Many Waters

Madeleine L'Engle. Many Waters. New York: Crosswicks, LTD, 1986.

"I don't believe this."

"We've never had very willing suspensions of disbelief. We're the pragmatists of the family"

"If I blink often enough, we'll be back in the kitchen at home"...“We’re not supposed to change history”

"I still don't believe it..."

What would you do if you traveled back in time to a land that was like a dream? How would you survive? Would you think it was real...would you believe it?

These are the questions asked by Sandy and Dennys, twin boys who find themselves in this exact predicament in Madeleine L'Engles book, Many Waters. The

author, who brought us A Wrinkle In Time, writes from the perspective of Sandy and Dennys as she flies the reader through imaginative and magical

adventures. Many Waters chronicles an interpretation of the Biblical story of "Noah and the Great Flood" which is an interpretation that melds science, religion,

and fiction into one conglomerate journey. Along the way, L'Engle reveals the power of love, knowledge, and friendship. A fantastical land is the destination but

explaining the unexplainable is the journey. Through her creative interpretation of theoretical beliefs, L'Engle takes the reader on a quantum leap spanning the


The Story:

Sandy and Dennys are typical teenage boys: they love hockey, girls, food, and...time travel? These two ordinary boys

stumble into a whirlwind adventure in Madeleine L'Engle's book, Many Waters, when they accidentally disturb a science

experiment in their parents' lab.

Yes, these two boys may be ordinary, but their home life sure isn't. With parents who are both scientists proving theories

dealing with "polymers, virtual particles, [or] quasars" (6), and a sister who "may be a mathematical genius" (6), Sandy

and Dennys are definitely the much needed "ordinary, run-of-the-mill people" (7) in their family. But their life of normalcy

all changes when they tamper with a home-lab science experiment and are then hurled into a parallel universe.

Upon arrival to this strange new world, the twins are greeted with a scorching sun, dangerous heat, infinite spans of

sand, and tiny little people. They seemed to have found an alien planet, an alien time, or an alien universe. While

roaming the desert, they meet Japheth, a small man accompanied by a miniature version of a hairy elephant, who then assists them in finding shade and

shelter. Along the way, the twins learn from Japheth that this foreign land where they are stranded is different in every way imaginable from their home land.

Japheth introduces them to the enmity of the almighty El to whom all people praise, the magical nephilim and seraphim that are "very tall... [with]...great wings.

Much long hair. And their bodies...not hairy...[with bodies that are] golden and...white, whiter than sand" (18-19), the mysterious unicorns which are but also are

not, and other such "mythical" creatures. Sandy and Dennys have found themselves lost in a land that seems like a dream.

After falling victim to sun-fever, the twins are hustled away towards Japheth's camp where they can receive aid. Although they become split up, the twins meet

interesting people and develop the most interesting relationships during their time of healing. Sandy, the less ill twin, stays with Japheth's grandfather, Lamech,

while Dennys is met by dangerous foes and must find a way of escape.

Through trials and travels, the twins are reunited at last, and now must come up with a plan of returning home. Meanwhile, the only humans around who could

possibly assist Sandy and Dennys in their plotting to return home, are busy themselves dealing with the pressures of Noah's crack-pot message from El; he is

to build a great arc that will withstand the miraculous wonders that El has promised to dispense upon the land. The twins, eager to help their newfound friends,

are lost in the distraction of this epic project.

Meanwhile, Sandy and Dennys find themselves befriending one young, beautiful girl, named Yalith. Now, with the pressures of returning home, the weight of

Noah's ark-building, and the much needed adaptation to a land of strange and dangerous creatures, the twins have developed a love triangle between the two of

them and young Yalith. Mystified by her character and beauty, the twins must find a way to balance their desire to return home and their desires for Yalith.

With the help of the seraphim, the unicorns, Yalith, Japheth and the rest of the family, Sandy and Dennys find a way to survive this adventure and are able to

return to their own place in time. Though their adventure may have been terrifying and life threatening, their arrival at home is bittersweet. They are safe, and yet

they are sad. After such an emotionally driven adventure, their relationships with their foreign friends prove that home is where the heart is...even if it is in a

parallel universe.

Recommendations for Teachers
Many Waters is a great science fiction novel that would apply to many readers all interested in different styles and genres. It has an adventurous spirit that would apply to the stereotypical boy; as would the two main characters being male. For these reasons, this book has a unique opportunity to capture an audience typically left out by books.

To teach as classroom material might not be ideal because of the religious afflictions that this novel claims in regard to Noah, the Great Flood, God, fallen angles, etc. As for the sexual content, it is nothing that a young adult would not be able to handle. This book, however would be a great resource for a "free choice" book, and could most certainly be recommended to students. For those kids who read it as a "free choice" book, it could be a useful tool in pulling in the un-interested kid with a short attention span because of the cast amount of characters (not typical in this world) that are presented in this novel. Although it would be a great read for all students, it could also be more beneficial than some because it is part of a "somewhat" series written by L'engle. If a student really enjoyed this read they could go on to read her other novels that follow this same approximate structure/layout.

~read it yourself, it is a great read ~

About Madeleine L'engle

L’engle was born on November 29, 1918. She spent her formative years in New York City. She did not have much interest in her schooling; instead she preferred to write on her own causing her grades to suffer.

When L’engle was twelve her family moved to the French Alps where she attended an English boarding school. When she returned to the United States, L’engle attended high school at Ashley Hall in Charleston, South Carolina. Following that, L’engle attended Smith College and studied English as she continued to read the classics and do her own creative writing.

L’engle graduated with honors and moved to a Greenwich Village apartment in New York. She worked in the theater, where Equity union pay and a flexible schedule afforded L’engle time to write. She published her first two novels during this time – A Small Rain and Ilsa – before she met Hugh Franklin, her future husband, when she was understudy in Anton Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard. L’engle married Franklin during The Joyous Season.

L’engle gave birth to a baby girl and eventually moved the family to a small Connecticut dairy village where she continued to write. They bought a dead general store and brought it back to life for nine years. They then moved back to the city with the three children and Hugh revived his acting career. Crosswicks, the family home, was kept and it is still used as a vacation home. L’engle later began her association with the Cathedral Church of St. John where she has been a librarian and maintained an office for thirty years. When Hugh died in 1986, L’engle’s writing and lecturing was what kept her going. She has written 60 books and continues to keep writing. She loves spending time with her family and friends.

Additional Resources:

  • Official Website Check out Madeine L'Engle's home page where you can find news, biography, feedback, and find all her books!
  • The New York Times An article about L'Engle's passing, her writing and the controversies in her novels.
  • The Time Quintet An overview of plot and setting in L'Engle's Time Quintet as well as the relationship between main characters.
  • A Wrinkle in Time Movie View the trailer for the 2003 Disney version of the popular novel as well as reviews and cast info.
  • Teaching Tools Lesson Plans and teaching ideas for Many Waters as well as other L'Engle novels.
  • Mythical Creatures and Beasts A wiki devoted to mythical creatures including those found in Many Waters.
  • Books Additional books by L'Engle and reviews.
  • Christianity Today L'Engle's views on Christianity and science.
  • Time Travel Background information on time travel.

--Names of Reviewers
Jamie Linari
Rebekka Olson
Jena Stalmack

Additional Reviews
Doing It Melvin Burgess
The Bell Jar Sylvia Plath