Friday, August 22, 2014

A Swiftly Tilting Planet (a book review post)

My first ever oral book report was on A Swiftly Tilting Planet. I chose it because I had so much enjoyed the book. And, hey, it had a flying unicorn. I got an A on the written report; I didn't do so well on the oral presentation. I never let that happen again, though. It was what you call "a learning experience."

Three books into reading (and re-reading) L'Engle's Time Quintent and I'm finally realizing what it is, exactly, that I don't like about them. The characters don't do anything. They spend their time being taken from place to place by various cosmic beings because they're so important but, in the end, they don't actually do anything to affect the outcome of the story. The closest we get to anyone doing anything is Meg in A Wrinkle in Time in which she says the magic words of "I love you" to her brother to break the spell he's under. A Swiftly Tilting Planet is the worst offender so far.

There will be spoilers.

The world is on the brink of a nuclear war and Charles Wallace is tasked to stop it. He has one day to do it. One day to figure out how to get the madman who is about to start the war to change his mind and not. A madman who is on a completely different continent.

Luckily for Charles, a unicorn shows up to help him and his sister's mother-in-law gives him a magical poem to say. L'Engle relies a lot on magic words in these books. Just say the magic words at just the right time and the day is saved! That's what happens in Wrinkle, and that's what happens in this book. Every time anything bad is happening, the poem is recited and everything is better.

But let's get back to Charles and the unicorn. The unicorn, as it turns out, has wings that come out of his sides. When Gaudior, the unicorn, is just standing around, he has no wings. It's probably a personal bias, but the whole thing with the wings just seems silly to me. The unicorn, by the way, uses his wings, mostly, to fly through time; he's no good at flying through space, according to him.

To stop the madman, the unicorn takes Charles travelling through time. Now, you'd think that would be because Charles is supposed to change something to stop the madman, but, no, actually, Charles is just there to go "Within" different characters and observe. Maybe he'll learn something with which he can stop the crazy dude from blowing up the world. So that's what we spend the book doing, travelling through time learning the history of Crazy Dude's family.

Now, the special, magic poem has been in the family for ages (Meg's mother-in-law is from the same family), so, mostly, we just watch people get into bad situations and recite the poem to fix everything. But, evidently, nuclear war is too big for a poem. We travel along until we get to the father of the madman. What we learn along the way is that he has the wrong father. Or grandfather? At any rate, the wrong man married the woman and, so, we get a madman that wants to blow up the world.

It turns out that the wrong man married her, because he killed the other guy. The two men were fighting over the woman, and the bad guy stabbed the good guy and threw his body off a cliff. Charles Wallace ends up in the same time as the two guys who will fight over the woman, but is he put in a place to affect any kind of change over the outcome? No. He's put into a guy thousands of miles away. A guy who is dying of, probably, tuberculosis.

So, when it comes to the point of the fight, the guy that Charles is in is in the middle of a fevered sleep, and Charles, making his first effort to affect change in the time he's in, keeps whispering in the guy's head, "Do something." The thing is, there's no way for either of them to know that the fight on the cliff is happening at that moment; they just do. But the sick guy can't wake up and they're thousands of miles away, so they do absolutely nothing. But the outcome of the fight changes anyway. The good guy turns to find the guy trying to stab him, knocks the knife out of his hand, and the bad guy, in an effort to catch his knife, falls off the cliff. So the good guy marries the woman, and the madman is never born.

Of course, when Charles Wallace gets back, no one knows anything about the imminent nuclear war. Only he (and Meg, a bit) can remember what almost happened.

Needless to say, I was very dissatisfied with the ending of the book. Actually, I was dissatisfied with most of the book despite the fact the some of the historical bits are interesting. What the book reminded me of is kids playing on a playground and shouting "magic words" to win their battles against imaginary enemies. So, again, I am left with the impression that these are really kids' books, not like, say, The Chronicles of Narnia at all, books that you can revisit throughout your lifetime.

Except that, well, past Wrinkle, my kids have really struggled to read these. My younger son wasn't able to get past the first couple of chapters of A Wind in the Door despite that he tried twice, and my daughter started Swiftly something like four times and just couldn't get interested in it. Maybe, they're already too old. What I do know is that if I had re-read these before handing them to my kids to read, I wouldn't have bothered to do it. Beyond a few concepts, like the tesseract, I haven't really found anything worthwhile in the books.

[Which isn't going to stop me from finishing the series, because I'm already halfway through book four (and it's even worse).]


  1. You're still going to finish even though you're not enjoying? Rock on...
    If that were made into a movie, do you realized how panned it would be? Not just because the characters don't do anything, but it also seems to lack a cohesive story.

  2. There's some determination in action. May your quest to finish the series bring you something worthwhile.

    I made it through A Wrinkle In Time but never could get any further. As you said, it's because they don't really do anything. Glad to learn I wasn't missing anything great in the rest of the series.

  3. Alex: Yeah, I am. Mostly, it's because I loved Wrinkle so much when I was a kid, so it started as re-visiting, but, now, I feel the need to finish them.

    Jean: It's been a downhill slide from Wrinkle.

  4. If he can move through time but not space, he must always pop up in different places in the universe since's it's always spinning. (That's just one of the things about time travel that's always bugged me)

  5. Jeanne: Ah, see, you should read my time travel story from the IWM Time Travel anthology. You'd appreciate it.

  6. Oh my gosh… I thought I was the only one who didn't like A Wrinkle in Time… I rarely admit that, LOL… but I totally know what you mean!!! Haven't read this one!

  7. Morgan: I understand that. I mean, I feel almost like a traitor (to what, I don't know) saying I don't think these books are any good. How old were you when you read Wrinkle?

  8. Sorry, can't agree with you. I love this book. Your criticisms are fair but it works for me. I love Gaudior. He has a vulnerability one doesn't often see in a guide/guardian character. I also love how the chapter titles follow the lines of the poem. I don't like all of the books equally but one thing I do appreciate about the Time series overall is that science and spirituality are not treated as mutually exclusive concepts.

  9. I loved Wrinkle as an adult, but as a kid it didnt interest me.
    I've never read the series. I tried reading Wrinkle aloud to my kids and they were only half interested. It starts off very slow.

  10. TAS: I knew you'd disagree, and that's okay.
    I don't think L'Engle really deals with science or spirituality. She talks about them, but what she really deals with (and in) is mysticism. Her whole "love will conquer all" thing. It's probably the thing that bothers me the most.

    By the way, my wife won't hear a single negative word from me about these books. She just tells me to stop talking.

    Rajiv: I'm not sure I'd call this one "lovely" but thanks.

    PK: Slow doesn't bother my kids. The bigger issue, especially after Wrinkle, is all the repetition. How many times do the characters need to have the same discussion? Five or six, evidently.

  11. I kinda breezed through your post when I saw the words, "There will be spoilers".

    I'll tuck this suggestion into my mental back pocket and check it out later. "On the brink of a nuclear war" won me over.

  12. Huntress: Well, that's actually kind of a trick; the book doesn't deal with that at all.
    And I wouldn't call this review a recommendation unless you want to call it a recommendation to stay away from.

  13. I never read those books, but I think The Hurricane loved them.


  14. I'm sure I read this book when I was younger, but I don't remember it. I do remember being rather disappointed with the other books after A Wrinkle In Time, so I'm glad I haven't upset myself by trying to reread them.

  15. Janie: The Squid still loves them, too.

    Jennifer: I have been surprised by the continued degeneration in the books. The one I'm reading right now was written something like 20 years after the first one, so it's surprising to me to not see any improvement in the writing or story-telling ability.

  16. Ha! My wife is protective of her French lit heroes in the same way.

  17. I'll leave this one off my TBR list.

  18. You're gonna finish the series, even though you don't care for the books? Now, that's dedication! Not sure I'd follow suit. The only time I force myself to read something I don't like is when I've agreed to write a review.

  19. TAS: You mean like Dumas?

    Sally: Probably a good idea.

    Susan: It's complicated because I read some of them as a kid and liked them, then. This was one of them. But, now, three books in, I may as well finish, right?

  20. You are one determined man. Must brush of a Gold Star to send you when you complete this mission.

    Unfortunately, each time I read one of your reviews I am only further cemented in believing I should set my son's copy of WRINKLE into the "Donate" box at our library. I have no compunction to open it with any of my other kids. It's just taking up real estate...

    C'est la vie.

  21. Veronica: I'm pretty sure once I finish with them, we'll trade them in. My younger son tried to the second more than once and couldn't get more than a few chapters in. My daughter made it to the third book (this one) and has started it something like four times and just can't get interested in it.