This begins their unbelievable new life in pre-Flood Earth—and by unbelievable, I mean hard for me to believe. I find a lot of elements of L’Engle’s writing difficult to swallow even for Children’s Literature, and this novel is probably my least favorite of the series (although I have yet to read the fifth) in part because the beginning is so badly written. Sandy and Dennys have a very cliché conversation that smacks of speedy, lazy character exposition à la Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys or the Sweet Valley Twins. Then for no particular reason, the two boys are typing a request into the computer that they be transported some place warmer than the cold New England climate where they live. Magically, the computer is able to comply – and I find myself wishing that going on a vacation to Maui were really that simple. L’Engle tries to explain some of this with a lot of talk about quantum leaps and particle physics, but even in a science fictional world where time/space travel is possible, this all sounds like a load of hooey.
If a reader doesn’t get hung up on these things, though, I admit that there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on in this novel, even though the plot is rather slow. Seraphim and nephilim, creatures which L’Engle developed from a few vague biblical references, live amongst the humans in pre-Flood Earth. At first, it is not clear exactly who or what they are – they are described as beautiful giants with wings that are able to assume animal forms. Neither is it clear whether they are good or evil at first; the race of men know that these creatures are a different species and some consider it to be an honor to be chosen as a mate for these glorified beings. A great deal of tension comes from the interplay between the humans, seraphim and nephilim as some of the characters wrestle with whether to trust the nephilim in particular. Over the course of the novel, it becomes clear that the seraphim are angels and the nephilim are fallen angels, and it is the development of this largely-ignored Biblical mythology that I find to be the most interesting aspect of the novel. Though the nephilim are only mentioned twice in the Hebrew Bible, there is a lot of potential to mine from those brief references.
Sandy and Dennys find themselves amidst the tension between the seraphim and nephalim, as well as the tension between Noah and his father. Though the two boys initially suffer life-threatening heat stroke from prolonged exposure to the desert environs, they manage to help reunite the Biblical patriarch and his stubborn, aging parent – thus securing themselves a place within Noah’s family. Though they miss the rest of the Murrys, who remain back in the twentieth century, they have no idea of how they might return home and so they adjust to life in pre-Flood civilization. They cannot dismiss the nagging question, though, of what will happen to them when the torrential rains come.
As in all of L’Engle’s Time Quintet novels, the journey across time and space is a catalyst for the characters to learn something about themselves and grow into the world around them. Sandy and Dennys are fairly immature and thoughtless at the beginning of the novel, messing with their father’s computer equipment, and they are extremely dependent on each other, functioning as two halves of a whole. Separated while they recover from their heat stoke and severe burns, the two begin to think and operate more independently of one another, and living in the much more harsh environment without the comforts of twentieth century technology forces them to mature in other ways. Finally, while they have generally ignored girls and romance up until this point, they both fall in love with Noah’s youngest daughter Yalith, which becomes another source of tension and a catalyst for further emotional development.
While I found these coming-of-age themes to be interesting, there is a lot of sexual content to this novel that is not present in the first three novels of the Time Quintet. In fact, when reading A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet, I got the distinct impression that L’Engle went out of her way to avoid any overt romantic or sexual activity. Throughout the first two novels, Meg and Calvin’s relationship is referred to as a “special friendship,” and even when they are married and expecting a child in the third novel, Calvin is attending a scientific conference out of the country and Meg is in many ways still characterized as a young and innocent girl. This novel is therefore quite different – the nephilm seduce and marry human women, then have their women try to seduce the twins in order to discover more information about them. Meanwhile, Sandy and Dennys struggle with their attraction to the same young woman throughout the novel. But although I don’t have a problem when books have sexual content, I find it unsettling that a novel written at the children’s level so openly discusses lust and seduction.
Overall, Many Waters was fairly unappealing to me for these reasons; I found the science fiction aspects to be too incredible for readers any older than eight or nine years old, yet the sexual content to be inappropriate (?) for anyone of that age. Yet I will admit that there were enough aspects of the story that I found interesting that by the time I had read two-thirds of the novel, I wanted to see exactly how Sandy and Dennys would escape the Great Flood and return home. The last one hundred pages were more absorbing, and though I can’t really say that I ever became engrossed in the novel, I will say that I can see why some readers would enjoy this story. If you love L’Engle’s other writing, or if you are really interested in the concept of traveling back through time to experience the events of the Bible, then you will probably like this novel well enough. Therefore, I’ll rate it with a "provisional" three stars – a good read for those of you with specific tastes and interests. Generally, though, I consider this to be more of a two star book and for most readers, the novel probably isn't worth your time.