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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Where's Papa going with that axe? (AKA My Favorite First Lines)

Novels are supposed to pull you in.  Well, that's what I think, anyway.  It's what I want them to do.  From the moment I read the first few words, I want to have that "certainty" hit me; or what I think of as that special feeling that tells me the kids might not get lunch and that I'm going to have to re-schedule everything on my to-do list for the next 24-48 hours, because I'm going to have a book stuck in my face!  The writer wants his or her readers to keep reading, and some of my all-time favorite authors do that very well, from Word One.  Here are some of my favorite first lines (or first few lines) from a smattering of my best-loved books.  This list may not contain first lines that are famous around the world, but they're the ones that resonate with me:

"'Where's Papa going with that axe?' said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast."
E.B. White, --Charlotte’s Web, (1952)

"It was a dark and stormy night."  :-) 
Madeleine L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time (1962)

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)

"There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it." —C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)

"Claudia knew she could never pull off the old-fashioned kind of running away."  --E. L. Konigsburg, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1972)

 "In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit."  J. R. R. Tolkein, The Hobbit (1966) "When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.  My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim's warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress.  She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother.  Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping."
 --Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games (2008)

"First the colors.
Then the humans.
That’s usually how I see things.
Or at least, how I try."
--Marcus Zusack, The Book Thief (2006)

What is it that makes you want to keep reading?  An interesting protagonist, a bizarre situation?  The hint of something unusual that's to come, or something that makes you laugh?  What's your favorite first line?  :-)


  1. "Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much." I had the whole first page memorized when I was in fifth grade. :)

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  3. I love first lines too - or hate them. They set the tone, don't they?

    Any English teacher would cringe at this one, and bleed red ink all over it, and yet who dares to correct Jane? Not me. It's perfect.

    Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who,
    for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage; there he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect, by contemplating the limited remnant of the earliest patents; there any unwelcome sensations, arising from domestic affairs changed naturally into pity and contempt as he turned over the almost endless creations of the last century; and there, if every other leaf were powerless, he could read his own history with an interest which never failed.

  4. Oh, how could I forget the first line of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone?" :-) Silly me!

  5. I think you're right, Barbara, that the first line of Persuasion is a lot for modern readers to stomach, but is still perfect at the same time!