A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle

imageMeg cried, “Father, we know something’s happened. You have to tell us — please.”
His voice was cold and distant. “War.”
Meg put her hand protectively over her belly. “Do you mean nuclear war?”
The family seemed to draw together.
“Is it Mad Dog Branzillo?” asked Meg.
“Yes. The President feels that this time Branzillo is going to carry out his threat, and then we’ll have no choice but to use our antiballistic missiles.”

When Meg Murry and her family sit down for Thanksgiving dinner, they don’t expect to discover that the planet is in danger from imminent nuclear war — a mad South American dictator is about to launch nuclear weapons against the US. However, it soon becomes clear that the dictator, ‘El Rabioso’ or Mad Dog Branzillo, is more closely connected to the Murry family than they had previously thought, and Meg’s younger brother Charles Wallace is called to make a journey through time, righting small wrongs in each time period, that together serve to change the course of history.

A Swiftly Tilting Planet was a nostalgic reread for me, easily my favourite of the books when I read the Wrinkle In Time series about 10 years ago. Whereas Meg was the protagonist of the previous books, in this book the story is Charles Wallace’s, while Meg must sit and ‘watch’ the action telepathically. Charles Wallace travels through time with a friendly unicorn, each time visiting the same valley in New England and ‘inhabiting’ different characters who are called some variation of Maddox, Branwen or Zillah. The same story plays out in each time period, from prehistory through to the present day, and each time Charles Wallaces nudges one of the characters towards a particular course of action, where the cumulative effect of these will prevent a nuclear war.

If the plot seems a little preposterous, that’s because it is, but the genius of Madeleine L’Engle is to make the fantastical elements feel at once sprawling and epic as well as cosy and domestic — everything happens within about a mile of the Murrys’ house and in the course of one Thanksgiving evening! And if there’s a theme to the book, it’s the interconnectedness of the past, present and future, and that the smallest of actions can have large consequences.

A couple of things frustrated me about the plot, rereading it for a second time. The first is that the good characters have descendants who are also good, and the evil characters have descendants who are also evil, and everything’s far too deteministic. The second was that poor Meg, who was the protagonist in two previous adventures (and is one of my favourite heroines ever, being a girl who is good at science!), is reduced to being rather wet in this book. It doesn’t help that she is pregnant, and therefore her family are constantly fussing at her to sit down and drink something warm! She’s still the main POV character, but she spends 90% of the text sitting in bed with a dog and a kitten. However, despite these two annoyances, I still really enjoyed the book as a whole, and I’m now itching to reread the rest of the series!

2 thoughts on “A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle

  1. The Kairos set of books by Madeleine L’Engle is in some ways one of the loosest series I’ve read – major characters in one book are forgotten in the next; characters who do appear again sometimes seem to have forgotten what happened previously; and the four “second generation” books are all pretty much different genres! No doubt the fact that they were written over nearly 30 years had much to do with this, and they’re still for the most part a very enjoyable read.

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