“It was a dark and stormy night.” What a sentence. It has a subject and a verb plus a noun with not one but two adjectives. It is a perfectly fine, well-formed English sentence. Take a look at it in action:
It was a dark and stormy night when the good Anthony arrived at the famous creek (sagely denominated Haerlem river,) which separates the island of Manna-hata from the main land.
This excerpt is from the 1809 book The History of New York by Washington Irving, but it’s not what turned this perfectly fine, well-formed English sentence into a cliche. That didn’t happen until 1830’s Paul Clifford, the “much maligned much parodied repository of Victorian purpose prose” by Edward Bulwer-Lytton:
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.
Much maligned? That’s pure gold. But it so happens, neither of these instances is where I myself first came across the phrase. No, that honor goes to Snoopy. Like me, Snoopy wanted to become a World Famous Author. And, like me, he began his novels with this phrase.
“Wait a second, Charlie. What do you mean, like you? You haven’t written any novels.”
While it’s true I haven’t finished any, I’ve started several. And as it just so happens, I like starting them with, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Let’s take a look at the two novel excerpts that I published on this here blog, one on April 8, 2016 and then another on April 28, 2016. From Elsewhither:
Though it was still late afternoon, the land lay under thick, wet clouds, making it appear as if night had already fallen. The light rain that had begun during the carriage ride now quickened its pace, as if purposely worsening my plight. Distant thunder, perhaps aroused by the old woman’s shouts, approached with increasing curiosity.
“Whoa, Charlie! I remember reading that, but never caught the dark and stormy night reference! And you’re saying you did it again?”
Yep. Here is the one from Tenner Heed:
It was dark, as you might expect. People rarely get into trouble like this in broad daylight. It was also wet. Save fire, nothing quite makes a bad situation worse than having water poured all over it. Tenner huddled behind a stack of wooden crates, listening for the sound of footsteps. In his hand, he held a small box. The small box held a secret. He had just stolen both, but Tenner was no thief.
Thank you. And why did I do that? Well, that’s easy. Because I like it. Actually, that’s not quite true. It’s because I love it. There’s not much more I enjoy that a good, solid “dark and stormy night.” For me it’s about as other-worldly as normal, worldly things can get. And for me, nothing quite sets the mood like it. I’m planning on starting out everything I write with it. Further, I believe all current books should be retrofitted with the phrase.
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, but one you’d love to spend a dark and story night in, like tonight, right before all those dwarves show up and eat all the food.
A Tale of Two Cities
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was dark, it was stormy, it was night.
Green Eggs and Ham:
I am Sam.
Sam I am.
That Sam-I-am! That Sam-I-am!
I do not like that Sam-I-am!
Would you like him in the dark?
Would you like him in a storm?
I do not like this old cliche.
Please just let me walk away.
See? It makes everything better.