Friday, March 07, 2014

Mini Ice-Age and Waking the Dead



            In theory, the mini ice-age might be the reason St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated far and wide.
By the mid-eighteen-hundreds, the potato—a New World crop—had become big in Ireland. It th. Imagine life without the parades—and green beer, of course. (My mom was born in Dublin so it’s all pretty cool to me!)
had become so big, in fact, that the country was dependent on in. By 1849—tail end of the mini ice-age, since most scientists agree it ended about 1850—the land was so ravaged and decimated that the potatoes were growing black and inedible. In starving droves, the Irish were forced to immigrate to survive. As we know, the Irish came to the United States in massive numbers. And thank the Lord! While they went through a pretty wretched period at first (read Gangs of New York—yes, read the book, though I was a fan of the movie, quite different!) they began to settle in quite nicely as the decades rolled by and we began to pick on whatever new immigrants from different countries began to flock in and it was their turn to be ostracized. Yes, bring us your poor and wretched . . . we’ll bitch about them and forget we’re a nation of immigrants, but hey! Back on track here. So the Irish came and we have delightful celebrations every March 17
So maybe another reason to party in this country isn’t so important. But many or our leaders are of Irish descent, um, hm—like Kennedy! And Obama apparently can go back as well. Maybe Congress could actually agree on something if they were just to figure out that many of them were of Irish descent!
Oh, well. Still digressing here!
And on that note, the first President of the Republic of Ireland was an American. Yup. An Irishman (via his mom,) but born in the US of A, which meant, that when he was caught with a number of men who were hanged for their rebellion, he was spared the noose—no one wanted the Americans getting up in arms against what was going on. So Eamon de Valera lived to be the first pres. Lots of connection here—and maybe because of the weather.
Who knows just what else might have had to do with the extreme cold? Not that the shift was that big—just big enough to ruin crops and keep snow on the ground. Enough to make people really, really hungry.
But here’s to the point of the story—and we’re going to backtrack a little. On April of 1815 the volcano at Mt. Tambora on the little island of Sambawa erupted. The eruption was by far the worst of the nineteenth century although it’s presumed that it wasn’t noted as much as the later eruption of Krakatoa because by the time that top was blown, the telegraph was shooting news all over the place—the Facebook of the age.
But Mt. Tambora was about 12,000 feet high—the eruption knocked off 4,000 feet to bring it down to 8,000. That’s a lot of footage to lose—and a lot of dirt and ash and matter flying around in the air. It’s hard to estimate the deaths with the tsunamis created-much less being there at the initial impact.
The volcanic sky began to travel, right around the globe.
The year 1816 was not a good one in the states. It wasn’t that they were having the coldest days ever—it was that the cold wouldn’t go away. (Kind of like this year, 2014. I just left Chicago. Damn!) Spring hinted of an arrival—and then just went away.
The sky was eternally overcast. Add the fallout into the air and you had one cold year without much sun penetrating down to earth.
But, good things came of it.
1816.
Writers at the time could be a Bohemian lot. Take Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, and John Polidori. They were hanging around Geneva, Switzerland and were known to take lovely holidays. Now on these holidays the group usually did fun things—outside. They loved to boat on the lake, take hikes, and, in general, play games and enjoy the great outdoors! But when they arrived, it was cold. It was dark. It was the year without a summer.  
And sitting around by the fire one cold wretched night at the Villa Diodati, they began to tell ghost stories. And as they told ghost stories, they decided that writing was something that could be done indoors. Since it was eternally gloomy, day often turned to night with little being different. There were eternal shadows surrounding them. Gray hung over the lake like a miasma of death and waiting.
Lord Byron proposed they all write a ghost story.
Well, couple that with Mary’s upbringing—a feminist mother, a father who liked to entertain the brightest minds of his day—and the fact that she was very up on recent experiments with electricity and the concept of “galvanism” and “re-animating” corpses, and you have a story.
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus was born, no pun intended.
Without the mini ice-age, this wonder of the literary world might not exist. Hundreds of actors, film-makers, producers, and what have you might not have had jobs over the decades upon decades since. And writers playing upon the first chills they felt while reading it might not have created their new works of fiction. If you want to get down to it—people might not have been frightened into the backseats at drive-ins and who knows? Some of us might not have even existed!
While it’s fanciful to take it too far, it is amazing what the weather can cause and create and how it has influenced history. A story is a small part of it, of course.
But, apparently, that mini ice-age influenced me. Waking the Dead begins in Geneva, Switzerland, with Mary and her crew—and an ardent admirer of them all who painted with colors rather than a pen. But his creation of that summer makes it present day New Orleans and into the lives of Danni Cafferty and Michael Quinn. I hope you’ll enjoy my take on the year without a summer!

2 comments:

Mike said...

It's amazing what influences us. In about 1973, my father took us to a drive-in movie. The second feature(The one where us kids were supposed to be sleeping already) was Night of The Living Dead. It grabbed me. From there on out I was all about Creature Feature, Edgar Allan Poe, Twilight Zone ect. In my writing, I base certain characters and situations on real life experiences and personalities I've encountered(Sorry Mom) lol

Mike said...

I just ordered Let The Dead Sleep.