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A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine…
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A Swiftly Tilting Planet (1978)

by Madeleine L'Engle

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Time Quintet (3)

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9,35481511 (3.99)134
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Showing 1-5 of 81 (next | show all)
The ending was good, but the middle was a bit slow for me. It is clever the way she pulled it all together...hence the end being good. I think I also disliked that Meg and Calvin were all of the sudden grown and married with a baby on the way. It was a pretty big jump, I would have liked them to have been more a part of the story. Especially Calvin, they conveniently got rid of him! ( )
  Amelia1989 | Jun 10, 2019 |
A Swiftly Turning Planet is a hot mess of a book, but not without its rewards. The third installment of the Murry family saga that began with A Wrinkle in Time, it features the insufferable Charles Wallace as the protagonist with a grumpy time-traveling unicorn named Gaudior as his companion. It’s not a direct sequel; there’s an intervening book, A Wind in the Door. But the story was easy to pick up without having read it.

That said, Planet shows its age in a way that Wrinkle does not. The book begins when the Murry family, approximately ten years removed from the events of Wrinkle, are about to sit down and eat Thanksgiving dinner when a call comes from the US president. It seems Mad Dog Branzillo, the war-mongering South American dictator of the imaginary country of Vespugia, has acquired nuclear weapons and is threatening to let them fly on the world. Right off the bat there was so much wrong with this banana republic trope, not the least of it its leader’s name. It’s revealed later Branzillo has that name for a reason, and it’s a clever one that ties into the story’s central mystery. But still… way to insult South Americans, now-deceased YA author.

Mrs. O’Keefe, Meg Murry’s reclusive, unfriendly mother-in-law (for she has married Calvin O’Keefe) is at the dinner too, and she mutters an ancient Welsh rune, or poem of protection, at the news, which inspires Charles Wallace to find a way to neutralize this event. He wanders outside to the ancient star-watching rock on the Murry acreage where he meets a winged, time-traveling unicorn named Gaudior, who is to escort him back in time so he can go “within.” That is, embedding himself into people who lived on the same land in the past to find a way to tweak the fabric of time so the current situation is defused. It turns out both Mad Dog Branzillo and Mrs. O’Keefe share an ancient connection, and both the characters and the reader must figure it out.

It’s one of the most complicated plots I’ve ever seen. Every word of L’Engle means something, and the reader must work, hard. In fact, I can’t see how YA readers raised on simpler fare like Cinder or The Maze Runner would have much patience with it. As an adult, I didn’t have much patience with it at times, even as I admired its cleverness and the way everything dovetailed together in the end. L’Engle is still a magnificent writer, and at her worst is better than 95% of modern YA writers at their best; but boy, was there a lot to be unpacked.

There was some dubious science and history as well, such as The People of the Wind, a tribe of proto-Native Americans who live on a lake where they ride iridescent blue-green dolphins who spray water out of their blowholes. (That’s not how it works; cetaceans breathe through their blowholes, which are actually their noses, and while the air they exhale might have moisture in it, it’s not a water spray such as what an elephant might make by suctioning water up through its trunk and blowing it out.) Though delightful, it was just wrong. Cetaceans would not be iridescent either, or blue-green, or live in lakes in geologically recent times; and neither would ancient people have flown through the air on giant birds as also occurs in the story. Though not depicted negatively, noble savage clichés abounded, and the writer would probably receive criticism if it had been written today.

As Charles Wallace travels through time in other people’s bodies he is accompanied by Meg, who is kything with him, linked to him mentally from her bed at home and experiencing the things he does. Meg, such a strong character in Wrinkle, disappoints here. The twins study law and medicine, Mom has a Nobel Prize, Dad gets calls from the President, Calvin is giving symposiums in foreign countries, and Charles Wallace remains vaguely gifted and mystical, but all poor Meg has done is become attractive, get married to Cal, and gotten pregnant. She’s not even doing well at that because she’s been sick and has been advised not to strain herself for the baby’s sake. She still has no self-esteem and is fine being condescended to by the other members of the family. The book even states she’s out of practice in kything. Whatever.

(And if she’s to watch her health, why the heck is she sleeping in her old bedroom in the family’s attic, with its rickety stairs and single electric plug-in heater?)

Charles Wallace disappears when he’s in the other people, so their stories belong to them, not Charles Wallace, while Meg observes and transmits clues to the mystery from the present day. It’s an odd but audacious device, compressing into one book what might take four or five to do. Things did not feel rushed, but they did feel skimmed as we flip-flopped from New England to Wales to Patagonia and then back to New England again. Since Gaudior’s magic traverses time but not space, the Wales and Patagonia events are portrayed in a plot device within a plot device, in the form of old letters discovered by Mrs. O’Keefe in her attic. The book is readable despite the clumsiness, but I wish it had been edited better. The author often forgets her POV, calling, for example, Chuck’s grandmother as “the grandmother” even though we are clearly in Chuck and not third person omniscient. Body parts too are disconnected from their owners, like “the boy bent over the great neck” when it should be “Charles Wallace bent over Gaudior’s great neck.”

L’Engle never referred to current events or even technology beyond phones and cars in the books, which gives them a timeless quality… up to a point. (For modern readers, the lack of cellphones and computers dates them.) In later years she said the series took place in Kairos, a sort of Christian alternate universe. I don’t know if that was a serious statement on her part or a cop out, but at times I did feel she was ignoring her own timeline.

So, I’ll take a stab at creating one here.

First off, I’ll posit Wrinkle takes place in 1963, the year after it was first published. The anxiety of the Cold War and dreary sameness of suburban life come through very clearly in the book, while the turmoil and sense of hopelessness makes me think of the Kennedy assassination. From Wrinkle we know that Meg is 13 and Charles Wallace 6. Calvin O’Keefe is one year older than Meg, so he is 14. I’m going to ballpark Mrs. Murry’s age as 35 and the twins at 11, in junior high but not teens as yet. Mr. Murry, who knows.

A Wrinkle in Time:

Mrs. Murry (b. 1928) 35

Meg (b. 1950) 13

Twins (b. 1952) 11

Charles Wallace (b. 1957) 6

Calvin O’Keefe (b. 1949) 14

Mrs. O’Keefe (b. 1928) 35

(It’s stated in Planet that Mrs. O’Keefe is the same age as Mrs. Murry when the disparity in their health and looks is commented on. Because of the number of her children – eleven! – I’ll say Mrs. O’Keefe married very young, perhaps at 17. )

When we come to Planet, Charles Wallace is stated to be 15. I’ll stretch it and say he’s 15 going on 16. So now the year is 1973. Israel is mentioned fleetingly in the story as a holder of nuclear weapons, which makes sense as the Yom Kippur War had just happened in October of that year so it would have been on the family’s mind during Thanksgiving.

A Swiftly Tilting Planet:

Mrs. Murry (b. 1928) 45

Meg (b. 1950) 23

Twins (b. 1952) 21

Charles Wallace (b. 1957) 15 going on 16

Calvin O’Keefe (b. 1949) 24

Mrs. O’Keefe (b. 1928) 45

Even considering this, some things just don’t make sense.

Mrs. O’Keefe, Calvin’s neglectful, poverty-stricken mother in Wrinkle, is one of the people Charles Wallace interacts with when he’s embedded in the past. Her age is given as 12 when a pivotal event of her life occurs, which would make the year 1939. It’s said she’s wearing blue jeans. Now, in that time I think farming or rural people might have worn jeans while doing chores, but not people who live in a town, where propriety still put young girls in dresses. Jeans as knockabout wear for women didn’t catch on until the late 1950s. It’s also said, that while standing near the star-watching rock, they hear the roar of trucks on the freeway and airplanes in the sky. Trucking was not prevalent for goods transport in the 1930s and a freeway being near the small town they live in doesn’t sound likely either. Highways and freeways were a product of post WWII America, mainly the 1960s. In 1939 they might have heard a truck putt-putting along on a country road but certainly not a freeway roar. Airplane noise would have been rare as well, as commercial air traffic was still far in the future. Mrs. O’Keefe’s 1939 sounds a lot like 1965.

This made me question the story’s verisimilitude and made me think the author did not do her historical research. Even though the story was about an alternate history – the founding of a fictional country named Vespugia in Patagonia by Welsh, Spanish, and native settlers – that doesn’t mean facts of history outside of that, like the existence of freeways in 1939 or iridescent lake dolphins, can be posited willy-nilly.

On the plus side, there was some wonderful descriptive writing in here that called to mind the exotic worlds of A Wrinkle in Time, like the unicorns hatching from eggs on a planet of warm, creamy snow, drinking moonlight and starlight. C.S. Lewis was a big influence on the writer, and it shows, but she is also equal parts Madame Blavatsky, and her vision foretells the gush of New Age religious fantasies that began to be published in the 1980s, the kind you’d find in the rec room of a very hip Unitarian Church. The family’s interactions, which are the core of all the books, remain fresh. L’Engle had a way of writing them so the reader felt like a fly on the wall, unobtrusively eavesdropping.

There were also unalterable tragedies which are not sugarcoated. Parents die suddenly, children are abused or fall sick or go mad. There are misunderstandings both familial and cultural, and young people lose their dreams and ambitions. In the present day as well loss occurs: Fortinbras, the Murry family dog, has died, and a much-loved vegetable garden plowed under for lack of a caretaker. (A new dog, Ananda, appears in the course of the story to offer comfort.) There was a downbeat note with Gaudior, too. You’d think a flying unicorn with a name that means “Joy” might be more affable, but as a guide he had none of Mrs. Whatsit’s or Aunt Beast’s warmth and tenderness. For all his majesty he was kind of standoffish and acted like he’d rather be doing something else, somewhere else.

In the end, Mad Dog Branzillo is not all he seems and neither is Mrs. O’Keefe, who receives a new respect even though she is too old and tired to change her ways or make amends.

This was a divisive book for me. It annoyed me with its clichés and sense of naivete, yet has stuck in my mind for the way it all fit together just so, like a complex, many-faceted jewel. ( )
  Cobalt-Jade | Apr 23, 2019 |
Years have passed since 'A Wind in the Door'. Charles Wallace is a teenager and Meg Murry is the pregnant wife of Calvin O'Keefe. Dramatic changes in her protagonists seems to be one of L'Engle's hallmarks, and with a little research, I see she can go back and forth on a character's age. Much like Gaudior, L'Engle sometimes finds moving through time easier than space.

It is Thanksgiving and the family is gathered together, except for Calvin who is away on business. Calvin' mother, Mrs. O'Keefe, however, is at dinner and a little out of place. During dinner Meg's father receives a phone call from the President saying that nuclear war is imminent based on the threats of a South American dictator. Mrs. O'Keefe responds to this news with a "rune" calling upon heaven's aid to help them in this dark time. Charles Wallace feels the importance of this, and resolves to use the rune to prevent the war.

I may be pushing against the tide here, but this was the most enjoyable one yet. I really struggled with the flatness of 'A Wrinkle in Time'. This novel has some problematic elements, especially with its romancing of Native American culture and its lack of dynamic female characters. For the first charge there is only the defense that L'Engle's People of the Winds were one tribe only, she doesn't say that all Native Americans were "pre-fall" innocents. In the universe of these books, she would have represented all humans, Native American or not, as being that innocent before the Echthroi's corrupting influence touched them. Not the most satisfactory defense, but it works for me.

The second charge against female characters I can say much less about. In this book they are all tools for breeding and marrying except Mrs. O'Keefe providing some critical plot assistance before shuffling off, and Meg Murry providing some kythe-aid while pregnant and in bed. There's not much defensible in that, but I feel Meg has deserved some time with her feet up so it didn't bother my reading.

Anyway, this was entertaining from start to finish, something I couldn't say about the previous two.

Time Quintet

Next: 'Many Waters'

Previous: 'A Wind in the Door' ( )
  ManWithAnAgenda | Feb 23, 2019 |
A re-read as an adult. An interesting complicated book, weaving multiple time-lines with fantasy "Good vs. Evil" themes which all come together in the end. ( )
  MarysGirl | Dec 18, 2018 |
It's been years since I've read this series, and while I remembered the books fondly, I guess I'd forgotten exactly how these books tick. I struggled with Wrinkle, wrestled with Wind, but it's this book that's gonna defeat me. I'll probably try these books again someday, but for now I guess I'm just too jaded for L'Engle's optimistically mystical take on Good and Evil. ( )
  Ubiquitine | Nov 24, 2018 |
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
L'Engle, Madeleineprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dillon, DianeCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dillon, LeoCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lee, Jody A.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Morrill, RowenaCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nielsen, CliffCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sis, PeterCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
van der Linden, VincentTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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for Hal Vursell
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The big kitchen of the Murrys' house was bright and warm, curtains drawn against the dark outside, against the rain driving past the house from the northeast.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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The ISBN 0807277568 is only for A Swiftly Tilting Planet.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0440401585, Paperback)

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.

The Murry family, also appearing in A Wind in the Door and Many Waters, acts as a carrier of Madeleine L'Engle's unique message about human responsibility for the world. Themes of good versus evil, time and space travel, and the invincibility of the human spirit predominate. Even while she entertains, L'Engle kindles the intellect, inspiring young people to ask questions of the world, and learn by challenging. (Ages 9 and older) --Emilie Coulter

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:28 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

The youngest of the Murry children must travel through time and space in a battle against an evil dictator who would destroy the entire universe.

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