Then the two boys are thrown across time and space. They find themselves alone in the desert, where, if they believe in unicorns, they can find unicorns, and whether they believe or not, mammoths and manticores will find them.
The twins are rescued by Japheth, a man from the nearby oasis, but before he can bring them to safety, Dennys gets lost. Each boy is quickly embroiled in the conflicts of this time and place, whose populations includes winged seraphim, a few stray mythic beasts, perilous and beautiful nephilim, and small, long lived humans who consider Sandy and Dennys giants. The boys find they have more to do in the oasis than simply getting themselves home--they have to reunite an estranged father and son, but it won't be easy, especially when the son is named Noah and he's about to start building a boat in the desert.
Of the first four books I’ve so far read in the series, this one comes in last on my favorites list. Like A Swiftly Tilting Planet, this story involves time travel and altering (or maintaining the balance of) the past. Unlike the third book, our young heroes actually end up living in—and learning to cope with—this historical time period in which they’ve apparently become trapped. It isn’t the premise that disagreed with this reader so much as the slowness of pacing paired with the author’s particular high-fantasy interpretation of the biblically referenced time period. While the 3rd book dealt with a completely made-up timeline and family history, in this book the author is pulling directly from a known source and warping elements of it to suit her own intent.
For some reason, L’Engle chose to portray ancient humanity as a loincloth (only) wearing desert-dwelling people who were incredibly small in stature. I gathered by the end, this was to imply that the cross-breeding with fallen angels resulted in the more modern height increase. (However, this doesn’t explain the miniaturized size or nature of the of the water-detecting desert mammoths, which were described as being the size of dogs. There are also manticores, griffons, and “Virtual Unicorns” (very unlike the unicorns in book #3) that only exist when you decide to believe in them… because reasons. >.>) Humanity’s massive lifespan was also suggested as cause for technical adulthood not being reached until around the centennial mark. As a result, Noah’s 100-year-old daughter Yalith—who becomes the love interest for both brothers—is depicted as a painfully naive teenage-minded girl. Talk about a serious case of arrested development!
To me, the twins weren’t quite distinct enough in their own personalities. While they do prove more intelligent than they’d previously let on, they are nonetheless the most “normal” (i.e. vanilla dull) of all the Murray family. I found I was reading on for the sake of learning the plot more so than out of concern for what might happen to either of them.
Sandy and Denny’s vague knowledge of the Old Testament means they eventually do figure out the significance of the Noah they’ve encountered. But their lack of study and/or interest means they are incredibly slow on the pickup regarding the fallen angels and Nephilim. (Apparently in L’Engle’s hyper mythological vision of the quickly summarized record, humans don’t comprehend what the “winged giants” they’ve been breeding with actually are.)
Content Note: Contextual nudity (and its effect on the modern boys) is addressed with tact and cultural frankness. But this is the first book in the series to repeatedly reference awakening sexuality, and that may come as a surprise for some readers. Lust and seduction are repeatedly depicted as they are used against the twins in a vie for information. Although, compared to some of the more recent trends in Middle Grade and YA, the situations are relatively tame in their graphicness and end result.
"Many Waters" focuses on the Murray twins, the younger brothers of L'engle's famous "A Wrinkle in Time" heroine Meg. Sandy and Dennys accidentally transport themselves back to biblical times, more specifically, to the period right before the flood. As the twins meet Noah and his family, they are consumed with worry over over a neighboring feud, the poor relationship between Noah and his father, the fate of Noah's beautiful daughter Yalith (who will not be taken on the ark), and, ultimately, their own fate.
This is a heavy subject, but an enjoyable read for L'Engle fans. It's not your typical sci-fi story, or a typical romance, but has elements of both.