Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Many Waters

Madeleine L'Engle's book Many Waters is the fanciful tale of two brothers who go back in time and experience life shortly before the Flood. Many Waters is the fourth book in L'Engle's well-known Time Quintet, which begins with A Wrinkle in Time. Sandy and Dennys Murry are the stable, "ordinary," and athletic members of their family. When they accidentally interrupt one of their dad's experiments and find themselves in a desert oasis, they are shocked. Sandy and Dennys quickly become sunburned, and must rely on small mammoths, "virtual" unicorns, and the goodwill of strangers to survive.

When Sandy and Dennys first arrive in the desert, they meet Japheth, a tiny, but full-grown young man. He befriends them, and calls unicorns to transport them to his father's tent. However, the unicorns must be believed in to exist, so when the severity of Dennys' sunburn causes him to lose consciousness, he and his unicorn disappear. He awakens in the tent of Tiglah, a seductive, but ill-intentioned young girl. Tiglah's family throws Dennys into a garbage heap, but Japheth rescues him and brings him to his father, Noah. As Dennys recovers from his sunburn in Noah's tent, Sandy is recovering in Grandfather Lamech's tent. The boys quickly realize they are living in the last days before the Flood. Both Lamech and Noah speak with El (God), and receive strange warnings and instructions about building an ark.

To complicate matters, the Seraphim and Nephilim still walk among humans and are interested in Sandy and Dennys. The Seraphim are angels who have chosen to remain on Earth and act as guardians to those who love El, but the Nephilim are fallen angels who take daughters of men as their wives. Both Seraphim and Nephilim appear at times in animal or angelic form. The Nephilim and Tiglah's family try to use the boys for their own gain. Meanwhile, Sandy and Dennys are trying to figure out a way to save Noah's beautiful and kind youngest daughter, Yalith, who is not married and does not have a place on the ark. They also would like to return home. Eventually, the Seraphim agree to help, and they take Yalith to "the Presence" in the same way Enoch "walked with God and was not." Then, the Seraphim use unicorns to deliver Sandy and Dennys to their home in modern-day New England.

What I Like: I love the theme of the book. L'Engle uses the biblical passage "Many Waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it." Yalith and her father, Noah, and her grandfather, Lamech, all have an unshakable belief in the love and goodness of El (God). They know His love is forever, no matter what happens.

I also like the characters of Sandy and Dennys. They are written authentically, and are innocent, kind and helpful boys. They are confused by their attraction to Yalith and Tiglah--until now, they have been more interested in sports than girls. They choose to refuse Tiglah's advances. They also convince Lamech and Noah to set aside a long-standing feud and become reconciled. They have very real reactions to Lamech's death, and they question the point of the Flood, in light of the evils they face in today's world. Nevertheless, they choose to act for the good of others, and they realize if the Flood hadn't happened, Jesus would not have been born.

L"Engle's depiction of the Nephilim and Seraphim is fascinating, and will make readers want to learn more about biblical references to them.

What I Dislike: Although I love this book, I have two cautions. First, there is some sexuality. L'Engle subtly shows healthy, beautiful relationships within marriage. For example, she writes,"And they were one. And it was good." She also shows sexuality in the context of power and exploitation. On one occasion she uses the term "slut" and on another, she refers to Tiglah being "an easy lay." (These are the only two instances of bad language in the book). Also, the men and women only wear loin clothes, and there are some references to the girls having "rosy breasts." Although the book would provide a great framework for talking about sexuality, especially with teen boys, I wish L'Engle would have used different words.

My second caution is the book is definitely in the realm of fantasy and is not meant to be biblical, or historical fiction. L'Engle takes an imaginative view of the Nehilim and Seraphim, as well as relationships between Noah and his family. At times, the boys critique the patriarchal nature of the Old Testament, and question how the Bible was written.

Overall Rating: Very Good due to qualifications above, but it is one of my favorites

Age Appeal: Young Adult (14-up)

Publisher Info: Square Fish (Farrar, Strauss, Grioux), 2007; ISBN: 9780312368579; Paperback, $6.99

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Special Info: Read my comments about A Wrinkle in Time in my Top Ten List here.

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Shirley Ann said...

I loved the book "A Wrinkle in Time." when I was young. I would love to finish the series. I think the references are a judgment call for all parents, but definitely don't leave unanswered questions in childrens' minds. If parents don't answer them (even if they may be unspoken) kids will find out a different way...

Anonymous said...

I loved Many Waters. I remember this being one of my favorite books of Madeleine L'Engle. Thanks for writing a review and bringing it back to me. I will definitely share this with my daughter. :)