A Swiftly Tilting Planet

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Madeleine L’Engle 1978 – #3 in the Time Quintet (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

The Doomsday Clock terrified me as a college student in the 1980s, which is why I consider this somber story to be the most chilling in L’Engle’s Time Quintet.

It’s Thanksgiving, and once again the Murrys do some time-wrangling – but this time their job is to save the planet, with hours or minutes to spare.

Meg Murry O’Keefe is expecting her first child, while her husband Calvin is across the planet doing science things with important people. She has gathered at the Murry farmhouse with the rest of the Murrys and Calvin’s mother Branwen Maddox O’Keefe when Mr. Murry gets The Call, warning of imminent world war. Somebody has to save the world, and teen Charles Wallace, supported by Meg, the dog Ananda, and a unicorn named Gaudior, is on the job while Branwen holds the key to salvation in the words of an ancient rune.

L’Engle draws on legend and literature to build her plot, through the use of names and poetry. As with her other YA books, her craft has the effect of leading the reader (at least this reader) to look for layers of magic and meaning that seem bigger than the story. Of course, the magic can be explained and dispelled now through a little web research, but easy access to obscure information like this did not exist when most of these books were written – so readers wondered at the names Madoc, Maddox, and Mad Dog – did these people exist at some point in history? – and we pored over globes to see if Vespugia and Patagonia were actual places.

Do yourself a favor – don’t research any of the names, poetry, or places mentioned in A Swiftly Tilting Planet. Read the book and allow yourself the pleasure of wondering, for a little while.

This is a five-star read, with a nod to L’Engle’s skills as a builder of fiction that invites curiosity and questioning. It feels a little like magic.

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