… and other lesser-known facts about this Mary Stewart novel.
Manuscripts show that Thunder on the Right was at an early point called Death on the Bare Mountain, by Mary Rainbow – Rainbow being Mary Stewart’s maiden name. This suggests to me Mussorgsky’s ‘A Night on the Bare Mountain’ (sometimes called ‘Night on Bald Mountain’).
Perhaps this piece of music was a source of inspiration to Mary Stewart, it certainly provides a menacing tone!
The novel was also called On the Bare Mountain (A Melodrama). Take a look at chapter 26: the chapter is headed Night on the Bare Mountain and the opening paragraph – which I quote in my Thunder on the Right summary page – talks of melodrama.
Even after this, the book wasn’t yet named Thunder on the Right; it was Thunder on the Left. Both idioms are connected to seeing thunder as an omen: apparently in classical times the Greeks believed thunder on the right was lucky while the Romans saw thunder on the left as a favourable portent. Mary Stewart may have plumped for having her thunder on the right because there was a 1925 novel called Thunder on the Left, by Christopher Morley, and also it was a phrase that had come to be associated with politics.
The only other title for the book that I know of is the one used for its 1957 serialisation in Woman magazine, when it was called ‘The Small Blue Flower’.
The earlier draft of Thunder doesn’t only have a different title, it also supplies a name for Jennifer’s father (Aloysius) and gifts cousin Gillian with a maiden name (Maidment). Gillian had almost married Jennifer’s brother Robert until ‘with war-time suddenness, Gillian married a Frenchman’. In the final version, however, there is no brother Robert, Jennifer is an only child.
Of all her books, Thunder was the one Mary Stewart liked least. She wrote it in the third person but found it awkward, so from Wildfire onwards kept to the first-person narrative – so we are informed in ‘About Mary Stewart’, which was published in 1970 before she had written, in the third person, The Wicked Day and The Prince and the Pilgrim. She said in an interview with Stephen Merrick that ‘Thunder on the Right is a very bad book. I’m bitterly ashamed of it… I was writing for writing’s sake. Purple patches all over the place.’ Similarly, in Roy Newquist’s book of author interviews, Counterpoint, Mary Stewart is quoted as saying: ‘The Least favorite is simple: Thunder on the Right. I detest that book, I’m ashamed of it, and I’d like to see it drowned beyond recovery. It’s overwritten. It was actually the second book I wrote, and for some strange reason I went overboard, splurged with adjectives, all colored purple.’
Reviewers were generally kinder than the author herself. The New York Herald Tribune Book Review contained this praise: Mary Stewart once again proves herself adept at writing a highly charged romantic mystery thriller distinguished for the excellence of its setting, the charm of its heroine and the breathtaking urgency of action. (5 October 1958)