This sentence has come to be the stereotypical starting line for fictional novels and tall tales everywhere, most particularly bad novels. It is used to indicate that a story is commencing, although it is rarely followed by an actual story. Generally, it indicates a hackneyed story of the adventure type, although the details of the story are less important than the fact that the story starts with one of the best-known starting lines in English literature, indicating that it will likely not be a serious literary endeavor intended to stand on its own right.

However, the original appearance of the line was not in a great and famous work, but rather in a mostly-forgotten novel by a mostly-forgotten novelist. The line was in fact grabbed from the jaws of obscurity by the mostly-unknown Professor Scott Rice, who used it as the inspiration for a slightly famous contest to find the Worst Starting Line Ever. The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is worth checking out if you have not yet discovered it, and is the source for the spread of "It was a dark and stormy night" through our popular culture.

The original line, and yes, it is all one sentence, in its complete and original form:

"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents -- except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."
--Paul Clifford, by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton (1830)

It is somewhat inexplicable that this lipid lump of prose has become so overwhelmingly recognizable -- but quite understandable that no one recognizes where it came from. Part of the blame for its fame must fall on Snoopy from the comic strip Peanuts, as he used this line in nearly every book he wrote.

It Was A Dark And Stormy Night

by Snoopy

Part I

It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot rang out! A door slammed. The maid screamed.

Suddenly, a pirate ship appeared on the horizon!

While millions of people were starving, the king lived in luxury. Meanwhile, on a small farm in Kansas, a boy was growing up.

Part II

A light snow was falling, and the little girl with the tattered shawl had not sold a violet all day.
At that very moment, a young intern at City Hospital was making an important discovery. The mysterious patient in Room 213 had finally awakened. She moaned softly.

Could it be that she was the sister of the boy in Kansas who loved the girl with the tattered shawl who was the daughter of the maid who had escaped from the pirates? The intern frowned.

"Stampede!" the foreman shouted, and forty thousand head of cattle thundered down on the tiny camp. The two men rolled on the ground grappling beneath the murderous hooves. A left and a right. A left. Another left and right. An uppercut to the jaw. The fight was over. And so the ranch was saved.
The young intern sat by himself in one corner of the coffee shop. he had learned about medicine, but more importantly, he had learned something about life.


(from alt.comics.peanuts)

2004.4.4 sekicho says The full version was revealed as part of one of the numbers in Snoopy: The Musical. I think the song it appeared in was called "The Smell of Success."

There are far, far too many versions of this to remember from my childhood in Australia

It was a dark and stormy night,
The Dunny light was dim,
I heard a crash and then a splash,
Oh No ! He's fallen in !

Bulwer Lytton's meme forms the basis of an infinitely recursive story (with many variations):

It was a dark and stormy night, and we said to the captain "Tell us a story!" And this is the story the captain told: "It was a dark and stormy night, and we said to the captain, 'Tell us a story!' And this is the story the captain told: ...'"

When I was but a sprat, my father used to tell us this story, using a different regional accent for each iteration; I found it hysterically funny, but I guess you had to be there. And probably to be aged not more than 9, and possibly overtired and having been allowed to drink a small glass of wine with your dinner. But I digress.

As noted elsewhere in the node, this phrase was used by Charles M. Schultz for the perennial opening phrase of the various literary efforts of Snoopy. In the Italian edition of Peanuts this has always been rendered non-literally by the equally trite "Era una bella mattina di fine novembre" - "it was a fine morning in late November". No great problem there. Unfortunately (at least, for a translator) Italian postmodernist Umberto Eco chose Snoopy's line as the opening words of the narrative of Il nome della Rosa, describing the protagonists' arrival at the monastery. Naturally, there was no way that this could be translated into English preserving both the reference and the integrity of the plot (William Weaver opted to render it literally, probably the only sane choice). A fine intance, thus, of untranslatable postmodernism.

Everything Quests: Scary Stories
Completed: Thursday, October 31, 2002 at 14:15:50, server time.

It was a dark and stormy night when I logged in. Not that it mattered, as I had been inside for almost a week. And where I was going, there's no there, there. But it was a dark and stormy night nonetheless.

Deep down in the statistics nodelet, userstoday indicated triple-digits. Writeupstoday indicated a staggering -293,037 nodes. In the other users nodelet, a dozen-odd Ø's caught my eye. Every single visible private /msg in my chatterbox nodelet started: "Klaproth ate your writeup..."

Something stank of trouble. Fire. Brimstone. A hint of plumber's ass. Putrifying meat, the flesh of the unborn rotting in the teeth of the undead. A deep, profound tremor continuously rumbled far below, causing the Cool User Picks to rattle and and jitter in their racks. The Cream of the Cool list was in complete disarray, and had a glossy singed texture about it not unlike the blast crater of a thermonuclear weapon.

And then, before I could even close the browser, my screen burst into pyrotechnics, the beloved default jukka theme melting away into some hideous combination of colors that shouldn't ever be seen together without some sort of health warning or protective eyewear. The rumbling increased into a shaking, and the shaking became a rolling. Terra Firma became Terra Incognito, crumbling away into flames like a delightfully flaky pie crust. A pie of fire and woe. A pie of inconceivable suffering and malice.

The Gods were all missing. n0b0dy was gibbering glossolalia to nobody in the catbox. Rumors flew that nate and Dem Bones were last seen snatched up by screeching, flying monkeys, leathery wings beating smoke, climbing into the sky until even the twinkle of sequins on the monkey's red jackets vanished into the night. Everyone was crying. Half of the Other User's nodelet was consumed in writhing, sussurating flames. Webster1913 had nothing to say, considering most of him lay still as the night on node row. There were three editors left, but they were all borged, and looked more than a little dead. In a charnal pile slopped in the corner of the Epicenter was the remains of Cool Man Eddie. Oh, Eddie, what did you ever do to deserve this? Oh, right, nevermind. None of us have clean hands. Those of us that were left tried to regroup, tried to form a cohesive resistance to the looming terrors.

Raging Giant Squid battled killer Red Robots up and down News for Noders, ink and sparks flying. Crusty, soy-based lesbian golems arose from the nodegel in ludicrous numbers. It's a good thing we have so many hungry vegetarian bisexuals here, or we would have been lost already. We were just about to turn the tide on the golems, and someone was preparing the giant vat of batter for the fried calamari rings.

The nodegel just cracked. It was a sort of crazy, hazy, folding sort of movement, like the laws of optical parallax just up and quit and left us all cross-eyed. As if you could see cross-eyed out of just one eye, and the other, simultaneously. Paging Dr. Strabismus, you're wanted in opthalmology.

And there, in the scintillating, imploding, self-referential fragments, rises the Borg, flinging aside continent-sized shards of Perl, dripping in the gore of a hundred thousand nodes. Cthulu's a purse-poodle compared to this, would curl up it's face-fronds and whimper away like a yapping - well, poodle - in the face of this incomprehensible affront to all that is pure. Ba'al's a 15 watt bulb; Anubis is hawking tacos in an ingratiatingly uncomedic latino accent.

The Borg is riding something up through the striated layers, an eight-legged, thirty-two eyed arachnid-beast-stallion from the deepest bowels of hell. EDB's mount has a name, and it's name is Klaproth.

"WE HAVE COME FOR THE BONES." EDB and Klaproth say in one voice, a voice like a thousand thunderstorms, a voice that could tear the sky off the Earth and boil the oceans.

The few noders not struck dumb cower, whispering, 'The monkey's got Dem Bones, the monkeys...'

"SILENCE FOOLS! WE COME FOR THE BONES OF THE TROLLS, TO RESSURECT THEM AND BRING THEM TO THE DUTY AND GLORY THEY RIGHTFULLY DESERVE. THE TROLLS THAT WILL STAND AT THE GATES AT THE END OF ALL TIME. THESE WILL BE YOUR NEW GODS, AND YOU WILL WORSHIP THEM WELL.", a shockwave-blast like a million Krakatoa, an active Olympus Mons of our own on this shattered earth. Embattled noders scattered and panicked like ants under a giant, flaming boot.

"YOU KNOW WHICH CURSED BONES WE SPEAK OF... UH... oh, they don't? that's true, they can be rather thick sometimes. right, on to the point. WE HAVE COME FOR THE BONES OF theonomist, OF BaronCarlos! BRING US THE BONES OF DMan!" and at that, all hell quite literally broke loose upon hearing the name of he-whom-can't-be-named. Fire, anguish, smoking magma bombs from the sky, Richard Simmons in a tu-tu singing Broadway greats whilst humping the corpse of David Letterman, Leona Helmsley in charge of housing, profuse wailing and the gnashing of teeth. Carrot Top. That stupid Dell kid cranked up to 11 on some deadly mixture of amphetamines and PCP.

And lo, we suffer eternally to this very day.

Happy Halloween, E2!

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