“It was a dark and stormy night”

A recent New York Times article about A Wrinkle in Time by Madelaine L’Engle inspired me to reread the book. I had absolutely no memory that “It was a dark and stormy night” was the first line.

This was also the first line in the 1830 novel Paul Clifford by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, and the inspiration for the San Jose State Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, “a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels.”

Was L’Engle’s reference tongue in cheek? No, according to a rather dicey citation in a PDF on Scholastic’s website.

One question she is asked a lot is why she began the book with the words “It was a dark and stormy night. . . .” According to L’Engle, the phrase “a dark and stormy night” is one that is used to start lots of scary stories, the kind of stories people told around campfires when L’Engle was growing up.”

Plus, A Wrinkle in Time was published in 1962, and the Bulwer-Lytton contest didn’t start until 1982.

A Wrinkle in Time won a Newbery Medal in 1963, and I can’t help but wonder if those poor seven words really deserve the awful reputation they’ve earned in the past few decades.

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