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Literature / Many Waters

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Many Waters is the fourth of Madeleine L'Engle's Time Quintet books to be published, but the third chronologically. It is the only one to focus on the Murry twins, Sandy and Dennys. After an accident in their parents' lab, they are transported back to ancient times, where 4-foot-tall humans coexist with mammoths and seraphim. They are saved from certain death in the desert by a young man named Japheth and his family, headed by stern patriarch Noah (yes, that Noah). Stuck in the ancient desert for now, Sandy and Dennys adapt to their harsh environment.

For the inhabitants of the oasis, the twins' arrival is just the beginning of many changes. Noah receives messages from the being "El" that troubled times lie ahead, including a great flood. Sandy and Dennys have to find a way back to the present before "many waters" flood the desert.

Preceded by A Swiftly Tilting Planet. Followed by An Acceptable Time.

Tropes contained in this work:

  • Alphabetical Theme Naming: Each of the seraphim's names start with the letter "A."
  • And Then What?: Sandy and Dennys realize that Yalith isn't in the Bible. That means that it's highly likely that she will die in the Flood. They discuss if they could bring her back to their time and save her life, but find a logical problem: her immune system. She won't have the means to fight off twentieth-century germs and viruses, even with vaccines. It turns out that El personally escorts Yalith out of the danger zone, thanks to the seraphs.
  • Animorphism: The seraphim and nephilim each have an animal form that they can change into and out of at will. The animal forms taken by the nephilim are mostly reptiles, insects, and desert scavengers; the seraphim primarily take the forms of mammals and birds, but also include a scarab beetle (Adnarel) and a golden snake (Abasdarhon). Aariel, the seraph most active in the story, transforms into a lion, while his nephil counterpart Eblis appears in a form described as a "dragon/lizard."
  • Artistic License – Medicine: At one point Dennys remembers having had a case of the flu in the past, which was treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics are intended to treat bacterial infections; the flu is caused by a virus.
  • Artistic License – Religion: Many of the names used for the wives and women are actually in the Bible... as male names.
    • In addition, if you add up the Bible chronologies, it becomes clear that, at the time of the Flood, Methuselah was still alive, and Lamech had died five years previously. Given the father-son conflict, this could be justified by Rule of Drama.
  • Ascended to a Higher Plane of Existence: Yalith's faith becomes this. She announces to the twins in the climax that El wants to take her in, so that the Flood will not wipe her out. The seraphim escort her personally to El.
  • As the Good Book Says...: The author uses plenty of quotes from elsewhere in the Bible (such as the Song of Songs quote for the title) throughout the story.
  • Asshole Victim: Given how the people in the oasis act (especially Tiglah's family), it's quite clear we're not meant to feel sorry for them.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: The twins command the computer to take them somewhere warm and sparsely populated, thinking of a beach. They find themselves in the desert in the time period of Noah, in the days leading up to the great flood.
  • Bible Times: Specifically, to some of the earlier parts of the Book of Genesis, where the The Great Flood is about to happen.
  • Call-Back: To the time Charles Wallace almost died of mitochondritis.
  • Cassandra Truth: Noah warns the people of the oasis of the impending apocalypse, and he is mocked for it.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The manticore. At first, it seems to be a nuisance, until it unwittingly saves Japheth's life.
  • Circle Of Extinction: The nephilim have an attack that's actually called this.
  • Close-Enough Timeline: The seraphim consider the minor changes the twins made after travelling back in time, and seem to conclude this is the result.
  • Coming of Age Story: The twins learn lessons during their Adventures in the Bible including sexual temptations, earning their keep, and some of the less-pleasant aspects of human nature.
  • Continuity Nod: In the first chapter, we find that Meg did not outgrow her one-sided intellect: being able to discuss advanced scientific material, but seemingly unable to spell very basic words.
  • A Day in the Limelight: For Sandy and Dennys, minor characters in the previous three novels, which center on their sister Meg and brother Charles Wallace.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Neither Sandy nor Dennys end up with Yalith.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Downplayed with Oholibamah. She's almost certainly the daughter of one of the evil nephilim, and she has black eyes and hair, but she's also extremely kind, gentle, and understanding, perhaps the least ambiguously "Good" of Noah's daughters-in-law.
  • Deadly Euphemism: Having been told the story of Enoch, "who walked with El, and then was not, for El took him," Sandy and Dennys tell Noah that "Yalith is not," to explain her disappearance. Subverted in that she was actually taken directly into El's presence by the seraphim
  • Empathy Pet: Higgaion. Mammoths in general are very intelligent, kinda like the Bible Times equivalent of Lassie.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: For the oasis people, the world will not be the same...for the eight people who are going to survive.
  • Evil Redhead: Tiglah and her family, with the exception of Anah: they consort with nephilim and are willing to do their dirty work.
  • Fallen Angel: The nephilim. They aren't necessarily completely evil, but the ones in the novel have given up heaven in order to pursue personal pleasures on earth. They are hedonistic, very selfish, and willing to be cruel to get what they want.
  • Foregone Conclusion:
  • Foreshadowing: Noah and Lamech have a conversation describing how Enoch was bodily assumed into Heaven. This is Yalith's ultimate fate.
  • God: "El". He doesn't appear personally, but Noah regularly converses with Him.
  • Go Seduce My Archnemesis: Rofocale tells Tiglah to seduce the twins. She fails.
  • Going Native: Sandy and Dennys start to absorb the cultural norms of the Bible Times they've fallen back to.
  • Good Is Old-Fashioned: This is the attitude of the nephilim and plenty of Jerkass humans.
  • Good Old Ways: Noah and his family still consort with El and follow His teachings. Not everyone in the oasis does.
  • Good Wings, Evil Wings: The seraphim (good) and the nephilim (evil) all have feathered wings, but the seraphim's wings are all in warm shades ranging from red to gold, whereas the nephilim's wings are colored in cool, dark shades of blue and purple.
  • The Great Flood: Interestingly, it doesn't happen during the story itself. But Noah and his family know it's coming, and Sandy and Dennys help them to prepare for it before it comes.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Oholibamah is half-nephilim.
  • Here There Were Dragons: Angels, tiny mammoths, manticores, and unicorns—oh my!
  • Hidden Depths: Sandy and Dennys get more characterization than simply being the Black Sheep of the Murry family. In other books of the series they're simply "the normal ones," but in this book they're both shown to be quite intelligent themselves, just much better at fitting in with their peers in ways that Meg and Charles Wallace are unable to do.
  • Hot as Hell: The nephilim are quite interested in carnal pleasures. Downplayed in that they still look like angels, at this point.
  • The Ingenue: Yalith is a very innocent young woman, so much so she gets to Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence before The Great Flood comes.
  • Kick the Dog: Or rather, Kick the Mammoth: Tiglah's father and brother don't have any empathy for their pet mammoth (or anyone else, for that matter).
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Noah is very dissatisfied with the world, but he'll still do God's will in the end.
  • Literal Genie: The computer-ish-thing that sends the twins to the desert in the first place. They type in, "Take us someplace warm, with low humidity, and sparsely populated." Should've been more specific, boys!
  • Love Makes You Evil: Especially if you fall in love with the nephilim. On the other hand...
  • Love Redeems: Anah is redeemed by marrying Ham; Yalith, who is tempted by Eblis, is saved by her love of the twins and the (platonic) love of Aariel; and Sandy, tempted by Tiglah, is saved, amongst other things, by love of Yalith.
  • Love Triangle: Sandy/Yalith/Dennys, sort of. The twins both love Yalith, but they don't fight over her and, in the end, neither of them gets her.
    • Two non-romantic (on one side), but still competitive examples: Ugiel/Mahlah/Alarid and Aariel/Yalith/Eblis.
  • Magic Versus Science: Amusingly averted. Despite coming from a time of magical beasts and miracles, when the twins come back to the present with the aid of the seraphim, one of them seems to be quite completely at home in a modern technological setting, even looking through Dr. Murry's microscope and commenting on how close he is to a scientific breakthrough. Of course angels likely exist outside of time, or in many times concurrently, so moving between the times of magic and science (and their mindsets) is likely not hard for them at all. In previous books, it's implied that magic and science are essentially the same thing, so this isn't entirely surprising.
  • Mayfly–December Romance: It never goes anywhere, but if Yalith had actually hooked up with either Sandy or Dennys, she'd have been over a hundred years old, and they'd have been in their teens! Of course, humans took much longer to age at the time.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Aariel, a seraph who can transform into a lion, has a name meaning "lion of God."
    • Eblis is a variant of Iblis, a figure in the Quran who was cast out of heaven for refusing God's command to prostrate himself before Adam.
    • Higayyon is the Hebrew word meaning "reason" (modern) and "cogitation" (ancient).
  • Methuselah Syndrome: The aging and maturing process for humans was apparently much slower in this particular part of Bible Times, as despite being over a hundred years old, Yalith looked more or less like a teenager.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: Manticores and griffins.
  • My Girl Is a Slut: Rofocale wants Tiglah to be experienced in the ways of lust.
  • Named by the Adaptation: Noah's wife and daughters-in-law, whose names actually come from other Biblical characters.
  • Nature Adores a Virgin: Only a virgin can touch a unicorn. Good thing the twins qualify!
  • Nephilim: Fallen angels and dark counterparts to the Seraphim. While not completely evil, they aren't good people either.
  • Nobody Poops: Averted, in a very disgusting way: one of the twins gets thrown out of someone's house into a dump that's full of the stuff. He has to use sand to scour it off of his body to get clean again! Ouch!
  • "Not So Different" Remark: After being kidnapped by Tiglah's family, Sandy reflects upon the similarity of the people of the oasis to people in modern times, including terrorists who hijack planes and take hostages.
  • Older Than They Look: People in this era age really slowly. They reach adulthood around 100.
  • Our Angels Are Different: In contrast to Progo, the seraphim and nephilim are more like what a contemporary audience would think of as angels. The seraphim are basically servants of God on earth and usually have eyes and wings coloured in warm shades of gold or silver, or sky blue. The nephilim, which are implied to be fallen angels, have eyes and wings of darker colors like vivid reds and violets. They are all immortal, and not outright antagonistic with each other, but the nephilim are trapped on earth whereas the seraphim can return to heaven. Also, each one has an animal form he can change into — the seraphim are usually mammals or birds while nephilim take the shapes of worms, snakes, dragons, and other ugly things. Though one seraph turns into a dung beetle.
  • Our Giants Are Bigger: Seeing how everyone is around 4 feet tall Sandy and Dennys must seem enormous. They're even mistaken for giants at one point.
  • The Patriarch: Noah is the oldest in his family, at least once Lamech passes away.
  • The Quiet One: Shem, the strong, silent type.
  • Red Light District: Where Yalith and Oholibamah go to get the salves for Dennys.
  • Take Me to Your Leader: Said by Sandy, in jest.
  • Temporal Paradox: As soon as the seraphim learn the twins are from the future, they warn the twins not to give away too much information, lest a paradox result.
  • Time Travel: Done by playing around with their physicist dad's computer, no less!
  • Title Drop: "Many waters cannot quench love; neither can the floods drown it."
  • Unicorns: "Virtual" unicorns that don't fully exist, and have to be asked to "tend to be".
  • The Vamp: Tiglah attempts to seduce one of the twins to take away their Virgin Power. She's unsuccessful, though he is quite tempted.
  • Virgin Power / Virginity Flag: Only virgins can touch a unicorn. The twins can touch a unicorn because Nature Adores a Virgin.
  • Virgin-Shaming: Actually played straight. Although the twins' virginity turns out to be a good thing, many times, the oasis' inhabitants comment on how it (as evidenced by their ability to be near unicorns) is proof of how young they are; Elisheba saying that they are little more than babies.
  • World Half Full: Yes, Humans Are Bastards and always will be, but just as there will always be bad people there will always be a handful of truly good people.
  • Wretched Hive: The oasis town is full of seedy characters. No wonder The Great Flood is necessary!