Wind in the Door and I really enjoyed traveling in time back to when things were fantastical and simple. I’m a little grumpy as I just found out (thanks to Wikipedia) that Many Waters technically takes place before this one and that there are technically three books between this one and An Acceptable Time. It’s like Shannara all over again where books are written all out of order! Now I have to decide if I’ll read the Polly O’Keefe books as my friend Caitrin said they’re her favorite and she saw the male lead as a precursor to her love of Darcy (AKA her first real lit-crush).
Opening Line: “The big kitchen of the Murray’s house was bright and warm, curtains drawn against the outside, against the rain driving past the house from the northeast.”
Closing Line: “In this fateful hour, it was herself she placed between us and the powers of darkness.” (Whited out to avoid spoilers, highlight to read.)