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Many Waters is a 1986 novel by Madeleine L'Engle, part of the author's Time Quartet (also known as the Time Quintet). The title is taken from the Song of Solomon 8:7: "Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it. If a man were to give all his wealth for love, it would be utterly scorned."

The principal characters of the story are Sandy and Dennys Murry, twin brothers who are, ironically, somewhat out of place (they are "normal") in the context of the multifarious and eccentric Murry family from A Wrinkle in Time. The action of the story follows that of A Wind in the Door but precedes the climactic, apocalyptic events of A Swiftly Tilting Planet.

Plot summary

In the middle of a New England winter, the boys accidentally disturb an experiment in their parents' lab. A sonic boom - a blast of heat - and the boys find they have been transported to a vast, trackless desert which is shaken by periodic earthquakes. Providentially, they encounter a water prospector named Japheth who offers to help them find refuge at the nearest oasis. Sandy and Dennys are intrigued by the creatures which accompany them on their trip through this (as they initially assume) alien world, which include a two-foot-tall mammoth; a pair of unicorns which appear simultaneously to be, and not to be; and humans much shorter than the brothers are.

After a long ride through the desert during which they develop a severe case of heat stroke, the boys are separated when the unicorn Dennys is riding disappears. Sandy remains with Japheth and his elderly grandfather Lamech and is tended to by a variety of improbable beings, including a pelican. Dennys reappears in another tent, only to be bodily thrown into a refuse heap. Now seriously ill, he comes under the care of a friendly family with a large tent in the center of the oasis, headed by a gruff but kindly patriarch. As he recovers from his "sun-sickness", Dennys learns that his benefactor is in fact Japheth's father and Lamech's son - and his name is Noah. It soon becomes apparent that the boys have been transported back to Biblical times, just before the Great Flood. The pelican, scarab beetle and lion turn out to be the animal hosts of seraphim, who are surprisingly knowledgeable about quantum physics and twentieth century Earth. The nephilim, who also transform into animals, distrust the twins. They use their human wives to try to discover why Sandy and Dennys have come to the oasis, and whether they represent a threat.

Separated for much of the book, the twins become more independent of each other, and learn that neither they nor reality itself is as ordinary as they previously supposed. Both gain maturity over the course of about a year in the desert with Noah and his family. They each fall in love with Noah's daughter Yalith, but do not act on their desires. Dennys convinces Noah to reconcile with Lamech, and both twins eventually care for the old man's gardens as they wait to discover a way home. After Lamech's death, Sandy is kidnapped. He refuses to use violence to escape, and is eventually found by Japheth. Both twins worry that Yalith is not to be on the Ark, and neither are they. Nevertheless, they help to build the Ark before returning home via unicorn.

Major themes

The story largely concerns the teenaged twins' emotional coming of age, but, like the other three novels about the Murry family, includes elements of fantasy and Christian theology such as two races of angels: the heavenly seraphim, and the fallen, beautiful mortal-marrying nephilim, the main antagonists of the story (see Genesis 6:1-4 [1]). Author Donald R. Hettinga notes that the world of Noah's oasis is especially difficult for "the empirically minded twins" to accept because in L'Engle's theology of "a gradual Fall", it is still populated by manticores and unicorns, "everyone can still see angels," and some people "can still converse intimately with God." [1] Similarities to the fantasy-science fiction works of C. S. Lewis, always present in L'Engle's oeuvre, are particularly notable here. The twins' difficulty in believing in things that exist outside their empiricist world is a trait they must overcome in the story, because it is only by believing in a "virtual unicorn" that they can obtain transportation back to their everyday world.[1]

Biblical and other sources of immortal character names

Although previous books in the series touched on themes of Christian theology, Many Waters makes direct references to Biblical and Qabalistic mysticism, particularly in its supernatural characters. While A Wind in the Door featured a "singular cherubim" with the fabricated name of Proginoskes, many of the seraphim and nephilim are named after obscure mystical entities:



Series notes

Many Waters is an anomaly among the books of the Time Quartet.[1] Meg and Charles Wallace Murry, the protagonists of the other three books, only appear on the last two pages of this one, while Sandy and Dennys, usually minor characters, are fully developed. Written after A Swiftly Tilting Planet, it nevertheless takes place about five years before that book, and about five years after A Wrinkle in Time. If one reads the books in the order of internal chronology, Many Waters thus interrupts the saga of Meg and Charles Wallace for a side trip with the "ordinary" members of the Murry family. Since the story was not written before Planet was published, the latter book does not fully take into account the twins' expanded understanding of the world beyond the everyday, instead showing some continued skepticism on their part. However, this aspect of their character is less extreme than in earlier books. For the twins, being immersed in Noah's world "stretches their sense of reality".[1] Sandy and Dennys appear to retain this change in attitude as adults, particularly in A House Like a Lotus, in which Sandy acts as a mentor to his eldest niece, Polly O'Keefe. In the previous book in the series, A Wind in the Door, Meg is informed that Sandy and Dennys will become "Teachers", a metaphoric role that they appear to play as adults because of their experiences in Many Waters. However, An Acceptable Time, the fifth book in the so-called Time Quintet (the Time Quartet plus the final novel about Polly), does not include the twins as either skeptics or teachers.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Hettinga, Donald R. (1993). Presenting Madeleine L'Engle. New York: Twayne Publishers. pp. 111–119. ISBN 0-8057-8222-2. 
  2. "The Book of Enoch". Retrieved 2006-10-17. 
  3. " ARIEL". Retrieved 2006-10-17. 
  4. "Steganographia, by Johannes Trithemius -- Book 2". Retrieved 2006-10-17. 
  5. "Angelology — BibleWiki". Retrieved 2006-10-17. 

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