Storms play an important role in a number of Shakespeare’s plays such as Macbeth and Julius Caesar, where they are harbingers of cataclysmic events, but he also uses them to bring twists to his plots – in Pericles, not once by twice. While in his last play, The Tempest, said to have been inspired by the real life adventure of the sailors who discovered Bermuda, a storm provides a way of plunging characters into a strange new world.
My new book Storm: Nature and Culture tells the story of the role played by storms in literature, as well as examining their place in art, films, religion and history.
One of the earliest uses in a novel of their ability to transport characters into a new world came from Daniel Defoe in his famous book from 1719, Robinson Crusoe, in which a shipwreck maroons the hero on a deserted island for 28 years. Defoe, incidentally, also wrote an account of England’s greatest ever storm in 1703.
In more recent literary storms, Carol Birch’s Jamrach’s Menagerie (2011) sees a boy becoming one of a handful of survivors from a ship’s encounter with a waterspout – a marine tornado - and having to kill and eat his best friend, while in Yann Martel’s Life of Pi (2001), another boy finds himself sharing a lifeboat with a hungry tiger.
There is much more on storms in literature in Storm: Nature and Culture published by Reaktion Books. Price £14.95. ISBN 9781780236612