Friday, January 28, 2011

1. Time Quartet - Good vs. Evil

The Time Quartet
I originally didn't want to include too many young adult books in this list of powerhouse science and fantasy literature books (SAFL) but I inevitably find myself turning to young adult classics, and specifically Madeleine L'Engle when times are tough. Or when I need to name excellent science fiction. To make sure you get your bang for your buck (these books are short), I'll refer to the whole Time Quartet (ignoring the fifth wheel An Acceptable Time, which fits neither mood nor quality of the other books...).

I have a long and close relationship with these books, one that no matter how many years go by, I'll always be able to rely on. This is a series that I was absolutely obsessed with in 4th grade (and a bit of 5th). One of my best friends and I would sit for hours and hours, pretending we were the characters and could bend time and space as they could. I recall during one history unit, we needed to create characters and write a background story for them. We decided to be Murry twins Dennys (him) and Sandy (me), getting so into our characters that on a class field-trip (several days away from home), my family sent me a letter signed with all the character names in place of themselves.

The first lesson
This introduction doesn't do much justice to these books. The fact is that they're strange and confusing at times, and to pretend that these books didn't deeply impact the way I viewed the world would be completely wrong of me. Like the picture included here (and discussed at length here), every page of A Wrinkle in Time held some fantastic truth for me to hold close. The Time Quartet isn't like the Wikipedia description. It doesn't ever feel like there's religious subtext (I honestly have no idea where they pull this stuff out of...), nor are they books that necessarily promote, well, evil. In fact, the three books that make up the original Time Trilogy (A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet) all come down to one very simple premise: good vs. evil. Guess who wins.

There's an odd book out here, and it's Many Waters. Though taking place chronologically before A Swiftly Tilting Planet, it focuses on two characters who until that point got very little screen time - Murry twins Sandy and Dennys. It's a book that focuses more on fate and love as a grand, dramatic statement rather than a simple battle of "good vs. evil". Hints appear (good angels versus bad), but it's a very different story and wonderfully fresh in that sense. Reading it third in the quartet worked well for me... it showed me something completely different.

Any reader who seeks quality science fiction or fantasy needs to look no further than L'Engle's wonderful series. Though adults may not be as heavily influenced by these books as I was as a child, the Time Quartet is a cornerstone in science fiction for younger and older readers alike.


  1. Ah, I loved that series. I actually didn't discover her books until I grew up and was teaching. And then I fell in love with A Wrinkle in Time, and just had to read more of her books for young people. Nice to see her books revived and given credit again. She was a wonderful writer for children.

  2. A Swiftly Tilting Planet was my favorite when I was little, but I'm scared to reread it! I've heard several people say they didn't like it anymore when they reread it as adults. What if it loses the magic?

    I didn't read Many Waters until years after the other three, so I barely associate it with the books about Meg and Charles Wallace. I know they belong together, but there's no connection in my mind really.

  3. Amen. I've never been disappointed in Madeleine L'Engle. I've reread each of the books many times, and re-read A Wrinkle in Time most recently. I still love it, though I must admit it seems more of a children' s book to me now, I can both recognize that and still appreciate what she did.

    In terms of religious subtext, I think people continue to take her listing "Jesus" as one of Earth's fighters against the Black Thing the wrong way. L'Engle was definitely Christian, but I don't think her books at all enforce a religious agenda, if anything, they would err more on the side of Humanism.

  4. Since you like these books I would recommend reading Rebecca Stead's 2010 Newbery winning novel, When You Reach Me. The heroine of the book is a young girl who adores A Wrinkle in Time. Very fun story with some nice science fictional elements.

  5. This is an excellent series. I enjoyed it as a child and I enjoyed reading the first two aloud to my daughter. They have held up well since my childhood. I like this list and will be looking forward to the additions.


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