Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Madeleine L'Engle

Title: A Swiftly Tilting Planet
Author: Madeleine L’Engle

In this fateful hour
I call on all Heaven with its power
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.

The Murry family is gathered in their kitchen for a cozy Thanksgiving dinner when the phone rings unexpectedly. It’s the U.S. President for Mr. Murry, and the unthinkable is on the brink of happening – a South American dictator, Mad Dog Branzillo, has his finger on the trigger of a nuclear weapon. There seems to be little that can stand between him and his goal of worldwide destruction. While the Murrys struggle to digest the news, Meg’s sullen and silent mother-in-law, Mrs. O’Keefe, begins to recite the words to Patrick’s rune (quoted above). Breathless upon finishing, she then looks at Charles Wallace and gives him the incredible charge of using those words to stop Branzillo.

What follows is a quest through time, as Charles Wallace joins forces with a unicorn named Gaudior and travels “Within” several individuals who lived in the near vicinity of the Murry family’s star-watching rock. His goal is to discover and change a “Might-Have-Been,” the moment when, if things had happened differently, nuclear apocalypse could’ve been adverted. He visits prehistoric times, the early colonial years, Civil War America, and the mid-20th century, when he meets a golden, blue-eyed girl who may be closer to him and his sister than one would initially suspect.

A Swiftly Tilting Planet has always been my favorite L’Engle book. I loved the way history was intertwined with the plot, and was inspired enough to do a little research into Prince Madoc and the (legendary?) early Welsh settlement of America. It’s something of a modest little epic, and L’Engle’s writing is more mature and polished than in previous works. At many times, the language approaches the lyricism of poetry. And while the pacing in A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door sometimes felt rushed, the plot in A Swiftly Tilting Planet moves leisurely enough that the reader is able to sink into the lives of each of the individuals that Charles Wallace travels Within.

But what really impressed me about A Swiftly Tilting Planet during this re-read is how L’Engle approaches the subject of sorrow. The characters Charles Wallace enters all suffer in some way or another, but she handles their pain in a manner that is truly elegant and touching, never melodramatic. And it’s real-life sadness, too, not the kind of flashy emotional torture one finds in lesser works of juvenile fantasy/sci-fi. The relationship between Beezie and Chuck, particularly, tore my heart out this time around. ("When the time is ripe, Chuck will let you know. From the other side of darkness, Chuck will let you know…”) I’d be hard pressed to name so-called “adult” books that handle sorrow in a more respectful and genuine manner.

In conclusion, if you’ve previously read A Wrinkle in Time but never ventured further into L’Engle territory, by all means read this book. You won’t be disappointed. Definitely don’t be like my roommate, with whom I had the following conversation this evening:

Roommate [slurping Coke]: “What are you doing, blondie?”
Me [distracted]: “Er…uh…book reviews. Ever read Madeleine L’Engle?”
Roommate: “Who?”
Me: “El-engle. A Wrinkle in Time. You must’ve read that in school.”
Roommate: “Didn’t she write some book about an elephant?”
Me: “Um…there’s a unicorn. Definitely no elephants, however.”
Roommate: “Whatever, same thing.”
Me: “You should flee before you’re melted by my withering glare.”

Go read.

P.S. - Love the snowflakes.

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posted by Elizabeth at 11:00 PM


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