Monday, February 16, 2009

Top 10 Favorite Opening Lines

Hey all you literary fans...
Hope you are all having an excellent Sunday night. Padfoot and Prongs are up 'til all hours as usual. But that works out for you, since out of their insomnia/boredom, you get a new post! Tonight's update is dedicated to the tricky art of first lines from novels.
The first line of any written or spoken passage can potentially make or break the point that the author is trying to achieve. A novel's first line can set the tone for the entire book, in either a negative or positive way. Just think, where would A Christmas Carol be if Dickens had started out by saying, "Marley died the other day?" Not nearly as powerful as the alternative. What is important to remember, however, is that just because an opening line is outstanding it doesn't mean that the book is going to be. It is just a jumping off point (albeit a very large jump).

Together we have compiled a list of our top 10 favorite opening lines of books. Just because the opening line is on here doesn't mean it's one of our favorite books (even though some actually are). Rather, for various reasons we feel that these particular openers stand out when compared to others and compel you to read further. Hopefully some of you will recognize one or two of your own favorites. If not, hopefully they will do their job and inspire you to want to read more. Enjoy!

#1. Fear and Loathing by Hunter S. Thompson
"We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold."
We choose Fear and Loathing to kick us off. Let's be could you not read on after that? Already, your eye has been bombarded by Steadman's tripped-out pictures. Then, when that first line hits you, it's like BAM! Here we go!

#2. The Stranger by Albert Camus
"Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don't know."
This pretty much sums up Camus' main character better than I could even begin to describe. This line makes you wonder what kind of heartless, deranged individual could not actually know these details. Following this line, he does not disappoint.

#3. Lord Jim By Joseph Conrad

"He was an inch, perhaps two, under six feet, powerfully built, and he advanced straight at you with a slight stoop of the shoulders, head forward, and a fixed from-under stare which made you think of a charging bull."
Padfoot just liked this description. She pretty much wanted to see his 'O Face' from this line alone. Floozy.

#4. Gravity's Rainbow By Thomas Pynchon
"A screaming comes across the sky."
This made the top 10 due to its sheer ingenuity. Not many writers have been able to so fully master the idea of an abstract opening, while still keeping it interesting. Beautiful wording definitely entices you to read further.

#5. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis"There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it."
Humor is another one of those openers that is hard to really nail. Lewis did an excellent job of being funny, not being too corny, and still setting up a good lead into the following story. I mean, honestly, who really deserves the name Eustace?

#6. 1984 by George Orwell
"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."
Arguably one of the best opening lines to come out of a novel. Orwell has already purposefully put the reader into a mood of wonder and excitement with his foreshadowing of a futuristic world. Just excellent!

#7. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
"It was a pleasure to burn."
This personally strikes us as one of the most beautiful compilation of words ever put together. Somewhat like the phrase 'Cellar Door,' it is one of those things that you hear and are immediately attracted to. The ordering of these words could not be improved in any way. It is especially powerful when used as an opening.

#8. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
"He was awake a long time before he remembered that his heart was broken."
Although we are not huge fans of Hemingway, there is no denying that he knew how to kick off a book. The reader is already becoming invested in the main character before we have even reached the second paragraph.

#9. Anthem by Ayn Rand
"It is a sin to write this."
Wow. Can you say dynamic? There are very few lines that that can accomplish such an intense reaction in such few words. This is the perfect example that more is not always better. It took Rand 7 simple words and we were hooked.

#10. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
"Mr. and Mrs Dursley, of number Four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much."
You knew it was coming, so let's be fair. Even though this might not be the most historically revered or profoundly written book, there is an undeniable magic that Rowling has been able to embody in her books. This usually starts with the first line. It was with the single spark of this line that millions of people, both young and old, awakened their love of literature and books and that is truly magical.

Well we hope that you enjoyed our list. Feel free to comment with your own personal favorites or comment about our selections. For a list of the 'Top 100' literary quotes check out this site.
See which ones you agree with.

Mischief managed


  1. ahhh cant forget the opening line of Slaughterhouse-Five

    All this happened, more or less


  2. Nice compilation. I love the first lines of novels. One of my favorites is that of Lolita:

    "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins."

    and then the rest of the opening paragraph (and book) continues to be amazing.

  3. Actually Lolita was a big contender on my half of the list. We named our cat Lola (after I demanded it) and I often yell the opening line at her. The entire opening paragraph is probably the first big chunk of literary writing that I memorized. Amazing stuff.

    "My sin, my soul" "But in my arms she was always Lolita"

    Almost enough to make you forget about the fact that shes 13 and his step-daughter...

  4. My three personal favorites:

    "It was a dazzling four-sun afternoon." - Nightfall by Isaac Asimov & Robert Silverberg

    "They're out there." - One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

    "I am always drawn back to places where I have lived, the houses and their neighborhoods." - Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote

    I also agree with Jessica. Vonnegut has a way at getting your attention, but he's not the best at keeping it.

  5. Shut yo filthy mouth boy. Vonnegut did a great job with the two I've read. I'll let you know my final verdict after Cat's Cradle

  6. You picked some excellent openers!

    And yeah, Vonnegut definitely does keep my attention :P

  7. Ha, good pick with the Voyage of the Dawn Treader!

  8. That one was all Padfoot but I def. had to agree with her. Way to funny to not be included.

  9. Thanks for dropping by my blog - welcome!

    Here are two more classic opening lines for you:

    "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." - Pride and Prejudice

    That is possibly the best opening line EVER.

    "Call me Ishmael." - Moby Dick

    That's what I'm reading (er, listening to) right now.

  10. Wonderful list! I agree that all of these opening lines are particularly fantastic. I am currently reading Ray Bradbury's book of writing essays, "Zen in the Art of Writing." He talks about finishing Fahrenheit 451 in 9 days on a timed typewriter that only took dimes.

    lindsay ||

  11. This was brilliant! Loved this post! And I have to agree with you on Fear and Loathing. I mean how can you not want to read it! I am going to link to this post later in the week as one of the best posts I've seen around.

    And I'm so glad that you stopped by my blog so I could find yours! this is great stuff here!

  12. Thank you for so much for all of the wonderful comments! This is the kind of thing that we love to hear and discuss!!

    Heather J- I have to agree with you on Pride and Prejudice. Definitaly one of the most classics. Also if you check out the link I posted they put 'Call me Ishmmeal' as their number 1. Honestly I think it was a fairly good choice, not many people could hear that and not realize what it was from.

    Lindasy- Thanks for stopping by as well! I LOVE Bradbury and it doesn't get much better than 451. By far one of my favorite openers ever.

    Jenners- Thank you soo much for the wonderful comments! We are glad that you enjoyed this post and hope we can continue to get up some stuff that you all like. We will be happy to extend the same courtesy to you and put a link to your blog up as well!

  13. i love this!!! such a fun list to read though

  14. I agree with Nathan on Lolita, and have three more to add to the list:

    "As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect." -Kafka's The Metamorphosis

    "It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York." -Plath's The Bell Jar

    "The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit." -Westerfeld's Uglies

  15. You have inspired me to create my own personal list of favorite opening lines. I shall link back to you when I post it. 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 are def on my list already. But I have differing ideas for the other 8. Well done.

  16. Sadly, I've read none of these novels but Harry Potter. These opening lines have intrigued me, though, and I am now adding many of them to my TBR list!

  17. Of late, I have to say that my memory is not what it used to be or I'd share some opening lines with you. However, I love the ones you included in this post.

  18. Lest we forget poor old Bulwer-Lytton with the worst yet most (in)famous opening line:
    "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."

    So bad was this opening line that it started the (in)famous Bulwer-Lytton Bad fiction writing contest...


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