Best Opening Lines: Literature Edition
Susan last year did a great post on opening lines. It was all music though. So let’s switch it. What are your thoughts on the best opening lines in literature? There are some I love even when I’ve never read the book. (i.e. the classic, “it was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly a shot rang out.”)
So, in no particular order. Here are a few of mine.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. (Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities)
I can’t stand to read Dickens. But I love that opening. It really sets the novel up. And let’s face it. If you hear those few few words you immediately recognize it.
Call me Ishmael. (Melville, Moby Dick)
Moby Dick, like Ulysses, is one of those books I’ve tried to read dozens of times but never quite made it far. Both also are not about what they appear to be about. They are odd musings on the nature of man and metaphysics told in quite an unique way. One day I hope to read them.
To break the pretentiousness of that paragraph let me say that the funniest thing I ever heard was someone doing a Gilbert Gottfried impersonation of Gottfried reading the first page of Moby Dick. I still laugh when I think about it.
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. (Tolstoy, Anna Karenina)
An other classic I’ve never read although with perhaps fewer excuses than Melville and Joyce. But what a great line. If somewhat depressing. But then it is Russian literature.
It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness. (Lytton, Paul Clifford)
Never read it. Never will. I know it purely because of Snoopy. But it’s a classic opening line. See the wiki if you’re interested.
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort. (Tolkien, The Hobbit)
I just love this opening. There are a lot of great books with bad openings. But this really sets the stage for the book and Tolkien’s frankly extremely unique story telling style.
I’ll leave it there so you can add your own.