Mammoths. Giants. Seraphim and nephilim. A young planet. Earthquakes. Virtual unicorns. A great flood. Pure love. Ah, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning, shall we?
Many Waters, published in 1986 by Dell and written by Madeleine L'Engle, presents itself as the fourth novel in the Time Quartet, which also consists of the novels A Wrinkle In Time, A Wind in the Door, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet. All four novels concern the Murry family, who consist of Dr. and Dr. Murry, scientists whose various discoveries and experiments concern the main plot of each story; Meg, the oldest child, who finds it difficult to control her temper and get along with others, though is highly intelligent; Charles Wallace, the youngest child, who is thought-provoking and a literal genius; and the twins, Sandy and Dennys, who are the middle children, and the 'normal' ones of the family.
Each novel in the series concerns time travel in various forms or a look into how we perceive time. However, the first three novels in the series focus mainly on Meg and Charles Wallace, with their parents being important figures (at least to the plot) along with some supporting characters, and with Sandy and Dennys not being relevant to much of anything. Many Waters changes all of this, by taking a look at the lives of 'normal' Sandy and Dennys, at their personalities and how they feel about being part of a family such as their own.
After returning home from a cold winter's day outdoors playing hockey fiddling with their father's newest experiment (a "not-quite-ordinary-looking computer", on which they type "TAKE ME SOMEPLACE WARM. SOMEPLACE WARM AND SPARSELY POPULATED. LOW HUMIDITY."), the twins leave the lab and are met with a hot blast of air, followed by a great sonic boom, then silence. And they find themselves in a completely new environment.
"Above them, the sun was in a sky so hot that it was no longer blue but had a bronze cast. There was nothing but sand and sky from horizon to horizon."
After enduring a minor earthquake the twins are found by a small man, no more than four feet tall and dressed only in a loincloth, who immediately thinks that the boys, six feet tall, are giants. After losing some of his wariness, he introduces himself as Japheth and the twins introduce themselves as well; however, Japheth is confused by how the twins look identical, and is not sure if he is hallucinating or not (which turns out to be the case for many of the desert people).
Being unaccustomed to the severe heat and sun, Sandy and Dennys quickly become ill while making their way to Japheth's father's tent in the oasis. Japheth suggests that they call unicorns for the twins to ride on. Unicorns, it is found out, can be called but need to be believed in to fully exist. It is for this reason that Sandy and Dennys call them virtual unicorns, like their mother's theory of virtual particles.
While riding the unicorns, Dennys' sun-sickness is so bad he loses conciousness and goes out of being with his unicorn. And so, the twins become separated. Sandy heals in Grandfather Lamech's tent, while Dennys is eventually found and treated in Noah's tent.
It is after this point that more and more characters are introduced to the mix, adding depth and richness without becoming overcrowded.
Grandfather Lamech, it turns out, is Noah's father, and the two have parted ways bitterly. He and his mammoth (which are the size of a small dog), Higgaion, take care of Sandy.
Yalith, Japheth's youngest sister, is not yet one hundred but is slowly leaving her childhood behind. She, along with Japheth's wife, Oholibamah, are left in charge of taking care of Dennys.
The seraphim have been chosen by El, and accepted being chosen, to come to the oasis and watch and help the sons and daughters of El. The seraphim are mostly found in animal hosts, but occasionally show their angelic forms. They are: Alarid/pelican; Adnarel/scarab beetle; Aariel/lion; Abasdarhon/golden snake; Abdiel/golden bat; Akatriel/white owl; Abuzohar/white leopard; Achsah/mouse; Admael/white camel; Adabiel/tiger; Adnachiel/giraffe; and Aalbiel/white goose.
The nephilim, on the other hand, have chosen to reject El and turn from the divine presense, and marry the daughters of El. They, too, have animal hosts, but are usually found in their angelic forms. They are: Ugiel/black cobra; Rofocale/mosquito; Eisheth/crocodile; Eblis/dragon-lizard; Estael/cockroach; Ezequen/skink; Negarsanel/flea; Rugziel/worm; Rumael/slug; Rumjal/red ant; Ertrael/rat; and Naamah/vulture.
Both the seraphim and the nephilim are concerned with why Sandy and Dennys have appeared in the oasis; however, their outlooks are different. The seraphim believe that the presence of the twins is El's will, and are merely curious, whereas the nephilim veiw the twins as invaders and are extremely hostile, going so far as to make attempts to kidnap, have them seduced, and many other things.
Throughout the happenings of this book, though, it becomes apparent to Sandy and Dennys that, while they originally thought they were on another planet possibly not even in their solar system, they have simply travelled back in time to the last days before The Flood, and that Noah is the Noah from the Bible, who builds the ark. But why have the twins been brought? The seraphim and Noah's family is convinced it is the will of El. But what is El's reason?
The outward plot of Many Waters is the introduction of two people into an entirely foreign situation, and how they react to their surroundings and, in turn, how the beings in their surroundings react to them; however, throughout this intriguing novel, the main underlying theme explored is humanity at its most base (i.e. What makes us human?), using religious overtones and themes in a mild manner. On the one hand are the seraphim, angels of high order, perfect beings of light, kindness, and goodness; on the other hand are the nephilim, fallen angels who prey on the weaknesses of humans and bring destruction and darkness to those who embrace them and their ways; and in the middle are the desert people, and Sandy and Dennys, all with their human flaws, their efforts to be kind to one another or to take all they can get, their understanding and their ignorance, their trust and their suspicions.
Mammoths? You betcha, but not like you've ever heard of. Giants? Sure, if you're four feet tall. Seraphim and nephilim? Yep, and we aren't talking chubby babies with useless wings. A young planet? Earthquakes? Just call them growing pains. Virtual unicorns? Well, if you believe in that sort of thing. A great flood? Enough to destroy the world. Pure love? Only from the most childlike hearts.
L'Engle, M.; Many Waters; copyright 1986