Many Waters Summary

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

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Many Waters is the fourth of Madeleine L'Engle's books about the Murry family, a group first introduced in her Newbery award-winning novel, A Wrinkle in Time. The Murrys are also the focus of two other books, A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet. In Many Waters, L'Engle's protagonists are the Murry twins, Sandy (Alexander) and Dennys, the "normal," well-adapted members of the clan, who, up until this book, have never participated in any of the mystical adventures of their siblings, Meg and Charles Wallace.
Donald Hettinga, L'Engle's biographer, has noted that the narrative strategy of Many Waters sets it apart from the earlier Murry books. In the other novels, events are filtered through the consciousness of Meg, who only appears in the last two paragraphs of this book. In contrast, Many Waters takes the reader into the minds of a variety of characters, allowing the reader to view more closely the society into which the Murry children are thrust. Hettinga also sees this book, set at the time that Noah built the ark, as more closely related to L'Engle's other retellings of Bible stories, Dance in the Desert (1969) and The Sphinx at Dawn (1982), than to the other "Time" books.

Given its subject matter, it is not surprising that Many Waters treats religious themes, especially the need for faith and the redeeming power of love, and that it features angels (seraphim and nephilim) as major characters. The book can, however, also be read as an exciting adventure-fantasy, in which the Murry twins, much like Dorothy of L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz (1900) and Bilbo Baggins of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit (1938), are unwitting heroes whose main desire is to return home.

Many Waters is an imaginative interpretation of what the world might have been like before the Flood, a time and place when unicorns, manticores, griffins, and angels freely walk the earth. The book is, perhaps, more philosophical and episodic than the earlier "Time" books, but it creates a fantasy world which is more fully-realized and believable than the ones Meg and Charles Wallace encounter. Fans of L'Engle's brand of science fiction and fantasy will find this a worthy successor to the ever-popular Murry family books.