Friday, February 18, 2022

Lecturing on Philosophy

 'There is no good talking to him,' said a Dragon-fly, who was sitting on the top of a large brown bulrush; 'no good at all, for he has gone away.'

'Well, that is his loss, not mine,' answered the Rocket. 'I am not going to stop talking to him merely because he pays no attention. I like hearing myself talk. It is one of my greatest pleasures. I often have long conversations all by myself, and I am so clever that sometimes I don't understand a single word of what I am saying.'

'Then you should certainly lecture on Philosophy,' said the Dragon-fly; and he spread a pair of lovely gauze wings and soared away into the sky.

[Oscar Wilde, "The Remarkable Rocket" in Oscar Wilde, Short Stories,Sirius (London: 2018) p. 68.]

Dashed Off IV

Some things are intrinsically evil and some extrinsically or circumstantially so; it is a grave error to drop either branch.

All ideals will be carried out by flawed men in flawed ways.

Colonialism is a species of liberalism; it is the liberal form of empire. This is why, for instance, everything in colonialism is framed as liberation and education, and why colonialist ideas and practices expand in empires that are liberalizing.

Tradition is a practice of constant weaving.

Trying to have salvation without repentance is like trying to be healed by listening to medical lectures.

Palm Sunday is the state of most Christian politics; the Hosannas are sincere enough, but somehow Christ still ends up crucified as a criminal.

Those who never repent their sins are to be pitied, for they are wretched indeed.

The two never-ending temptations are to indulge like beasts and to know like angels; as we are human, we cannot succeed at either, but there is a constant temptation to each incoherence.

Values are values only within an order that they presuppose.

All political schemes and regimes are attempts to answer the question: "How can we mimic rule by the wise and just, given that we cannot guarantee rule by the wise and just?" Politics in this way is a technical art of virtue-mimicry, of creating something that gives something of what virtue would give, or else something close enough for muddling through.

Relativism favors force, not tolerance.

to be an idoloclast and an iconodoule

"In my experience, reaching an understanding with someone else is a thorny and delicate matter. For this reason one has to write books." Hugo Ball
Dada and "the innermost alchemy of the world"
"The word and the image are one. Painter and poet belong together. Christ is image and word. The word and the image are crucified."
"We have loaded the word with strengths and energies that helped us to rediscover the evangelical concept of the 'word' (logos) as a magical complex image."

Ball leaves Dada behind when he realizes that Dada's critique of modernity is merely another repeating of modernity. But this still left the problem of how to proceed.

Dada's critique of modernity failed as a critique because modernity, too, is Gnostic in the way Dada tried to be.

Sacralizing the contemporary convenient is always a perversion. Many people can recognize this, but they forget that perversion is always of something, and the question of importance is not, "What is perverse?" but "What is the non-perverse?"

signs as especially valuable for actions &c already with triadic structure

contracts as modulators/modifiers of rights-expressions (not of rights themselves)

ens realis vs ens rationis accounts of grace in the sacraments

The penitential, the sacramental, and the eleemosynary economies of the Church each reflect an aspect of Christ's Passion and Death.

matrimony as the primary sacrament of the eleemosynary economy of the Church

pragmatically verified beings of reason

Reality consists of many things that can only be recognized by reason.

the experience of divinelikeness
perimystical experience

Sapientia is more robust than philosophia and philosophia is much more extensive than scientia.

Anselm's 'ontological argument' as the structure of the certainty of faith

While we discard everything sensible and particular to reach being qua being, it is an error to hold that the latter is thus impoverished, because, properly understood, it must have the power, so to speak, for everything sensible and particular. It is implicitly superabundant; to reach it, we fold up everything into it. This is not to say, of course, that our grasp on it is easy or admits of easy proofs.

wonder : philosophy :: fear of the Lord : theology

"The motions of bodies included in a given space are the same among themselves whether that space is at rest, or moves uniformly forwards in a right line without any circular motion." Newton
-- this is the basis for the notion of inertial reference frames, although it has to be rethought for special releativity, due to the lack of absolute space and time

Being afraid of being wrong is a good way not to learn anything.

presence qua res, presence qua object

The senses do not experience the distinction between substance and accident. (Note that this is not the same as saying that they do not experience substance.)

categorical real: double and half, father and son
transcendental real: knowledge and known, sensation and sense
categorical rational: left and right of x, genus and species
transcendental rational: categorical relation and subject

Why the sacramental character is not a formal sign: The sign relation requires a ground, the ground can't be the soul's essence, so the character must itself be the ground. It is a quality grounding to-ness, not a to-ness; it is relative secundum dici, not secundum esse.

Identity-talk is often a crude and clumsy attempt to talk about community while only talking about atomistic individuals.

In the best systems approach to laws of nature, laws cannot be assumed to be exceptionless.

Any large ideology or -ism begins to take on features similar to those of religion.

sign of absence of thing
sign suggestive of possible thing
sign indicative of absence of thing
sign that is full proxy for thing
sign with presence of thing
sigh that is one with thing

"...rational international Right is easily deduced by applying the principles of individual Right to the collective persons of nations and state." Rosmini
-- i.e., it is individual right modified to take into account that the subject is actually a collective person

rights as ius with respect to particular titles

three grave errors in modern political philosophy
(1) conflating individual and household
(2) conflating government and lordship
(3) treating civil society as total society

"right is work adjusted to another person according to some kind of equality" Aquinas

the myth of the lawman (knight, sheriff, marshal, Mountie, Texas Ranger, etc.) as part of the enforcement of law

alienation of self through public identity

Artificial and socially constructed are not the same; some artificial concepts are not socially constructed and some socially constructed concepts are natural.

It is pointless to try to 'be physically fit'; what succeeds is being physically fit *for something*. The same is true for being educated.

Marriage is inherently anti-totalitarian because by it you form a society distinct from and capable of acting independently from civil society.

"The mind is a sort of universe in which we walk in exile from the word yet spoken nowhere within it." Chastek

PS 51 as alluding to sacraments (Cat Hodge)
-- this seems right and necessary in that it is only within the context of the sacraments that soul or Church can get a full and complete answer to Psalm 51 as a prayer

The intellect is truth-apt, as Buridan says, but one must also remember that the being that it knows is also truth-apt.

Better to play your own game than the Devil's.

measure-or-measured as transcendental

negotiating using interests vs negotiating using concessions vs negotiating on the basis of similarities (which suggest possibilities of shared interests)

Quantity and quality as such are concerned with a comparison to the subject itself (by measure and disposition respectively); relation is concerned with comparison to what is other than the subject.
-- Note St. Thomas ST 1.28.2: relations qua relative are assistant (adjunct) and not intrinsically affixed, but relations qua accidents inhere. Quantity and quality are intrinsic both qua quant/qual and qua accident.

There are exemplates, thus there are exemplars. Exemplars may be exemplates, but insofar as exemplates are dependent on exemplars, there cannot be an infinite regress.

Dependent exemplars are exemplates of the first exemplar cause in the very point of being exemplars.

Predicamental relations inhere in substances by means of other categories.

love qua leap, qua support, qua rest

photographs as pictures of ways of looking at things

to exist, to operate, to communicate

the photo op as a crude imitation of, a crude attempt to achieve in a controlled way, the political picturesque

inform, misinform, disinform
interpret, misinterpret, disinterpret
represent, misrepresent, disrepresent
communicate, miscommunicate, discommunicate

"Such is the inexhaustible copiousness of the Holy Scriptures, that not only the words are significative of things, but even the things, which are first signified by the words, do likewise represent other things, which they were appointed to prefigure long before they happened." Herman Witsius

In evangelism, when the nets catch no fish, put them on the other side of the boat.

the rain shadow effect of major ideas in light of prevailing cultural concerns

the human possession, i.e., the world insofar as it comes to belong to the human race as a unified society

beings of reason related to each intellectual virtue

We experience the world as patterns of apparent safety and danger quite as much as we experience it as patterns of color, sound, etc.

bishops as instrumental moral causes in teaching and preaching

Scripture as moral cause of grace
Scripture as a clearing, a meeting place of God and man

Christ's humanity causes grace in us both by merit and by efficacy.

Gifts received do not all obligate in the same way, because any obligation does not arise form the gift or the giving as such.

quality (virtue) + relation (role) -> officia (duties)

real vs rational instrumentality

Vestment is as it were an artificial self-extension.

the coordination of justice with respect to individuals, the majority subcommunity, the whole community

martyrdom pleasing to God + blood as pledge of forgivenes -> relics and memory as protection of people (Hoosoyo for Friday A in Pentecost)

Eden as a type of Mary

elements of Christ's Ascension (Hoosoyo for Ascension)
(1) ended stay on earth
(2) completed plan of salvation
(3) returned to the Father to prepare a place for us

cognitio devotionis (Peter of Poitiers)
cognitio cum sapore (Alexander of Hales)
cognitio quasi experimentalis (Thomas Aquinas) [Dedek: 'experimentalis' indicates conjectural from signs, 'quasi' because it is properly intellectual/affective rather than a sensible cognition]

In the category of habitus, the having and co-having are both signified, so it cannot reduce to actio or passio. (Simplicius)

Thursday, February 17, 2022

A Poem Draft

 Fairy Lands

The world is wide. The shadowed night
with deepest murky darkness grows
in forests thickly sown with trees
or cavern-deeps where, inky black,
the liquid drips from lightless walls,
where echoed snigger, goblin-made,
may haunt your ear, or cackle borne
upon the wind from twisted hag,
or eye may catch a ghost of pale,
a fairy born beneath the moon,
or deeper shadow, shade on shade,
that tricks the eye with hidden form.

The world is wide. On meadow green
in forest far from human home,
by fountain lost in endless trees,
by rocky forms worn strange by winds,
beneath the starry lights above
may gather weirder stars below
to dance by firelight cold of flame
in revels wild and feasts of joy
that bites with sheer and savage edge,
in farandolic turn and line
that captures breath and gives it up
to winds that mediate the stars.

The world is wide. At times a horn
is blown to hunt a questing beast;
at times one sees in gaudy hue
the majesty of fairy court
as lords and ladies fay and strange
set out for hunt or tourney-joust
or solemn, noble magic feat
that never human mind conceives.
Beware! Such fatal beauty lures,
and when procession turns again,
you may, enchanted, walk enslaved,
thus nevermore to see your home.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Schmid on Arbitrary Creation

 I had a post last year about R. T. Mullins's attempt to argue for a Problem of Arbitrary Creation for Divine Simplicity. The basic criticism was that Mullins's conception of impassibility was incorrect and the key premise ("If God is impassible, God created the universe for no reason") was inadequately motivated; in addition, the whole thing seemed to require a conception of how reasons work in knowledge and action that is false even in our own case. Joseph Schmid has a forthcoming article, "Classical Theism, Arbitrary Creation, and Reason-Based Action", on the argument. Schmid rightly notes that Mullins's version seems to confuse acting on the basis of consideration of X and acting on the basis of X itself. He then attempts to propose a modification of it, based on the idea that intentional actions are dependent on "prior realities", namely, reasons:

1. God’s act of creation is an intentional action (if only analogously so).
2. Intentional actions are dependent on one or more reasons.
3. So, God’s act of creation is dependent on one or more reasons. (1, 2)
4. If DDS is true, then God’s existence is identical to God’s act of creation.
5. If God’s existence is identical to God’s act of creation, then if God’s act of creation is dependent, then God’s existence is dependent. (Leibniz’s Law)
6. So, if DDS is true, then if God’s act of creation is dependent, then God’s existence is dependent. (4, 5)
7. Suppose DDS is true. (Assumption for Conditional Proof)
8. So, if God’s act of creation is dependent, then God’s existence is dependent. (6, 7)
9. God’s existence is not dependent.
10. So, God’s act of creation is not dependent. (8, 9)
11. So, God’s act of creation is not dependent, and God’s act of creation is dependent (on one or more reasons). (10, 3)
12. So, DDS is false. (7–11, Conditional Proof)
13. If DDS is false, then classical theism is false.
14. So, classical theism is false. (12, 13)

This is a very great improvement over Mullins's argument, not least in the fact that it no longer depends on a false account of divine impassibility. There are, however, three points of failure for it.

(1) Divine simplicity does not imply that divine existence is identical to the divine act of creation. It is only taken to do so by a very narrow school of analytic philosophers (and possibly some Cartesians) who try to equate noncomposition with identity. All major proponents of divine simplicity outside these groups (and most proponents are outside these groups) hold that simplicity does not imply that 'divine existence' is logically intersubstitutable with 'divine act of creation' -- they just don't mean the same thing, and therefore you cannot substitute 'divine existence' whenever you have 'divine act of creation', or the reverse.

Even if we did follow the schools that characterize simplicity in terms of identity, there's no obvious reason why we would do so in terms of classical identity, for which Leibniz's Law applies, rather than some other option, like relative identity or modally qualified identity.

(2) While there is more room for controversy on this, intentional actions are not necessarily dependent on reasons as "prior realities"; indeed, they often seem to be only 'dependent on reasons' if we are speaking figuratively. Your reasons don't cause your intentional actions to exist; you do act on reasons, but such reasons are at least often not "prior realities", but simply things you are considering in the acting itself. This is a way reasons differ from motivating needs and cravings. And very often we don't have reasons and then act; we formulate our reasons in the acting itself -- it is in the acting that many of our reasons become our reasons for acting. 

What is more, it is not at all clear that all of our intentional actions have any definitely discernible reasons at all. Most people think that you can at least sometimes do things for no identifiable reason. It's always possible to say that there was such a reason despite its being unidentifiable, but it's often the case  that even when we are identifying reasons for an action, we are identifying things that make the action one that in context could be reasonable, not anything that we can certainly say the intentional action itself depended on. Likewise, we often talk as if some intentional actions can be their own reason. Thus our own experience of intentionally acting does not really establish that intentional actions are always really dependent on one or more reasons; we would need some stronger foundation. We also can't say how this applies to divine intentional actions, if at all, unless we know why we attribute it to human intentional actions, if we do; some things we attribute to human intentional actions are attributed because they are specifically and distinctively human, not because they are essential to intentional action.. Do we have reason to think that a first cause needs a reason, beyond the sense in which it itself can be a reason, for its action?

But more than this, talk of dependence in discussing intentional acts and reasons seems to be figurative. To say that my intentionally doing something depended on a particular reason R for doing it seems to say no more than that my intentional act was an R-type of intentional action. That is it seems that the reason enters the picture from the fact that in describing what the intentional act is, our description includes the structural or teleological reasons for its being what it is. If I tie my shoes tightly because it's a good idea not to risk falling, the 'because it's a good idea not to risk falling' is not something separable from the intentional action; it more completely specifies its nature. Fully describing the action, of course, does depend on describing the reason, in that it is incomplete if I don't do the latter; but this doesn't imply that the action itself depends on the reason, only that the action is of the kind that has that kind of reason. There is nothing wrong with figuratively saying that God's understanding depends on His existence, for instance; all we mean is that our being able to talk about God's understanding presupposes our being able to talk about His existence. Someone likewise could say, even when accepting Schmid's premise 9, that God's existence 'depends' on His possibility -- lots of classical theists wouldn't, for various reasons, but it wouldn't be a serious problem to say it as a figure of speech. If the dependence in premise 2 is figurative, it is irrelevant to premise 9.

(3) Schmid tries to bolster the argument on these points by arguing that it is a contingent matter whether God takes a particular reason to act, but this really doesn't follow from anything he notes. One could say that all of God's reasons for creating (i.e., as Schmid puts it, considerations that count in favor of creating) are necessary reasons necessarily accepted by God; it's just that 'counting in favor of creating' is not the same as 'requiring that one create' -- God is free to create or not, so anything created is actually contingent rather than necessary. 

Schmid attempts to argue that God's reasons cannot be God Himself, on the ground that reasons are considerations that count in favor of something. But this is obviously not going to work in this particular argument. If we assume premise 4 it can only be on the ground that we think that divine simplicity implies that everything in God is identical to everything else. Considerations are acts, and therefore Schmid should conclude, to be consistent with the premises of the argument as he has developed it, that God's considerations are identical to His act of creation. If you're in for a penny, you're in for a pound; you can't use identity in one part of the argument while pretending that it can't be used in another part. Thus one could say, if we assume the identity account, that God's intentional actions have reasons that are identical to those intentional acts; even if that's not true of us, its not being true of us would plausibly be because we are not perfectly simple beings. Certainly it makes a kind of sense that at least at the limit intentional act and its reasons are not separate. While all of this assumes something I think is not right (the identity account), it makes a broader point that I think is important in general, namely, that both Mullins and Schmid in their accounts of the Problem of Arbitrary Creation assume that what is true of human composite beings must be equally true (i.e., stays true without any new qualifications) as we get more and more simple so that it must also be true at the divine limit of perfect simplicity. There is really no reason to prefer this over saying that as things get more and more simple, more and more of the distinctions that we can make in highly composite cases drop out as no longer being applicable, until we reach the divine limit, at which we can only make these distinctions in highly qualified, and sometimes purely figurative, ways.

All in all, though, as I said above, it's a massive improvement over Mullins's argument; Schmid's version of the Arbitrary Creation Problem is not the monster of confusion that Mullins's was.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022


 Even if the creature who, compared to God, can be held to be nothing in a certain sense, just as in the case of incalculable infinitesimals, addition or subtraction of infinitely small quantities to or from ordinary numbers is negligible, still neither infinitesimals nor creatures can be regarded as nothing when they are compared among themselves. And just as proportionalities of an infinity of small lines are not regarded as insignificant among themselves by geometers, so indeed are the mutual relations of creatures not regarded as nothing by God: otherwise there would be nothing beautiful in the production of creatures.

G. W. Leibniz, Dissertation on Predestination and Grace, Murray, tr. & ed., Yale University Press (New Haven: 2011), p. 95.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Household, City, Realm

 Community is threefold: household or family, city, and realm. A household is a community coming together from those things that make for common actions; thus it consists of three conjunctions, from father and son, from husband and wife, from lord and servant. The community of the city contains all things that are necessary for human life: thus it is a complete community with respect to merely necessary things. The third community is the realm, which is the community of consummation. For where there is fear of foes, a city cannot subsist through itself; thus from fear of foes a community of many cities, which make up one realm, is necessary. Thus as life is in a man, so peace is in a realm; and just as health is nothing but moderating of humors, so peace is when each keeps to his own order. And as when, losing health, the man tends to destruction, so it is with peace: as it dissipates from the realm, the realm tends to destruction. Thus the ultimate thing to which one tends is peace. Thus the Philosopher: 'As the doctor to health, so the defender of the republic to peace.'

Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, (C. 12, L. 2, n. 1011), my translation.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Fortnightly Book, February 13

 A few years ago, I did Oscar Wilde's plays for the fortnightly book, and ever since I've been wanting to do his short stories. As my twelve-week courses are starting up this next week, I want something for the fortnightly book that will be flexible to an unpredictable schedule, so now seems like a good time. Wilde was in fact well known for his short stories in his own day, and they are perhaps an even better testament to his literary range than his plays and essays.

The collection of Wilde short stories that I will be using is the Sirius publishing edition, which jumped out at me at Half Price Books due to the very nice cover. It also seems to cover quite a bit. The short stories that are included:

The Happy Prince and Other Tales
-- "The Happy Prince"
-- "The Nightingale and the Rose"
-- "The Selfish Giant"
-- "The Devoted Friend"
-- "The Remarkable Rocket"
Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories
-- "Lord Arthur Savile's Crime"
-- "The Canterville Ghost"
-- "The Sphinx without a Secret"
-- "The Model Millionaire"
A House of Pomegranates
-- "The Young King"
-- "The Birthday of the Infanta"
-- "The Fisherman and His Soul"
-- "The Star Child"
The Portrait of Mr. W. H.
The Ballad of Reading Gaol

Madeleine L'Engle, The Time Quartet


Opening Passages: From A Wrinkle in Time:

It was a dark and stormy night.

In her attic bedroom Margaret Murry, wrapped in an old patchwork quilt, sat on the foot of her bed and watched the trees tossing in the frenzied lashing of the wind. Behind the trees clouds scudded frantically across the sky. Every few moments the moon ripped through them, creating wraithlike shadows that raced along the ground. (p. 11)

From A Wind in the Door:

"There are dragons in the twins' vegetable garden."

Meg Murry took her head out of the refrigerator where she had been foraging for an after-school snack, and looked at her six-year-old brother. "What?" (p. 9)

From A Swiftly Tilting Planet:

The big kitchen of the Murrys' house was bright and warm, curtains drawn against the dark outside, against he rain driving past the house from the northeast. Meg Murry O'Keefe had made an arrangmeent of chrysanthemums for the dining table, and the yellow, bronze, and pale-gold blossoms seemed to add light to the room. A delectable smell of roasting turkey came from the oven, and her mother stood by the stove, stirring the giblet gravy. (p. 9)

From Many Waters:

A sudden snow shower put an end to hockey practice.

"We can't even see the puck," Sandy Murry shouted across the wind. "Let's go home."  He skated over to the side of the frozen pond, sitting on an already snow-covered rock to take off his skates. (p.3)

Summary: In A Wrinkle in Time, the thirteen-year-old Meg Murry is an awkward adolescent of scientific parents whose father has disappeared and whose younger brother, Charles Wallace, is a genius whom their village regards as weird. Meg and Charles Wallace meet a local boy, Calvin O'Keefe, who comes from a poor family locally regarded as somewhat trashy, but who has become popular because of his skill in basketball, although he actually loves biology. The three meet three strange women who are the Murrys' new neighbors, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which. The three will help them find and rescue Meg's father, who in his scientific research has accidentally tessered, i.e., traveled by folding space, to another planet, Camazotz, where he is the prisoner of IT, a giant brain that serves as the totalitarian government of the planet.

If Wrinkle depicts a fight against evil in its totalitarian form, A Wind in the Door depicts a fight against evil in its anarchic form. It is a year later; Charles Wallace is being bullied in school, and Meg tries to convince Mr. Jenkins, the principal, to do something about it. It does not go well, in part because Meg and Mr. Jenkins have a difficult and unpleasant prior history. Charles Wallace is also sick, and Mrs. Murry, whose scientific work seems to be at the intersection of particle physics and microbiology, thinks it is because his mitochondria are dying due to some problem with what she hypothesizes to be key sub-mitochondrial entities, farandolae. In the meantime, various strange things happen. Charles Wallace finds 'dragons' in the garden, which turns out to be a singular many-winged, many-eyed cherubim, and Meg encounters frightening fake Mr. Jenkinses. Charles Wallace is growing sick because his mitochondria are under attack by the Echthroi (echthros in Greek means 'enemy'), who attempt to annihilate anything in existence.  Under the guidance of a Teacher, Meg, Calvin, Mr. Jenkins, and the cherubim, whose name is Proginoskes, enter a mitochondrion in Charles Wallace, where they must convince Sporos, a farandola, to settle down and enter his mature phase rather than to devote himself to nihilistic license.

One thing that was clear to me this time around that was certainly not clear to me when I was younger is that Wind is structured as a love story between Meg and Calvin. This is not, I think, obvious from the struture of the plot, and while Calvin plays an important role in the events, for much of the story Meg and Calvin are for all practical purposes separate. But the Meg-Calvin relationship frames much of the story, and the importance of it is hinted at by the title of the book, which refers to an episode in Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur involving the love between Sir Gareth and Dame Lyonesse.

In A Swiftly Tilting Planet, which occurs ten years after Wind, Meg, now married to Calvin, is home for Thanksgiving; Calvin is away at a conference, but Calvin's mother, Mrs. O'Keefe, has unexpectedly accepted the invitation to dinner, despite having always refused before. The world is on edge; a South American dictator, known as Mad Dog Branzillo, has obtained nuclear weapons and is likely to use them. Mrs. O'Keefe begins acting strangely and tells Charles Wallace to deal with Branzillo, giving him a rune or rhyming verse and then going home. Charles Wallace says the rune at the star-watching rock and it summons a winged unicorn, Gaudior. Charles Wallace and Gaudior will travel through time to prevent the war, aided by Meg who remains behind but follows them by kything, a sort of deep interpersonal connection ('kythe', a primarily Scottish word, means both making known and becoming known, and it has both meanings in L'Engle's usage). 

Planet is the most lyrically beautiful of the works, but in reading reviews it becomes very clear that readers have difficulties understanding the points it makes. The time-travel portion of the work is based on the Welsh Legend, a story in many variations that goes back to the Renaissance, according to which a Welsh ship arrived in North America long before the Vikings, under the command of Madoc (or Madog), a Welsh prince fleeing dissension at home. This has the narrative interest of letting you tell you tell a Celtic-tinged story in an American context. In L'Engle's adapted version, Madoc weds into a local native tribe, the People of the Wind, but his happiness is cut short by the arrival of his brother, Gwydyr, who also fled but instead of settling peacefully with the natives is attempting to make himself a king. They fight, but part of their fight is not physical; they set up dueling fates, to culminate in a child, who is Branzillo. The weapon of the duel of fate is fire -- if Gwydyr wins that duel, the world will perish in fire (Branzillo's nuclear war), whereas Madoc's fire is a subtler fire, which we might call the fire of love. 

Many readers seem to interpret this dueling-fates structure as a sort of genetic determinism -- over and over again, you can find reviewers characterizing it as a struggle over whether 'the good line' or 'the bad line', genetically speaking, will triumph. This is a way one could interpret comments by one of the characters, but this is over-reading, I think, and it is actually somewhat disturbing that so many readers are apparently only able to interpret heritage in terms of genetic transmission. The book is about cycles of  violence that are handed down in families through the generations. What we do know is that Gwydyr's lust for domination, his spiritual line, keeps recurring. The duel of fates is not over whether Gwydyr's line or Madoc's line will triumph; the two are brothers and the duel is over what will happen in a single family.  It is strongly implied that all the members of later generations are descended from Madoc (and maybe also from Gwdyr, although this is less clear -- we don't actually know for sure that Gwydyr has any biological descendants, although it is suggested as a possibility at one point). The fate that Gwydyr sets is a cycle of violence passing through generations, culminating in nuclear fire, and what Charles Wallace and Gaudior are doing is not trying somehow to get Branzillo the right ancestors, however that would work, but to find the 'Might Have Been' in Branzillo's family history where love can break the cycle of familial violence leading to more violence. This Might Have Been is represented throughout by the rune, in which one gives up a desire to dominate and possess and puts one's protection in divine hands. The key moments are when Matthew Maddox gives up his love of Zillah to help her be with Bran and when Mrs. O'Keefe, who is a descendant, gives Charles Wallace the rune for protection in memory of her brother, who was disabled and eventually died because of an abusive stepfather. This is also the theme indicated by the title, which is from a poem by Conrad Aiken, in which small things touch on the universe. 

Many Waters can in some ways be regarded as an appendix; we get an adventure involving the Murry middle children, the twins Sandy and Dennys, who accidentally interfere with one of the experiments being run by their father and end up in a strange desert place with mammoths, manticores, and griffins, in which all the human beings are very short. There are also two special kinds of being, seraphim and nephilim, who have unusual powers; the nephilim are intermarrying with the human beings. They are aided by a family, that of Grandfather Lamech, who is estranged from his son, Noah; the twins help heal the fragmented family. They have fallen, of course, into the story of Noah and the Flood, and will have to get back home before the waters come. In the course of the story, the twins will both fall in love with the young woman, Yalith, and a major concern through the story is what will happen to her, since she is not one of the people saved by the Ark. The title of the book, of course, comes from the Song of Songs: "Many waters cannot quench love, nor can the floods drown it."

The entire series is interesting in that it manages, for the most part, to make its everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach to science fantasy work. The series as a whole is about how even the minor and ordinary pars of our lives link up to the wonders of a creation that is based on love and is held together by joy, and as you meet everything from angels to aliens to mythical beasts, you get a very developed sense of the vastness, and the vast richness, of the universe it depicts, one in which almost anything could happen, but never without purpose. It is an overwhelming vision, but one made coherent by the recurring motif of the centrality of acts of love. And the vision is, I think, one of the attractions the series has always had for bookish children everywhere, because it gives a sense that the reader is not separate from it all; we are rather like Meg, kything with Charles Williams in Planet as he goes Within various people, experiencing in the reading an adventure not our own by making known and being known.

Favorite Passages: From Wrinkle:

"It was a star," Mrs. Whatsit said sadly. "A star giving up its life in battle with the Thing. It won, oh, yes, my children, it won. But it lost its life in the winning."

Mrs. Which spoke again. Her voice sounded tired, and they knew that speaking was a tremendous effort for her. "Itt wass nnott sso llongg aggo fforr yyou, wwass itt?" she asked gently.

Mrs. Whatsit shook her head.

Charles Wallace went up to Mrs. Whatsit. "I see. Now I understand. You were a star, once, weren't you?"

Mrs. Whatsit covered her face with her hands as though she were embarrassed, and nodded. (pp. 86-87)

From Wind:

"When Sporos Deepens," Proginoskes told Mr. Jenkins, "it means that he grows up. The temptation for farandola or for man or for star is to stay an immature pleasure-seeker. When we seek our own pleasure as the ultimate good we place ourselves as the center of the universe, but nothing created is the center." (p. 172)

From Planet:

The baby unicorn stood on new and wobbly legs, neighing a soft moonbeam sound until it gained its balance. It stood barely as tall as Charles Wallace, testing one forehoof, then the other, and kicking out its hind legs. As Charles Wallace watched, lost in delight, the baby unicorn danced under the light of the two moons. (p. 156)

From Many Waters:

"Are they part of the pattern?" Admael asked. "Is it right and proper for them to be here?"

Alarid looked up at the veiled sky. "Perhaps Aariel will have word when he returns from taking Yalith to the Presence. But I think, yes, that they are part of the pattern."

"The pattern is not set," Adnarel said. "It is fluid, and constantly changing."

"But it will be worked out in beauty in the end," Admael affirmed. (p. 304)

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.


Madeleine L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time. Dell (New York: 1976).

Madeleine L'Engle, A Wind in the Door. Dell (New York: 1976).

Madeleine L'Engle, A Swiftly Tilting Planet. Dell (New York: 1979).

Madeleine L'Engle, Many Waters. Dell (New York: 1987).