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Madeleine L’Engle : A Swiftly Tilting Planet

26 Jun 2011 · 1 Comment

I was sorely disappointed by A Swiftly Tilting Planet when I first read it; I’m pretty sure I only read it once before. It may be worth mentioning that I first encountered this novel when my head was full of Tolkein and Star Wars — and it’s not exactly crammed with action-adventure teenage boy appeal. I was probably a little too immature for it.

I fared better with it this time around, although I wouldn’t call it an unqualified success. It opens with the world in a Cuban Missile Crisis-ish moment of nuclear terror. Charles Wallace, with the aid of yet another otherworldly companion, must avert catastrophe through an arduous series of jaunts through time (with some of the might-have-been aspects of It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol).

The villain with his finger on The Button is one of a pair of brothers, one peaceable and noble, one hawkish and power-mad, who cyclically reenact their conflict throughout many generations. Charles Wallace must restore the balance to save the world.

A Swiftly Tilting Planet is far more ambitious than A Wrinkle in Time or A Wind in the Door — it has a rigorous formal structure derived from a medieval prayer. L’Engle uses legends of ancient Welsh visitors to the New World to symbolize clashes between innocence and worldliness.

The characters enmeshed in similar conflicts over the centuries also have similar names, and sometimes I had a little trouble keeping the generations straight. (Then again, so does one of the characters in the story.) As on a my first reading, I thought it was a bit heavy-handed, rather obvious, and a little repetitive. I also think that some of L’Engle’s pasts are portrayed more convincingly than others.

But this this time around I was more aware of the music of L’Engle’s prose — there are some lovely and vivid moments, and overall I found it more satisfying.

needs more demons? possibly.

Tags: e-author · fantasy · l-author · s-title

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Doug's (proud) Mom // 12 August 2011 at 12:21

    Somehow, I never could get into L’Engle’s fiction. or Narnia either (and what what the Lloyd Alexander stuff that you and Cris loved, Doug?) – can’t imagine why, as I still love Tolkein and Susan Cooper (but not Harry Potter) . . .
    Anyhow, in the early 1980s I wound up in an adult Sunday School class – my first such experience. Each hour began with a videotaped interview with a person mysteriously deemed to be of interest (sometimes the interview sprawled into two or more sessions); deftly led group discussion followed, often lasting long after the pastor had to trot down the hall to begin the worship service.
    L’Engle was the first person whose interview I saw, and I was quite frankly blown out of the water by her articulate, insightful remarks. Wish I could remember the details, but almost 3 decades have passed. I was spurred to try to re-read some of the fiction, still didn’t like it (should I try again, now that I’m well into my 8th decade?), but continue to hold L’Engle in high esteem as a gentle and powerful thinker.

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