Valerie's Reviews > A Swiftly Tilting Planet

A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'Engle
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May 07, 12

I own a copy

If one were to read this strictly based on internal chronology, Many Waters should come next, since Sandy & Dennys are represented as adults in this book. But I will nevertheless read the trilogy in order, then go to Many Waters.

Speaking of chronology, by the way, the story must by definition be set after 2000, since Dr Colubra in A Wind in The Door says that the first Moon landing was 'many years ago'. 1969 was 31 years before 2000. So if even the mother of four Mrs Murry is barely old enough to remember something, she must have been born around 1965. Which would make her 35 in 2000...about right. Charles Wallace was 6 in A Wind in The Door. So this book MUST be set after 2000, if it's ten years later.

In the oft-addressed charges of 'racism', I have to say that I think the matter is much more complex than that. With the exception of the initial host (Harcels) who is 'gone Within' (and who is prevented with having any contact with the (it's implied) tainted People Across The Lake), most of the characters involved are kin to one degree or another. It's not a matter of 'Native Americans vs Europeans'. The Welsh princes who flee to North America are brothers, though they may have different mothers. There's an implication of intermarriage with Irish families, as well. They both marry Native American women, and produce descendants. These descendants, in both cases, later marry back into the Welsh communities.

What's involved is really another matter. It's not fair to call a theory of inheritance of acquired characters 'Lamarckian' Lamarck was not the first person to come up with such an idea, nor was he unique in believing it at the time he published his work. But the concept HAS come to be called Lamarckism, and that's what's essentially involved in this book. The bloodline of Gwydyr is defined as 'tainted', and that of Madog as inherently 'better' because of characteristics that are based on the corruption of Gwydyr by virtue of decisions that, arguably, are NOT based on his genes. Now, it may be that the descendants of Gwydyr are victims of bad teaching, which is passed on by Gwydyr through traditions. But in that case, it would not be necessary to prevent a woman from bearing a child to a descendant of Gwydyr rather than Madog. All that would be needed would be to teach the children properly, rather than the corrupted teaching of the false traditions.

This book has many elements that ring true, and that deal with historical byways that are little known outside descendants of the Celtic people of Britain. This led me to think that it was possible that the novel so vividly described in the book might also exist. So I looked for it. No luck so far. It may be a sort of Escherian picture: the book described in A Swiftly Tilting Planet: the framing story may BE the novel named within, written much later by a different author.

There are some clear anachronisms. This isn't, perhaps, surprising in a book that deals with time travel. One is downright embarrassing, however, or at least I find it so. The argument is made that Matthew Maddox 'somehow' knows of Mendel's theories of genetics (which, while they were available at the time, were NOT generally accessible: for example, there's no evidence Darwin ever heard of them). But it's evident that neither Matthew or the author of this volume has in fact any real concept of Mendelian genetics: or of how Mendel went astray. It takes a fairly skilled reading to recognize that Mendel must, at the very least, have fudged his results. His statistics are too clean. His coincidental choice of traits that DO follow his rules (while somehow conveniently missing many traits which do NOT follow, for example, the law of independent assortment) may be just good selection: but it's still dubious practice to over-generalize the way Mendel did.

There are still many good qualities in these books. But there are several points where the author strains credibility. One, it seems to me, is how people who have deliberately destroyed their own personalities are capable of acting at ALL. How do they recognize what trends will tend toward nihilism, if they don't make a study of what HAS happened?
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