The third book in Madeleine L'Engle's Time Quartet 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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."
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.
Body Surf: Charles Wallace surfing from person to person in various time periods makes up most of the narrative, in an unusual example of the hero employing this trope. Notably, however, he is not taking direct control of his hosts so much as submerging into their consciousnesses, observing events from their perspective and providing subconscious nudges toward certain actions.
Break the Cutie: Beezie had a wonderful, loving childhood - and a horrific adolescence.
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.
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.
Generation Xerox: Certain patterns recur across the various periods in time that Charles Wallace visits, going all the way back to the conflict between Madoc and Gwydyr.
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.
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.
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 Isreal, and nuking such a small country would not result in a massive global ecological catastrophe — at least, not as described in the story.
Keeping in mind that previous books in the Time series have established that in certain areas, the science of this version of Earth is far more advanced.
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.)
Reality Is Unrealistic: So, Branzillo, a south american dictator, is distantly related to Welsh people? Actually... not all that farfetched, look around Argentina.
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.
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.
And, of course, there's Meg, the actual viewpoint character, who views the whole thing through a telepathic link with Charles Wallace.
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).
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.
Artistic License - Physics: 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.