Favorite Books: A Swiftly Tilting Planet

A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'EngleA while back, several fans responded to a query on my Facebook author page about what I should write about at my blog. One response was: What do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?

Narrowing down the list is very difficult, because I frankly love to read so much (from suspense fiction to history to devotional books to young adult). But in my estimation a few novels/authors stand above the rest. Keep in mind that I’m starting with childhood and that I had a very active imagination then (still do).

The one novel that probably made the biggest impression on me when I was a kid was A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle, which I’ve read at least twice. Up to that point, it was simply the most enthralling novel I had ever read. While reading this novel, I officially fell in love with books, and the love has never waned.

What is this novel about? First, let me say that this is the third book in Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quintet. Though an author of many other books and novels, L’Engle is perhaps best known for her children’s novel A Wrinkle in Time, which won the Newberry Award. Though I like Wrinkle a lot, I think Swiftly is the best novel in the series. Second, this is a young adult fantasy/science fiction novel. Wikipedia describes it this way:

Charles Wallace Murry, an advanced and perceptive child in A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door, has grown into adolescence. His intelligence and remarkable goodness carry him through an adventure in time to attempt to save the world from nuclear disaster threatened by Mad Dog Branzillo, the dictator of the fictional South American country of Vespugia. To change the outcome of the present, Charles Wallace must change the past, in a series of “might-have-beens”, events which are turning points fought over by the powers of good and evil.

Bottom line? To this day, this is one of the best time-travel novels I’ve ever read. Charles Wallace rides a magical unicorn, Gaudior, into the past and must change certain events (and avert nuclear war) so Mad Dog Branzillo is never born. Using his telepathic skills, he interacts or “merges” with four characters in the past and helps change critical “might-have-beens.” Meg, Charles’s sister, uses telepathy to communicate with Charles from real time on earth, feeding him important information during his journey. Meanwhile, the Echthroi, the antagonists introduced in A Wind in the Door, are evil beings that want to destroy the world as we know it. They will do whatever it takes to prevent the success of Charles’s mission. Their attacks on Charles as he rides the unicorn through space and time provide some of the most gripping parts of the story. Here’s an excerpt of one of the early attacks:

A blast of icy cold cut across the beauty of the flight, a cold which carried a stench of death and decay.

Retching, Charles Wallace buried his face in Gaudior’s mane, his fingers clenching the silver strands as the Echthroid wind tried to drag him from the unicorn’s back. The stench was so abominable that it would have made him loosen his grasp had not the pungent scent of Gaudior’s living flesh saved him as he pressed his face against the silver hide, breathing the strangeness of unicorn sweat. Gaudior’s bright wings beat painfully against invisible wings of darkness beating at them. The unicorn neighed in anguish, his clear tones lost in the howling of the tempest.

Suddenly his hoofs struck against something solid. He whinnied with anxiety. “Hold on tightly, don’t let go,” he warned. “We’ve been blown into a Projection.”

Charles Walace could hardly be clutching the mane with more intensity. “A what?”

“We’ve been blown into a Projection, a possible future, a future the Echthroi want to make real.”

The attack scenes become more intense as the story progresses. At one point, Charles must tie himself to the unicorn’s back to prevent being torn apart.

As I mentioned, Charles telepathically “merges” with several characters in the past:

  • Harcels, a Native American boy at least 1,000 years in the past
  • Madoc Gywnedd of Wales, a pre-Columbian trans-oceanic traveler
  • Brandon Llawcae, a Welsh settler in Puritan times
  • Matthew Maddox, a writer during the American Civil War who wrote a novel about the legend of Madoc Gwynedd
  • Chuck Maddox

While “within” these characters, Charles is able to influence their choices to change history. (This concept of past choices influencing the future has always fascinated me.) In one very scary part, one of these characters falls down a flight of stairs, fractures his skull, and suffers brain damage. Charles manages to survive and complete his mission.

I consider L’Engle’s novels to be loosely Christian. You won’t find any swearing or withcraft or twisted worldview here. You also won’t find any overt gospel message, yet the battle between light and darkness is always present and unmistakable. And good always wins. She doesn’t shy away from mentioning God and supernatural powers that come from His goodness that prevent the evil from winning.

When I received my copy of this novel in 1981 when I was twelve, it was my most compulsive read to date—I was officially hooked. I have yet to find its equal in young adult fiction. What about you? Which book was your favorite when you were twelve? Why did you like it so much?

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