Scott Rice’s “Son of ‘It Was a Dark and Stormy Night’”

New York City, land of the $1 used books on the street, has been good to me so far. Last week, I picked up Son of "It was a Dark and Stormy Night" which is compiled by Scott Rice from entries to the Bulwer-Lytton Contest. For those that have missed the annual mentions in newspapers and on radio programs, the Bulwer-Lytton contest is named after Edward Bulwer-Lytton, the Victorian novelist who opened his novel Paul Clifford with what has become the ultimate cliche opening: "It was a dark and storm night." The competition is a yearly one that challenges authors to come up with the worst opening line to a potential novel.

I enjoy reading the finalists each year as they make it into the press. You might think that too much of a so-good-it’s-bad thing is bad. I am pleased to report that while the pieces are bad, too much of this so-good-it’s bad thing is so good.

This book was published in 1986 so it includes some of the early gems that got the contest off and running. To set the tone, here is the winner from 1985:

The countdown had stalled at T minus 69 seconds when Desirée, the female ape to go up in space, winked at me slyly and pouted her thick, rubbery lips unmistakeably — the first of many such advances during would prove to be the longest, and most memorable, space voyage of my career.

—Martha Simpson, Glastonbury, Connecticut

What I’ve found hearing the winners each year is that a certain type of bad opening line tends to win every year. They tend to be long, convoluted, and slightly bizarre without being totally outlandish and confusing. They tend to use extremely bad, but not completely puzzling metaphors. What I like about this book is that it highlights a greater range of the types of bad writing submitting to the Bulwer-Lytton contest. Here is one that I enjoyed particularly:

Her breasts lept like lizards from high cliffs as fear welled up from her chest and danced a rhumba in her throat.

—Lucinda Ryan, Alameda, California

I also enjoyed this one:

The rather well-nourished buxomly matron waddled through the pulsating pedestrian traffic of Hong Kong, pensively meditating on the problems of being a big-breasted, broad-butted, broad broad abroad.

—Michael A. O’Neill, Rohnert Park, California

I think this one is my personal favorite:

With a curvaceous figure that Venus would have envied, a tanned unblemished oval face framed with lustrous thick brown hair, deep azure-blue eyes fringed with long black lashes, perfect teeth that vied for competition, and a small straight nose, Marilee had a beauty that defied description.

—Alice A. Hall, Fort Wayne, Indiana

There are many more that I would love to list but that for reasons of space cannot. According to the BL website, there are the following collections published by Penguin:

  • It Was a Dark and Stormy Night
  • Son of "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night"
  • Bride of Dark and Stormy
  • It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: The Final Conflict
  • Dark and Stormy Rules Again

Unfortunately, all of these are out of print so Bookfinder or AddALL are the most reasonable choices if your local used book stores don’t have a copy. The other good news is that there is apparently another book ready but, the author(s) are having trouble finding someone to publish it. Check out the Bulwer-Lytton homepage for information.

I’m working on my own entry for next years contest. I think if I put my mind to it, I have a chance.