Hurricanes in literature,
theatre and movies

Tropical storms figure in many famous cultural works

By Byron Toben

Now that we are into hurricane season (September-October), I hope that I am not detracting from the horrific human toll taken by commenting on their centrality in various famous cultural manifestations.

The Tempest
Back in 1612, William Shakespeare’s sorcerer Prospero conjured up a huge storm to drive a ship onto the Caribbean Island to which he had been exiled.

A Descent Into the Maelstrom - WestmountMag.caA Descent Into the Maelstrom
In 1841, the ever-cheerful Edgar Allan Poe penned this story of some brothers driven by a hurricane into a gigantic whirlpool.

Typhoon (book)
A 1903 book by Joseph Conrad featured a ship captain insisting on navigating into the heart of a tropical cyclone.

Typhoon (movie)
A 1940 film starred glamour gal Dorothy Lamour and pre-Music Man Robert Preston as a sort of Tarzan and Jane, complete with pet chimp facing a sudden tropical storm in the Pacific.

Key Largo
A 1948 John Huston film had wise cracking Humphrey Bogart sardonically suggesting gangster chief Edward G. Robinson, both trapped on the Florida Keys, stop the storm by shooting it

Life of Pi
A 2001 novel by Canadian Yann Martel, made into a 2012 film by Ang Lee, featured a terrible thunderstorm at sea, survived only by Pi and the tiger Richard Parker.

Some trivia tips on hurricane nomenclature

Q: The difference between a hurricane, a cyclone, a typhoon and a tropical storm?
A: None, just different usage in different parts of the world

Q; Origin of naming specific hurricanes in alphabetical order?
A: US military introduced women’s names in alphabetical order in 1954, extended to men also in 1978. (Earlier uncoordinated world practices used numbers, Saints names or women’s names, non-alphabetical order.)

Since 1954, particular names, like hockey sweater numbers, have been ‘retired’. There are 82 such retired from Atlantic origins so far. Of the current big two, Harvey and Irma have not yet been retired.

Irma probably will. Shades of Joseph Conrad’s book above, a Delta airline plane was piloted into its eye and returned with survivors.

John Byron WestmountMag.ca

Admiral John Byron

I could not resist checking whether there was ever a hurricane Byron. Apparently not, although Australia’s Byronshire News features much TV hurricane coverage… appropriate since its Byron Bay was named after Admiral John Byron (grand dad of, yep, you guessed it, poet Lord Byron) who circumnavigated the world from 1764 to 1766 and became governor of Newfoundland in 1768. He was known as “Foul Weather Jack” for his penchant of sailing in stormy weather

The decision of which name to use is now with the World Meteorological Organization. Since 2005, if they run out of names beginning from 21 English letters (Q, U, X, Y and Z are not considered) from the 26, the 24-letter Greek alphabet would then be used. In stormy 2005, they got up to the 6th such letter, zeta.

Bouton S'inscrire à l'infolettre – WestmountMag.caHurricanes are expected to reprise indefinitely into the future. While scientific research is undecided as to whether global warming has contributed to the increase in number and severity of late, I am impressed by Al Gore (who was ever so briefly proclaimed the 43rd president of the USA). In his Nobel winning book/film An Inconvenient Truth and repeated in his 2013 McGill lecture, he emphasized the incontrovertible fact that glaciers are melting at a rapid pace. Where does all that moisture go? As Newton, inspired by an apple, observed… what goes up must come down.

Stay tuned for future revolt of the elements.

Feature image: Miranda, Tempest by John William Waterhouse

Read also: Montreal World Film Festival wrap-up
More articles from Byron HERE

Byron Toben is the immediate past-president of the Montreal Press Club.

There are 2 comments

Add yours
  1. Jan Jorgensen

    A friendly amendment/suggestion, you write: “Back in 1612, William Shakespeare’s sorcerer Prospero conjured up a huge storm to drive a ship onto the Caribbean Island to which he had been exiled.” All we are told is that Prospero’s island is remote. If, as some scholars believe, Shakespeare borrowed from Strachey for a description of the “tempest,” Shakespeare needed the details of the storm, but not necessarily Bermuda. (“[Strachey] is best remembered today as the eye-witness reporter of the 1609 shipwreck on the uninhabited island of Bermuda of the colonial ship Sea Venture, which was caught in a hurricane while sailing to Virginia.” Wikipedia)

Post a new comment