Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


Well, actually, it was a dark and stormy night, since you mention it.

The 2009 winner of literary parody contest, the Bulwer-Lytton awards, was announced some time ago. The winning line:

"Folks say that if you listen real close at the height of the full moon, when the wind is blowin' off Nantucket Sound from the nor' east and the dogs are howlin' for no earthly reason, you can hear the awful screams of the crew of the "Ellie May," a sturdy whaler Captained by John McTavish; for it was on just such a night when the rum was flowin' and, Davey Jones be damned, big John brought his men on deck for the first of several screaming contests."
The awards have become a parody of a parody, of course. The contest judges would not look twice at the line on which the contest was originally based. Victorian novelist Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton's 1830 novel Paul Clifford opened with the words: "It was a dark and stormy night." The opener took on a life of its own, assisted by Snoopy of Peanuts.

Having said that, there's a Bulwer-Lytton candidate lurking in the next book you pick up. Here's a few I noticed, selected at random from the shelves:

"Rachel Collins, warrant officer second grade, shifted, her boot heels scraping the hot corrugated roof of the metal shed where she lay spread-eagle."
- Last Rights by Philip Shelby

You can't beat the old hero-spread-eagled-in-the-first-line technique for getting the high drama off to a rollicking start. Or the half-conscious thought with furious action culminating in an absurd wordplay:

"The whole hospital’s a madhouse, Pilar Ramirez fumed as she hurried through the corridors to the ER, her half-unbuttoned lab coat flapping and swishing about her like ruffled wings."
- Argonaut by Stanley Schmidt

Ruffled wings in a madhouse. Then there's the surely-you-can't-be-serious angle:

"I know, I know - it seemed crazy that the alien had come to Toronto."
- Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer

Well, why not Toronto? It seems as good a place as any. Or just try the bad-taste shock technique:

"Cancer is a wonderful thing."
- Otto by Lisa St Aubin de TerĂ¡n

One more:

"There she blows," Brune said.
- The Game of Treachery by Alan Savage

Whales ahoy!


Dr. Alice said...


Oh, I needed this today. I will never again open a book without looking for a Bulwer-Lytton line.

kitchen hand said...

It's become something of a sport with me, Dr. Alice. On the other hand, I'll have to watch my first lines.