A Pretty Common Literary Device
From Kate Wetherall's name to Milligan's weatherbeaten appearance, Trenton Lee Stewart is having a bit of fun with the weather in The Mysterious Benedict Society. Of course, having the weather outside indicate something more than just whether or not a character should bring along an umbrella is pretty standard fare in literature.
Rainy, gloomy days often go along with sad or depressing moods, bad news, or unfortunate events. And bright sunshine and blue skies? You guessed it: hope, rebirth, renewal, or joy. But Stewart isn't just indicating moods or foreshadowing incidents with his weather imagery. Take a look.
Which Stewart Uses Both Commonly…
Okay sure—when the kids have their first meal at Mr. B's, "redbirds twittered in the elm tree outside the open window, a gentle breeze drifted into the room, and in general the children were in much better spirits" (4.1). So yeah—nice day = good mood + hope. And when they wake up the next morning and await Mr. B's explanation of the dangerous mission they've all just agreed to undertake?
The blackened sky outside seemed to creep gloomily into the house, dimming the lamps and lengthening their shadows; and along with the howling chimneys was heard the growling of thunder, low and menacing and close at hand. (5.51)
The dark, stormy, menacing weather preps us for the dark, stormy menacing news the kids are about to get.
And yes, Mr. Benedict refers to The Thing to Come as "a looming darkness, like storm clouds sweeping in to cover the sky" (5.158).
But after that, the weather imagery takes an interesting turn. First the kids notice that the idea of being involved in this secret mission has "caused a deep, indefinable dread to settle upon them like a cold mist" (5.183).
And when they've realized that by virtue of their resistance to Mr. Curtain's messages they will likely receive what Mr. B calls special attention, "a black cloud of possibility bloomed in the children's minds, a darkness in which scary thoughts flickered like bolts of lightning" (8.34).
See what's going on? The children's emotions and feelings are being described in terms of weather now, and in case we missed it, we get this great line from Kate when she presents her suggestion for their team name: "It kind of plays on a weather theme" (9.53). But Stewart doesn't stop there.
When Reynie is struggling with his attachment to the Whisperer, he notices that "a fog seemed to have rolled into his mind" (30.17), and whenever messages are being broadcast, Reynie feels them like "a storm system in his mind" (32.14).
Like we said before, weather is often used in literature to indicate moods and foreshadow events. Why? Because it's pretty effective. And because it parallels real life. Think about it: isn't your mood sometimes affected by the weather? Of course it is. And art imitates life (just as life sometimes imitates art).
And as for that other thing Stewart is doing with his weather theme—using weather imagery to describe how characters are feeling—that's pretty effective and real, too. Sometimes Shmoop's brain feels a little foggy, and on the other end of the spectrum, we've definitely felt ideas exploding in our heads like lightning during some of our brainstorming sessions, so that works, too. Probably because emotions are often unpredictable and can change abruptly without even a moment's notice. Just like the weather.