Audiobook Review: Can A Swiftly Tilting Planet’s Lofty Language Support the Story?

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When I bought the cheapest car that I could find, it did not come with a CD player.  All I have is a tape player and very few tapes that I have any desire to listen to.  So when my mother found a set of cassettes of Madeleine L’Engle reading A Swiftly Tilting Planet, the third book in her Time series and my favorite of the three when I was a child, I happily accepted the gift.

Hearing an author read her works is always fascinating, particularly after, I think, having read it yourself (or having had someone else read it to you).  There were certain lines the inflection of which surprised me, but rather than just agreeing to disagree as would be the case with most books on tape, I am corrected by the author and being given insights into the character that must not have come across in print.  You know when you hear an author read her own work, you’re hearing it as it is intended to be read, and that is always a magical thing.

L’Engle is a wordsmith.  Some of her scenes are painted with the brilliance and delicacy of a fine watercolor, and she has the power to meld magic and science in a way that never fails to impress me when done well.  Diane Duane (author of The Young Wizards series) shares this power, though L’Engle gives her science more prominence in a plot, really tipping the Time series more towards science-fiction than fantasy, despite the unicorns, angels, and demons.

Several times I found myself tearing, my breath quickening, catching, my heart pounding with the action in the story—dangerous reactions in some ways when you’re driving home in traffic but a high compliment to the story.  With that in mind, I can only rate A Swiftly Tilting Planet so poorly, even if this latest read did drop it in my rankings of its series-fellows.  I clearly enjoyed it.  I got caught up in it.

It took me months to get through the whole novel because I’ve found that when driving I much prefer music to any kind of talk, and because when I was near the end of the novel, I started carpooling with my roommate who has not read the novel, and so I couldn’t continue from where I’d left off with her in the car—or I couldn’t do so kindly, anyway, so I didn’t.

This latest reading of the book, then, was very broken, and I’m sure that that has effected my enjoyment of the novel.  Now, I don’t think I could say that A Swiftly Tilting Planet is my favorite of the Time trilogy, despite its Welsh folklore (often a way to cinch my approval of a book).  I’ve actually recently (in April 2009 or more recently) reread all three of the books, and I think I enjoyed A Wrinkle in Time best, though I prefer A Swiftly Tilting Planet to A Wind in the Door (A Wind in the Door might also have been hurt by being attached to a particularly difficult paper).

I was somewhat annoyed that Charles Wallace reads younger than 15 when he has always been described as old for his age, and yes, the repeated family names were a little annoying too.

***1/2

L’Engle, Madeleine.  The Time Quintet, Book Three: A Swiftly Tilting Planet.  Listening Library, 1996.  Cassette tapes.  First published 1978.

This review is not endorsed by Listening Library, any of A Swiftly Tilting Planet’s print publishers, or Madeleine L’Engle.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader—or listener.

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