Time Quintet Re-read: A Swiftly Tilting Planet

I want to begin by saying that I have a paperback copy from 1981, and Charles Wallace has an epically bad late-70s/early-80s haircut on the cover.

Let’s see. Having read this now, I don’t think I’ve read it before. I can remember, probably at least a decade ago, searching through used book stores and rummage sales in search of A Swiftly Tilting Planet because I had the other three books and not this one, but apparently I never actually read the book once I finally acquired it. Go me.

I did like it, though. I thought it made a good continuation from A Wind in the Door with the Echthroi and the upping of the stakes (though I continue to be uncertain how IT and dark planets connect, and there’s no mention of either in this book). I liked how small changes throughout history–even just in a few families’ lines–can turn a potential bad event into a good one.

There were some things I found infuriating, however. Whenever Charles Wallace was Within, he essentially disappeared. We know, from the narration, that his being Within changed something in the time, just a little, to get a more positive outcome over a negative one, to swing the balance, but you have no idea what it was. For example, in the colonial period, where Zylle was being tried as a witch, I assume in the original time line she was burned and so forth, but I couldn’t tell you why it went differently with Charles Wallace. After being Within Madoc, Charles Wallace asks if he gave Madoc the rune, but this wouldn’t have been true in later times because the rune was passed down through the families. So I would have liked just a hint of what changed with Charles Wallace there, what he brought into the equation that hadn’t been there before.

And with most of the times, I could guess at what had changed, but the one with Beezie and Chuck…I have no idea. Sometimes it seemed like most of the point of being there was to get bits of the story, leading up to the final Within, the one that directly determined whether it would be a good or bad future, the one with Matthew Maddox, but then, it was a bit of a false lead-up, because we didn’t get any more insight into what Charles Wallace did to help there than we did elsewhere.

I can see why she went back and set Many Waters  between this and A Wind in the Door. It’s been nine years, and you have to wonder what happened in that time period, why, after two encounters with dark forces in two years, that they’d gone so long without another.

On the other hand, you have unicorns in both this book and Many Waters, and they don’t quite work the same. Gaudior is an intelligent being, who can talk and think and so forth. While the unicorns in Many Waters can also travel through space and time, they don’t seem to be intelligent at all, and don’t really exist when they’re not there. I’m not sure why she chose to have unicorns in both but not be consistent with them.

Sandy and Dennys seem a bit out of character here if you take the events of Many Waters into account. Which is always a risk in backtracking your characters.

Calvin continues to not really be much help.


1. Madeleine L’Engle has always been a bit vague about when and where the Time Quintet takes place, sometimes leaving contradictory clues. Based on this book alone, what would you say the when and where is?

2. Is it right for Charles Wallace to push people towards decisions that they would not have made on their own? Why or why not?

3. What is gained by having Meg kythe along for the journey?

4. What do you think the title means?

5. Why do you think it’s necessary to have time pass in the present while Charles Wallace and Gaudior are off riding the wind through time?

As always, your own questions and comments are welcome. And we’ll read our final book, An Acceptable Time, for December 27th.

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