It was a dark and stormy night.
That sentence was first written by the British novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton back in 1830 (in the novel titled Paul Clifford; it’s available online, if you must). The phrase was later taken up by Snoopy, the Peanuts gang’s favorite canine. He began every novel thusly, as he sat atop his doghouse, gazing thoughtfully at a somehow perfectly balanced typewriter.
And in 1962, children’s author Madeleine L’Engle cheekily used it to begin her most famous novel, 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.”
L’Engle’s fantastical story of a missing father rescued by three children from the jaws of evil has (deservedly) won multiple awards and is still in print, these many years later. And last year, it was turned into a 400-page graphic novel (filed in the Young Adult graphic novel section). It was adapted and illustrated by Hope Larson, but most of L’Engle’s words remain, just stripped down to the bones.
The first few pages of the comic are confusing, with sudden shifts from present to past, but the story settles in nicely and soon enough we are acquainted with the angry and insecure teen Meg, seriously odd little brother Charles Wallace, and new friend Calvin, who holds Meg’s hand when she’s afraid.
Pa has been gone so long the townspeople smirk at Meg as she claims that he’s coming back.
Mum and dad are both scientists, but physicist father disappeared while on some sort of secret government mission. Turns out he accidentally tessered (via the fifth dimension) into a Dark World, a planet named Camazotz, controlled by the evil IT, and has been imprisoned. The kids don’t quite understand this until three kind strangers – the missuses Whatsit, Who and Which – sneak them off on a rescue mission.
A Wrinkle is largely Meg’s story, as an angry, often petrified teen grows up (but boys will enjoy this sci-fi battle against a creepy baddy, too).
The written version of A Wrinkle In Time is filed with an orange dot in children’s fiction (other related tomes include A Wind In The Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet and Many Waters; another book features Meg’s parents, still others the children of Meg and Calvin). Fans of the television series Lost will recall that the book had a walk-on (Sawyer’s a fan).
Like C.S. Lewis’s seven-volume Chronicles of Narnia (1950 to 1956), L’Engle’s series is steeped in Christian imagery, although her religious beliefs are more liberal than Lewis’ (who was nonetheless attacked by some for promoting paganism). Lewis, it must be said, never included the phrase “dark and stormy night” in his novels.
As for Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts gang, the works of Charles Schulz can also be found on library shelves. Snoopy’s only published work, which came out in 1971, is titled… you guessed it.
That stormy night’s turned into quite the literary thing.
– Eleanor Brown, Oct. 11, 2013