Takeaway: About 25 years after first reading it, this is still one of my favorite novels.
I am not sure why I have always been so drawn to A Swiftly Tilting Planet. It has been one of my favorite books since I first read it. I have read it at least a half-dozen times now, although it has been since high school since I last read it.
I was trying to figure out why this is my favorite book of the series. Partially I think it is because it is focused on Charles Wallace. I have always been particularly drawn to ‘special children’. As an adult, I appreciate even more that what he wants to do is take charge and solve problems and use the skills and brain power he has. But as with many of the books, really what is needed is not to take charge and solve problems, but to just be the person that you were created to be. Charles Wallace was created for this problem, and he does not need to work to solve it as much as just be Charles Wallace and allow The Wind (or God) to place him where he need to be.
This is also the least explicitly Christian book of the series so far. There are no quoted verses, no biblical setting, very little God talk, in fact the pastor in one of the scenes is the bad guy. There were also explicitly pagan (used in the sense of pre-Christian religion, not pejoratively) worship and religious talk. L’Engle shows what I think are her real feelings when in the episode with the pastor, one of the characters blesses the visions that the other character has saying (my paraphrase) “If you have visions it is because God created you to have visions.” And while that sort of thinking can be taken too far, I think we probably should allow it much more. We are created as we are created. That does not mean that we should be satisfied with our sinful actions, but that we should be satisfied with the talents we have, the looks we have, the setting we are in and learn to flourish as we are created. (I refer to this as a Jer 29 moment.)
Again, this is a mix of fantasy and science fiction, although more to the fantasy side of things. There is time travel, but also unicorns and more focus on a form of mental communication that L’Engle calls Kything, which is a real Scottish word that L’Engle adapted. There is also the threat of nuclear holocaust and old Welsh legends.
One of the most interesting parts of the book for me was the fact that running throughout the A Swiftly Tilting Planet is another book, that was ‘written’ in 1865 that is the key to solving the connection that Charles Wallace and Meg need to solve. It is a book that I would love to actually read, if it were real, or if L’Engle had written it as a supplement to the series.
I also realized that I really like literary references in my books. A recent memoir that I really liked was Surprised by Oxford. It is filled with large words, subtile literary references and tons of quotes from famous books. I loved it, even though I tend to skip over quotes and often have to force myself to go back and read quoted material. I guess I like to think of myself as literary. This is the most abstract of the books of this series. The themes are denser, but not necessarily older, than Many Waters. So a young teen could read this, but probably not get all of it; while in Many Waters, I might be hesitant to recommend to a young teen because of the background theme of romantic love and sexuality.
I also enjoyed listening to Madeleine L’Engle read this herself. Books four and five are not narrated by her. And after listening to two books narrated by her, then book four, not narrated by her, then back to book three that was narrated by her, I really appreciate listening to her as an author reading her own work. She is a very good reader. Although the narrator of book four was technically very good, it just was not the same knowing that it was not the author reading.
I really would like to know if others have gone back and read books that they enjoyed as teens. Some I have really enjoyed, like this one. And some I have wondered what I was thinking.