It was a dark and stormy night...

Friday, October 13, 2006 at 11:07 AM

Today is Friday the 13th, a day that's supposed to bring bad luck. Throw in the fact that Halloween is fast approaching, and we'll forgive you if you're practically cowering under your monitor. I'm not very superstitious myself, but something about the darkening days of October puts me a little bit on edge.

What better way to combat fear than with a little humor -- say, by examining one of the most clichéd lines in all of fiction? I am referring, of course, to "It was a dark and stormy night."

Even before I overcame my childhood fear of night-time storms (thunder was a deeply terrifying phenomenon at times), I'm pretty sure the sentence never frightened me. Indeed, every year thousands of people pay tongue-in-cheek tribute to the phrase by entering the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, which challenges writers to compose "the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels."

Of course, even clichés originate sometime and somewhere. In this case, the first written use of the sentence is widely attributed to Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, an English writer and politician of the 19th century who began his novel, Paul Clifford, with the now-infamous phrase. It has since been creatively repurposed by writers including Madeleine L'Engle, Ursula K. LeGuin, and...Snoopy (okay, so maybe Snoopy had a little help from Charles Schulz).

I hope you've enjoyed this brief respite from "paraskavedekatriaphobia" (fear of Friday the 13th) -- and that you have as much fun exploring Google Book Search as I do.


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