Madeleine L’Engle’s The Time Quartet

As far as I am concerned, Madeleine L’Engle’s books should be required reading in all schools, as they open doors — not only in the imagination, but also in the academics, math and science especially. These wonderful tales could inspire the next Einstein to take the proper courses and feed his mind. I enjoyed the journeys that Mrs. L’Engle’s works took me on, and yet, I am saddened by the fact that I never read them as a child. I will rectify this mistake by introducing my own children to them posthaste!

Originally written as a trilogy, Many Waterswas a later additionwith all the books published between by Bantam Doubleday Dell between 1973 and1986. Chronologically, it should be read before A Swiftly Tilting Planet. All four of these novels stand well on their own, as well as fitting comfortably together to complete and enhance the adventures of the Murry family. These novels may have been written for children, but they are well worth the reading for adults as well, and I shall be visiting their pages again.

The first book in the ‘Time Quartet’ is ‘A Wrinkle in Time,’ which is also a recipient of the Newberry Award Medal and the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award. We are introduced to the extraordinary Murry family and their rather abnormal experiences in this novel. Kate and Alex Murry both hold doctorates in their chosen fields. Kate is a microbiologist focusing on the microcosm, particle physics and quantum mechanics, while Alex is an astrophysicist whose main pursuits involve the space/time continuum, specifically five-dimensional means of transportation between planets. In this book, Alex’s work with the tesseract theory opens the door for a wondrous adventure fraught with danger. While attempting to travel in this manner, Dr. Murry accidentally travels to the planet Camazotz where he is imprisoned by the ‘Darkness.’

The twins, Sandy and Dennys, are not really involved with this tale; it focuses more on Meg and the younger brother Charles Wallace, who is a child genius. Meg, Charles Wallace, and the neighbor boy Calvin O’Keefe are spirited away from the Murry property by three very odd women, Mrs. Which, Mrs. Whatzit, and Mrs. Who. These women desire only to help the children rescue their missing father from the ‘Darkness’, which is holding both him and the planet Camazotz hostage. This rescue will require the children to learn to ‘tesser’ themselves.

A Wind in the Dooris another scientific fantastical romp. Kate Murry discovers the presence of farandolae within mitochondria at just about the time Charles Wallace comes down with an inexplicable illness. Charles Wallace insists he has seen dragons, and has Meg accompany him back to where they were seen. However, what he thought was a flight of dragons turns out to be a ‘cherubim’ named Proginoskes. Meg and Calvin go on a journey inside of one of Charles Wallace’s mitochondria, accompanied by a farandola named Sporos and Proginoskes, or ‘Progo’ as Meg calls him, and Mr. Jenkins, Charles Wallace’s school principal. Their task, which the ‘cosmic’ teacher Blajeny has set them, is to save Charles Wallace from the evil ‘Echthroi.’

The third book in the series, and recipient of the American Book Award, is A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and is as adventure filled as the previous two. Charles Wallace at fifteen prepares to embark on a very dangerous adventure with Gaudior, a unicorn. They must go back in time in order to stop a lunatic dictator, Madog Branzillo, from destroying the world with nuclear missiles. The only link Charles Wallace will have with the present is a ‘telepathic’ one with his newly married and rather pregnant sister, Meg. They will be able to converse by ‘kything’ as Charles Wallace enters the bodies of four different people from other times in order to stop one madman.

Many Waters is the fourth novel, but does not follow chronologically; it should be the third as the children are still just that, while in the third book Meg is grown and married. Ms. L’Engle’s reasoning is that the twins finally have their own adventure. The twins, Sandy and Dennys, enter their parents’ laboratory while an experiment is underway. Their father, Alex, is working on another space/time continuum experiment with a new computer, which the boys decide to look at a little more closely. With only a few words typed on the computer, Sandy and Dennys are flung back through time to the original desert and oasis home of the biblical figure Noah. Here is the tale of the building of the ark, from a very different viewpoint. There are dangers of all kinds awaiting the boys as they coexist with seraphim and nephilim, and Noah and his family, not the least of which is how they will return home.

Naomi de Bruyn is the author.

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