What’s Your Favorite?

February 1, 2006 @ 4:24 am | Filed under:

The 100 Best First Lines in Literature.

I wouldn’t have put their #1 selection first. #2, now, that’s a good opening line.

Funny, the #30 choice sounds to me like something off this list of bad metaphors that appeared on the Bravewriter blog the other day.

I especially admire #38.

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6 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. sarah hutchins says:

    Loved the metaphors link. It was just what I needed today. I’m still laughing.


  2. Karen E. says:

    Yeah, the #1 selection may be the best known, but not the best.

    And on the metaphors, wouldn’t you just love to grow on someone the way e. coli does?

  3. Kelly says:

    My favorite first line is from “Charlotte’s Web.”

    “‘Where’s Papa going with that ax?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.”

    Fun list! Thanks for posting it.

  4. Ron says:

    I’m a fan of CS Lewis, so I’m for #47.

  5. Alice Gunther says:

    LOL about number 30!

  6. Scott says:

    I wouldn’t have put their #1 selection first.

    Ah, I must ever so respectfully dissent. (I’m still allowed to do that, right?) 🙂

    Well, actually, I guess I wouldn’t dissent that you wouldn’t have put it first. But I’m going to leap to its defense ne’ertheless.

    Moby Dick was written in 1851. Compare its opening to this, also amazing, opening from eight years later:

    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.

    Both immediately arresting yet they could not be more different, the first terse, the second expansive, the first a command, the second a declaration.

    Add to that the sense of ambiguity one gets from those three little words. He doesn’t say “I am Ishmael.” He doesn’t say “My name is Ishmael.” He doesn’t even say “They call me Ishmael” or “I am called Ishmael.” Instead he instructs the reader. “Call me Ishmael.” There’s already an uneasy feeling one gets right from that very first sentence. Is his name Ishmael? Does anyone else call him that?

    This opening has entered the culture like few other novel openings in history—in fact, only “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” can probably rival it. (For now.)

    And, of course, Ishmael means “God hears” in Hebrew. So talk about your omniscient narrators!

    Now, personally, I’m fond of several that weren’t even on the list. For instance:

    The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.


    In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

    Or best of all:

    The tanks rolled in just before dawn.

    But then I’m a low-brow, pop culture kinda guy. I’m just not as elevated as you. On the other hand, I give footrubs. So I reckon it’s a wash.