The story begins in the Murry household, but soon leaps back in time to ancient Wales where Charles Wallace must begin piecing together Branzillo's ancestry. There Charles Wallace observes the struggle between Madoc and his brother, Gwydyr. Eventually Gwydyr leaves for South America, to an area called Vespugia, a part of Patagonia where Branzillo now lives. Guadior takes Charles Wallace there, in the year 1865, to continue his search, which finally leads the unicorn and Charles Wallace to the time of Mrs. O'Keefe's youth.
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L'Engle is concerned with the mythical—and what she sees as the very real—conflict between the forces of good and evil. Unlike the previous books in the series (A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door), this novel focuses on individual choice as a factor in the war between good and evil. L'Engle examines the personal choices made by the characters with whom Charles Wallace merges to make the point that it is only on the individual level that the real battle for control of the universe takes place.
Although the mysterious Echthroi appear to be working to thwart Charles Wallace and Guadior, the real presence of evil is embodied in the persons he meets during his twenty-four hour journey in time toward the present. The choice of whether to destroy or preserve life, tribe, or family is made by each individual. L'Engle shows readers that what each person does has a direct and potentially catastrophic impact on the destinies of every other creature in God's creation.
A Swiftly Tilting Planet can be interpreted as a modern day allegory, one in which the characters represent us all. Their story is a metaphor for what we should all attempt to do: live a life that accepts the responsibility of caring for others as well as ourselves. In effect, the primary theme of this story is "Love your neighbor." To give added depth to her allegory, L'Engle employs standard symbols such as the unicorn, which signifies purity. To add richness...
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A Swiftly Tilting Planet is a Christian novel, but one that does not promote one denomination or theology. L'Engle is interested in exploring what it means to act is a Christian way, to follow the Golden Rule and actually become you brother and sister's keeper. Charles Wallace and Meg struggle not simply for self-preservation or for that of their immediate family, but for the survival of the human race and all life on the planet Earth. Unlike the earlier books in the series, the main characters have little self-knowledge to gain; they have already learned to give of themselves in previous encounters with the enemy. Yet, despite its seemingly nontraditional perspective, A Swiftly Tilting Planet is a book that explores the essential nature of Christian behavior.
Some adult readers may find L'Engle's examination of the nature of Christianity overly imaginative in its use of pre- Christian mythology and such creatures as Echthroi and unicorns. L'Engle's use of myth and fairy tales reflects her interest in looking for answers outside of a particular doctrine and in finding a fresh way to express the essence of Christian belief. Not surprisingly, L'Engle lists as her personal heroes Jesus, Einstein, and Shakespeare—all of whose "teachings" can easily be found in large portion in any of her works. Some readers, especially younger ones, may have some difficulty with the fractured chronology of the story, since it does jump from present to past to...
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Topics for Discussion
1. Why would L'Engle choose to have the story take place on Thanksgiving?
2. What does the unicorn Gaudior mean in chapter 3 when he tells Charles Wallace that "There is always a moment when there is a Might-Have-Been. What we must do is find the Might-Have-Beens which led to this particular evil. . . . It is possible that you can move into the moment of a Might-Have-Been and change it"?
3. Why was Gwynedd left in Cymru? How does this Welsh myth relate to the current difficulties with "Mad Dog" Branzillo?
4. What is the connection between Wales and Patagonia? How is it significant to the final outcome of the story?
5. What function do the Salem witch trials serve in the novel? Why would L'Engle choose that particular historical event?
6. In what ways is Pastor Mortmain in chapter 6 similar to Beezie and Chuck's stepfather in chapter 7? Why would L'Engle make such connections?
7. What events in her life caused Mrs. O'Keefe (Calvin's mother and Meg's mother-in-law) to become the withdrawn, timid woman that she is at the start of the novel? What caused her to change? In what ways does she change by the story's conclusion?
8. In chapter 8, when Gaudior tells Charles Wallace that "You human beings tend to want good things to last forever. They don't. Not while we're in time," what does he mean? What things does Charles Wallace want to prolong? Why?
9. Which hereditary line does...
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Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. L'Engle characterizes herself as a Christian writer, yet her book does not talk about the Bible or about the teachings of Christianity. What are her values? In what ways does she let you know that? In what ways do these same values correspond to those espoused by Christianity?
2. To most readers, Mrs. O'Keefe is not a very "interesting" person. She is quiet and easily distressed, yet she holds the key to the mystery. In what important ways is she related to all of the characters with whom Charles Wallace has come in contact as he traveled through time? Why is it finally her responsibility to provide the means by which "Mad Dog" Branzillo can be stopped?
3. How does L'Engle make use of Welsh mythology to underpin her story? Find out more about the Welsh and their mythology and show how she has incorporated this material into A Swiftly Tilting Planet.
4. L'Engle seems to have done a lot of research into the movement of certain Welsh people to Vespugia in Patagonia. Discover what actually happened and describe in what ways she has used historical events as the inspiration for those in her story.
5. The Salem witch trials play an important part in A Swiftly Tilting Planet. Research the actual events that took place. Discuss the point L'Engle wished to make by using this real historical event as the foundation of the key chapters in her book.
6. Perhaps one way of explaining L'Engle's view of...
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A Swiftly Tilting Planet is the third in a series of books referred to as the Time Series: A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and Many Waters. Each focuses on different members of the Murry family as they wage battle against the powers of darkness that threaten to dominate the universe. In the first book, Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin O'Keefe journey to the planet Camazotz in the company of three wise women. There they rescue Dr. Murry from the clutches of the evil IT.
In the second book, A Wind in the Door, Meg must help Charles Wallace stop a threatened rip in the galaxy that will destroy Earth. This time, instead of traveling to distant planets, Meg, Calvin, and Mr. Jenkins, the school principal who has caused her so much grief, travel within Charles Wallace's cells to battle a virus that will destroy him. They are helped on their quest by a cherubim, Proginoskes, who makes the greatest sacrifice by giving his life for his friends. A Wind in the Door is thought by many critics to be the least satisfying of the series. The final book in the series, Many Waters, chronicles the adventures of the twins, Sandy and Dennis, as they learn the meaning of love and self-sacrifice while living with Noah and his family in the last days before the great flood.
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For Further Reference
L'Engle, Madeleine. Trailing Clouds of Glory: Spiritual Values in Children's Books. Louisville, KY: Westminster, 1985. Discusses the religious aspects of children's literature.
Townsend, John Rowe. A Sense of Story: Essays on Contemporary Writing for Children. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1971. Discusses the major concerns of L'Engle's fiction and evaluates its importance.
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Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Bloom, Harold, ed. Women Writers of Children’s Literature. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1998.
Chase, Carole F. Suncatcher: A Study of Madeleine L’Engle and Her Writing. Philadelphia: Innisfree Press, 1998.
Hein, Rolland. Christian Mythmakers: C. S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, J. R. Tolkien, George MacDonald, G. K. Chesterton, Charles Williams, Dante Alighieri, John Bunyan, Walter Wangerin, Robert Siegel, and Hannah Hurnard. Chicago: Cornerstone Press, 2002.
Hettinga, Donald R. Presenting Madeleine L’Engle. New York: Twayne, 1993.
Shaw, Luci, ed. The Swiftly Tilting Worlds of Madeleine L’Engle. Wheaton, Ill.: Harold Shaw, 1998.
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