How Weather Leads to Literary Monsters: Vampires, Frankenstein, and … La Nada?

So far, we all have to admit, it’s been a dark and stormy summer. Murderous tornadoes, devastating floods, fierce storms, blasts of lightning. Some might wax poetic and say there are monsters in the air.

Feels something like it might have in 1816, when the eruption of Tamboro, an Indonesian volcano, spewed ash into the atmosphere and turned 1816 into “the year without a summer.”

Killing frosts occurred in New England and Canada all summer long.

In Europe crops rotted, lacking sunlight and bogged down with too much rain. Grain prices doubled.

In India food shortages triggered a famine, leaving a weakened population vulnerable to a cholera epidemic.

Thunderstorms were everyday occurrences. “An almost perpetual rain confines us principally to the house,” wrote 18-year-old Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin that very summer. Godwin—later Mary Shelley—was on a Continental lark with her lover, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and her half-sister, Claire Clairmont. Claire had led them to the outskirts of Geneva, where her would-be lover, the rapscallion poet Lord Byron, was testing out self-exile, accompanied by a young doctor, John Polidori, who had literary ambitions of his own.

“One night we enjoyed a finer storm than I had ever before beheld,” wrote Mary Godwin. “The lake was lit up . . . and all the scene illuminated for an instant, when a pitchy blackness succeeded, and the thunder came in frightful bursts over our heads amid the darkness.”

Out of that terrifying weather, two of the world’s favorite monsters were born. Polidori wrote “The Vampyre,” first vampire story in English and inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, written nearly 80 years later.

And Mary Godwin dreamt up Frankenstein.

So what monster might this summer’s wild weather conjure up for future movie theaters? Not sure what it will look like, but NASA climatologist Bill Patzert has the name already.

“La Niña was strong in December, but back in January it pulled a disappearing act and left us with nothing—La Nada—to constrain the jet stream,” Patzert said in a recent press release. “Like an unruly teenager, the jet stream took advantage of the newfound freedom—and the results were disastrous.”

Like Mary Shelley’s monster, “La Nada” is a force of nature, overwhelmingly powerful, other than human, unpredictable, without a conscience, devastating in effect.

-Susan Tyler Hitchcock

Susan Tyler Hitchcock is Senior Editor in the Books Division of NGS and author of “Frankenstein: A Cultural History,” published by W. W. Norton

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