Monday, May 4, 2009


Bulwer-Lytton Howlers


Since 1982, the English Department at San Jose State University has sponsored the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels.

The contest was the brainchild of Professor Scott Rice. Sentenced to write a seminar paper on a minor Victorian novelist, he chose the man with the funny hyphenated name, Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton, Baron of Lytton (1803-73), who was best known for perpetrating The Last Days of Pompeii, Eugene Aram, The Coming Race, and Paul Clifford, whose famous opener has been plagiarized repeatedly by the cartoon beagle Snoopy. No less impressively, Lytton coined phrases that have become common parlance in our language: "the pen is mightier than the sword," "the great unwashed," and "the almighty dollar."

Baron of LyttonIn his researches, Dr. Rice unearthed this pearl of an opener...

"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." —Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)

And so was born the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. Here's a Lyttony of grand prize winners...

"The camel died quite suddenly on the second day, and Selena fretted sulkily and, buffing her already impeccable nails—not for the first time since the journey began—pondered snidely if this would dissolve into a vignette of minor inconveniences like all the other holidays spent with Basil."
—Gail Cain, San Francisco, CA (1983 Winner)

"The lovely woman-child Kaa was mercilessly chained to the cruel post of the warrior-chief Beast, with his barbarous tribe now stacking wood at her nubile feet, when the strong, clear voice of the poetic and heroic Handsomas roared, 'Flick your Bic, crisp that chick, and you'll feel my steel through your last meal.'"
—Steven Garman, Pensacola, FL (1984 Winner)

"As the newest Lady Turnpot descended into the kitchen wrapped only in her celery-green dressing gown, her creamy bosom rising and falling like a temperamental souffle, her tart mouth pursed in distaste, the sous-chef whispered to the scullery boy, 'I don't know what to make of her.'"
—Laurel Fortuner, Montendre, France (1992 Winner)

"She wasn't really my type, a hard-looking but untalented reporter from the local cat box liner, but the first second that the third-rate representative of the fourth estate cracked open a new fifth of old Scotch, my sixth sense said seventh heaven was as close as an eighth note from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, so, nervous as a tenth grader drowning in eleventh-hour cramming for a physics exam, I swept her into my longing arms, and, humming The Twelfth of Never, I got lucky on Friday the thirteenth."
—Wm. W. "Buddy" Ocheltree, Port Townsend, WA (1993 Winner)

Have you come across any real-life howlers in your reading? If so, without mentioning the title or author, please do mention the opening sentence.

If you haven't across such eggregious eye-rolling efforts, then how about turning your creativity to coming up with something?


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for including my 1993 Grand Prize winner with all the works posted here by more legitimate writers. I am honored! Buddy Ocheltree

Keira Soleore said...

Your entry was quite superb! Thank you for the laughs and for visiting my blog.