March 7th, 2015

Macbeth the Usurper

Many Waters (Review)

Madeleine L'Engle published Many Waters in 1988. Time had changed again. The Baby Boomers had grown up and shacked up together, sometimes married, sometimes not. Divorces were way up. The importance of marriage seemed an all-time low; the sacredness of sacrament well past its peril and nigh unto its doom. How long until God looks down upon us with sorrow? At the same time, wedding themselves were getting more extravagant and overblown, events more to impress the neighbors than to celebrate a union.

Against this backdrop Madeleine wrote Many Waters. The Twins, Sandy and Dennys (whose common enough name had a strange spelling before it was cool), find themselves whisked away on a portal adventure, finding themselves in a strange world filled with people, seraphim, nephalim, unicorns and miniature mammoths. The strange world itself is our world, Earth, shortly before the flood. Humans are interbreeding with Nephalim, their love enough to make babies, taking women away from the world of men.

This is a desert world, where sand is common, heat is worse, and water is a valuable commodity. How could a place like this ever drown?

As in all of Madeleine's novels, the pacing is remarkably even, like a Bose speaker. Critics of the speaker system say, "No highs, no lows, it must be Bose." Much the same can be said for Madeleine's stories. They move, perking along at a steady pace, developing the story along as a wandering weave, until realizing that an end ought to show up, and so an end shows up. Some sexual tension shows up as the twins may find themselves seduced, but this is never a serious threat, for Madeleine writes with the morays of a different era, one where characters don't bonk each other in a fit of plot fulfillment. Some physical threat shows up in the guise of the Nephalim, but as evil goes, these guys are pretty milk toast. They seem ominous enough, but don't actually get their act together.

Yet, even as the book soft pedals the situation, the books raised uncomfortable questions. Will God really drown everyone? What will happen to Noah's daughters who aren't in the story?  How do you reconsile this of God?

In the end, the book misses the most critical mark, for the twins have lived in the past a long time. We should have been shown what experience has given to them, and how it has shaped the men that they are. Instead, they magically revert to their old selves, older but no wiser, taking no reflection and no instruction from the time that they experienced. In the end, they were not invited onto the ark, being no more favored than those who were drowned.