A Swiftly Tilting Planet

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The third book in Madeleine L'Engle's Time Quintet series to be published, but chronologically the fourth. The Murry family, with Meg now married to Calvin and the twins in college, has reunited for Thanksgiving when Mr. Murry is informed by the President himself that they now have twenty-four hours to avert nuclear war.

Reciting a rune bestowed upon him by his in-law Mrs. O'Keefe, Charles Wallace summons the winged Unicorn Gaudior, who takes him on a journey through time to seemingly random events, all connected by location and the name "Maddox". Their mission is to change several important "might-have-beens" to avert disaster in the present. The Echthroi, evil beings introduced in A Wind in the Door, beset them at every turn.

Tropes used in A Swiftly Tilting Planet include:
  • Abusive Stepdad: Duthbert Mortmain in the Chuck arc.
  • After the End: The Projections. Both were possible futures after a nuclear war on Earth encountered during interdimensional travel. One was an apocalyptic wasteland with hideously mutated barely-sentient "humans", another one had some semblance of civilization with a city of concrete bunkers and gas-mask-wearing soldiers.
  • American Civil War
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: The events of Many Waters happen before A Swiftly Tilting Planet. After a time-traveling adventure to thousands of years before the birth of Christ, you'd think that Sandy and Dennys would not be so incredulous. This is explained by the fact that L'Engle wrote Many Waters eight years after A Swiftly Tilting Planet, but for anyone reading the books in their chronological order this is just weird.
  • Arcadia: The area where the Murrys live, in the past.
  • Arc Words: St. Patrick's Rune.
  • Artistic License Astronomy: The following exchange takes place when talking about nuclear war.

Gaudior: "You know some of the possibilities if your planet is blown up."
Charles Wallace: "It just might throw off the balance of things, so that the sun would burst into a supernova."

    • Ah, but in this highly fantastical reality, stars are literally living, feeling, thinking entities that sing for joy. Where everything, from the tiniest smaller-than-cells organism to the greatest galaxy is a vitally important, interconnected part of creation! The loss of one of its planets might well cause the Time-verse Sun to go dark... or even sacrifice itself.
  • Artistic License History: The author has Madoc sailing to America "before Lief Ericson", and refers to him as being polytheistic. However, according to The Other Wiki, the civil war following the death of Owain of Gwynedd, and the legend of Prince Madoc, took place ca. 1170, nearly two centuries after Leif Ericson. Moreover, at that time, Wales had been Christian for about half a millenium.
  • Babies Ever After: Mrs. O'Keefe is glad that Meg and Calvin's baby will be born after all. And damn it, after this night they earned it!
  • Bad Future: the "Projections" created by the Echthroi.
  • Badass Creed: The Rune.

"At Tara in this fateful hour,
I place all Heaven with its power,
And the sun with its brightness,
And the snow with its whiteness,
And the fire with all the strength it hath,
And the lightning with its rapid wrath,
And the winds with their swiftness along their path,
And the sea with its deepness,
And the rocks with their steepness,
And the earth with its starkness,
All these I place
By God's almighty help and grace
Between myself and the powers of darkness!"

  • Badass Pacifist: The Rune itself, and everyone who uses it. Violence crops up from time to time (always regretted), but when you use the Rune, you're basically saying "I will not do harm, but I ask all heaven with its power etc. to stand between me and evil, to see that I am in the right."
  • Because Destiny Says So
  • Black and White Morality: Simple. If you're descended from Madoc you're a good guy, if you're descended from Gwydyr you're bad.
  • Blue Eyes: Of immense importance in Planet to trace Madoc's descendants through the People of the Wind. Charles Wallace has bright blue eyes as well (and it's hinted that he might be a distant relation through his father's great-aunt).
  • Body Surf: Charles Wallace does a variation of this. Notable for a hero to be doing this.
  • Break the Cutie: Beezie had a wonderful, loving childhood - and a horrific adolescence.
  • Broken Bird: Mrs. O'Keefe
  • Burn the Witch: Averted. Zylle is sentenced to be hanged.
  • Cain and Abel: Madoc and Gwydyr. Another recurring motif.
  • Call Back: The first chapter alludes to the tesseract and farandolae of the respective first two books.
  • Can't Argue With Winged Unicorns
  • Combat by Champion: Madoc vs. Gwydyr
  • Cool Horse: Gaudior
  • Dark Is Not Evil: At least, according to Planet, that's the way things began.
  • Dead Guy, Junior
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: In Brandon's story, between the People of the Wind and the more liberal Welsh on the one hand, and the hardline Puritans on the other. This is partly what trips up Zylle during her interrogation by Mortmain.
  • Demoted to Extra: Calvin, who's away on a business trip for the entirety of the book.
  • Disney Villain Death: Played straight with Gedder.
  • Domestic Abuse: Heavily implied that Beezie's mother was a victim of it.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Discussed by Matthew and Bran, one of whom is paralyzed and the other suffers from a permanently injured leg and PTSD.
  • Evil Smells Bad: The Echthroi, as noted in A Wind in the Door. Also, Chuck Maddox can smell bad character or cruelty on a person.
  • Faking the Dead: Gwydyr
  • Foreshadowing: From the way Mrs. O'Keefe talks about him, you know something bad is going to happen to Chuck.
  • For Want of a Nail: What they're trying to do, to avert WWIII.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: It's heavily implied that Mortmain is making sexual advances at Beezie.
  • The Generalissimo: "Mad Dog" Branzillo rules the fictional South American country Vespugia. The plot revolves around going back in time and changing events so that Branzillo becomes a benevolent ruler instead. This turns out to have been temporary, however--by Troubling a Star, which takes place perhaps twenty-odd years later, the benevolent version of Branzillo has been overthrown and Vespugia is back to being a troubled country with a distinctly military bent.
  • Going Native: Madoc, a Welsh prince who joined the Wind People.
  • Good Is Impotent: Somewhat averted. The "good" people are proactive, strong, and willing to face evil, at least to give it a stern talking-to. But the wicked people are tolerated in the communities because they're better at things - one woman who is racist against Indians is the best midwife in the village, and Gedder the evil sumbitch is able to teach others how to farm.
  • Heat Wave: This combined with a drought put the townsfolk in a witch-hunting mood with Zylle as the victim.
  • Heroic Lineage: A big theme.
  • Hidden Depths: From what you've barely heard about Mrs. O'Keefe in previous books, she sounds horrible. In this book, you find out how she got that way (and how she isn't so bad deep down).
  • Hidden Elf Village: The Unicorn's hatching grounds, which is safe from Echthroi and has never been seen by human eyes.
  • I Just Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Aww, Matthew.
  • Identical Grandson: Matthew and Bran for Madoc, Chuck for Brandon.
  • Idiosyncratic Chapter Naming: Named after the verses of St. Patrick's Rune.
  • If You Know What I Mean: Paddy's comment that Mortmain is "after" Beezie.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Tends to get invoked a lot with those of the Madoc line.
  • Indian Maiden/The Chief's Daughter: Zyll and Zylle.
  • In Spite of a Nail: They play around with numerous events in history, and the only one that seems to affect the present(or at least, THEIR present) is the one they want.
  • In the Blood: See "Black and White Morality" above. This is all but stated in as many words in the text; Charles Wallace's ultimate goal is to adjust history so that the leader of a certain nation is descended from Madoc instead of from Gwydyr, changing him from a tyrant nicknamed "Mad Dog" to a benevolent ruler nicknamed "The Blue-Eyed."
    • The Mortmains follow this trope as well: anything they touch, they corrupt or otherwise ruin.
    • Subverted with Calvin, though, whose ancestors, the O'Keefes, include a guy who flings homeless puppies to death against walls, and Paddy, who is implied to be cut from the same cloth as Mortmain.
  • Kick the Dog: Jack O'Keefe kills homeless puppies by flinging them against the walls of barns.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters
  • Love Makes You Evil: If you marry the wrong person, it can. Any kids you have with him/her will turn out evil as well.
  • Meaningful Name: The names "Maddox", "Bran", "Zilla", and their variations. Also the various characters named "Mortmain", which means "dead hand" in French. And the first person that Charles Wallace mentally fuses with is named Harcels--an anagram of Charles.
  • Mental Fusion: Going "Within", where Charles Wallace "fuses" with several people to influence events.
  • Mighty Whitey: Madoc, though he has completely abandoned his Welsh homeland, and has no intention of ever returning.
  • Mind Screw: So how is all of this time traveling solving anything?
  • Neutral Female: Zyll while Madoc fights Gydwyr; Zillie, later on, when Gedder fights Richard.
  • Nightmare Face: The creature Charles and Gaudior briefly encounter in a Projection.
  • Noble Savage: The People of the Wind.
  • A Nuclear Error: A nuclear exchange between Vespugia and the U.S. would not destroy the U.S. Nuclear weapons are difficult and expensive to make (you need the materials, for one thing), and the United States is an awfully big target, which would require several nukes to take out. (Ca. 2000, the PRC lacked the capacity to hit any more than the U.S.'s West Coast.) On the other hand, Vespugia is said to be about the size of Israel, and nuking such a small country would not result in a massive global ecological catastrophe -- at least, not as described in the story.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted with Mattie and Matthew, Richard, Ritchie, and Rich Llawcae, Brandon and his namesake nephew, David and Davey Higgins, and most impressively, Zyll, Zylle, Zillie, and Zillah. Then again, most of this has to do with history repeating itself.
  • Pegasus: Gaudior. However, when he takes flight, he hardly ever moves in space, but only through time. (The movement of the planet Earth itself throughout time is not accounted for.)
  • Politically-Incorrect Villain: Pastor Mortmain, and pretty much anyone who takes his side during the Brandon Llawcae plot.
  • Pregnant Badass: Meg, who isn't quite an Action Mom, but lends Charles Wallace her emotional strength on his journey.
  • The Reveal: Eccentric, impoverished Mrs. O'Keefe is descended from royalty (Queen Branwen of Britain, Zyll) and through this line she is distantly related to "Mad Dog" Branzillo.
  • Seers: The people Charles merges with tend to have some sort of clairvoyance. Possibly justified due to Charles' presence in their psyches, the fact that they tend to be descendants of the same line, or perhaps that's why he can target them at all.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong
  • She's All Grown Up: Skinny, gawky, stringy-haired, bespectacled Meg became a beautiful young woman as she reached her twenties.
  • Sinister Minister: Pastor Mortmain
  • Spell My Name with an "S": How do you even pronounce "Zylle" to make it distinct from "Zyll" and "Zillie"?
    • Zyl = Zill; Zylle = Zeel; Zillie = rhymes with "Billy."
  • Supporting Protagonist: On several levels: First, Charles Wallace is only going Within various people from the past, and only once is it explicit that he's even doing anything while being Within. Then, even when they finally reach 1863, Charles Wallace is Within Matthew, who is having a vision of Richard, who is all the way in Vespugia, having the big fight with Gedder that the entire book has actually been building up to.
  • Telepathy: "Kything". Also Gaudior's main form of communication.
  • Theme Naming: In each of the time periods where Charles Wallace goes within, there is someone whose name is either a form of Charles (Chuck), or an anagram of Charles or Wallace (Harcels, Reschal, Llawcae).
    • Also, note the various forms of Madoc, Zillah, or names that begin with Bran-, throughout each time period (excepting Harcels' time).
  • There Are No Coincidences: Invoked by Mrs. Murry at the end of the first chapter.
  • Time Skip: In the Harcels, Chuck, and Matthew storylines.
  • Twin Telepathy: Bran and Matthew Maddox.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: Meg's back at the house.
  • Unicorn: Gaudior. It deserves noting that he's very different from the unicorns depicted in Many Waters in the same world -- he's bigger, he's more reliably (albeit still not completely) real, and he's telepathic. And has magic.
  • Unfortunate Implications: The book has been criticized for racism because its entire plot turns on a South American man having the right white ancestors. It also literally associates blue eyes (even in people of color) with innate goodness and dark eyes with corruption and evil and treats colonization by certain white families as benevolent rather than problematic. And then there's the whole Noble Savage trope...
  • You Fail Physics Forever: Even a full-scale nuclear war would not even blow up a planet. It would "merely" turn a good portion of the world. (perhaps all of it) into an uninhabitable, or barely habitable, wasteland. The quote in the Artistic License Astronomy entry is especially curious, as the conversations with Sandy and Dennys, as well as the Projections, depict a more realistic result.
  • War Is Hell: Bran's time as a Union soldier.
  • Witch Hunt: A literal one targeting Zylle.