Opening Lines

Books on shelf

I asked for first line suggestions on facebook yesterday after my post, and was overwhelmed with responses. I have a lot of friends who love to read. One of the things I had intended to do was to sort the recommendations by date, to see if opening lines have changed with writing styles over the decades. You know what I mean – the reason Dickens is a challenging read, but a modern novel is a breeze to read. The language and art of storytelling on paper has changed, and that isn’t stopping, with the shift into ereading. I didn’t do that for this post – I was taken aback by the results and although I may come back to it, I want to hear what you think. Some of the oldest lines are also the punchiest.

I also wanted to see how many people chose the same opening lines, so that way we could see what the most memorable lines were, at least in my cohort (I will say my friends lists are heavily biased toward well-read, intelligent, mature adults. That having been said, I’m sure I’m going to be teased now!) I am absolutely certain someone with more time on their hands than I have has already compiled a list more encompassing, but this was a fascinating exercise, and I really appreciate the help of the people who contributed.

So, here’s the list, not sorted by publication date, but by popularity. The first six quotes all received more than one nomination, with the top two receiving five or more votes each, and I think you will see why…

“On one otherwise normal Tuesday evening I had the chance to live the American dream. I was able to throw my incompetent jackass of a boss from a fourteenth-story window.” Larry Correia, “Monster Hunter International.” 

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, wet, slimy hole filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare sandy hole with nothing to sit upon or to eat. It was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort.”

JRR Tolkein, The Hobbit

“The building was on fire and it wasn’t my fault.” –– Jim Butcher, _Blood Rites_

“Lot ninety-seven,” the auctioneer announced. “A boy.”

The boy was dizzy and half sick from the feel of ground underfoot. The slave ship had come more than forty light-years; it carried in its holds the stink of all slave ships, a reek of crowded unwashed bodies, of fear and vomit and ancient grief. Yet in it the boy had been someone, a recognized member of a group, entitled to his meal each day, entitled to fight for his right to eat it in peace. He had even had friends.

Now he was again nothing and nobody, again about to be sold.”

Robert A Heinlein, Citizen of the Galaxy 

“You see, I had this space suit.”

Robert A Heinlein, Have Spacesuit, Will Travel

“The man who was not Terence O’Grady came quietly.”

Sharon Lee/Steve Miller’s “Agent of Change”

He sat, in defiance of municipal orders, astride the gun Zam-Zammah on her brick platform opposite the old Ajaib-Gher— the Wonder House, as the natives call the Lahore Museum.

Rudyard Kipling, Kim 

It was a warm spring night when a fist knocked at the door so hard that the hinges bent.

Terry Pratchett, Feet of Clay 

“My name is Snuff. I’m a watchdog.”

Roger Zelazny, A Night in the Lonesome December

Everything starts somewhere, although many physicists disagree.
Terry Pratchett, Hogfather

“He’s a Mad Scientist and I’m his Beautiful Daughter.”

Robert A Heinlein, The Number of the Beast

“Were they truly intelligent? By themselves that is?”

Robert A Heinlein, The Puppet Masters

‘The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.’

HP Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulu

“Prince Raoden of Arelon awoke early that morning, completely unaware that he had been damned for all eternity.”

Brandon Sanderson, Elantris

“It was a dark and stormy night.” ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ by Madeleine L’Engle.

“I know a place where there is no smog and no parking problem and no population explosion… no Cold War and no H-bombs and no television commercials… no Summit Conferences, no Foreign Aid, no hidden taxes – no income tax.” – RAH – Glory Road

“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

“In the beginning, out of the mists of Time, hand in hand came the twin sisters of Art, Music and Verse. Man, in the exuberant infancy of the race, instinctively danced and as he danced he sang.” _The Musical Basis of Verse_ JP Dabney.

“All that spring, I was scared. Why Pa ever took a notion to stop on that old Chantry place I never did know. Maybe it was because he was just tired and wishful of stopping someplace . . . anyplace. There’d been a dead man on the steps by the door when we drove up. He’d been a long tome dead, and nobody around to bury him, and I was scared.” “Over on the dry side” by Louis L’Amour, 1975

“It was a dark and stormy night –”

“Oh, please, Great-Gran’pa,” a high-pitched voice broke in. “Not that old line!”

“Who’s telling this story, you or me?” the old man retorted. “You asked for this particular story, and I’ll tell it my way.”

Michael Caffrey, 

“I didn’t realise he was a werewolf at first.” MOON CALLED by Patricia Briggs.

Marley was dead: to begin with.

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

“In the week before their departure to Arrakis, when all the final scurrying about had reached a nearly unbearable frenzy, an old crone came to visit the mother of the boy, Paul.”

Frank Herbert, Dune

“Once upon a time, there was a Martian named Valentine Michael Smith.”

Robert A Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

“What do you mean, I can’t come?”

Heart of Venom, by Jennifer Estep (2013). 

“It was a small town by a small river and a small lake in a small northern part of a Midwest state. But on the other hand there wasn’t so much town you couldn’t see and feel and touch and smell the wilderness. The town was full of trees. And full of fences to walk on and sidewalks to skate on and large ravine to tumble in and yell across. And the town was full of….


And it was the afternoon of Halloween.

And all the houses shut against a cool wind.

And the town full of cold sunlight.

But suddenly, the day was gone.

Night came out from under each tree and spread.”

The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

“You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’; but that ain’t no matter.”

Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn

Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies, with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer, and Aunt Em, who was the farmer’s wife.

L Frank Baum, the Wizard of Oz

“The Deliverator belongs to an elite order, a hallowed subcategory. He’s got esprit up to here. Right now he is preparing to carry out his third mission of the night. His uniform is black as activated charcoal, filtering the very light out of the air. A bullet will bounce off its arachnofiber weave like a wren hitting a patio door, but excess perspiration wafts through it like a breeze through a freshly napalmed forest.” Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson

“A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head.” A Confederacy of Dunces, John K. Toole

“Call me Bandit” — John Ringo, The Last Centurion

“And then, after walking all day through a golden haze of humid warmth that gathered about him like fine wet fleece, Valentine came to a great ridge of outcropping white stone overlooking the city of Pidruid.”

Robert Silverberg, Lord Valentine’s Castle

“He was one hundred seventy days dying and not yet dead.”

Alfred Bester, The Stars my Destination 

The last drops of the thundershower had hardly ceased falling, when the Pedestrian stuffed his map into his pocket, settled his pack more comfortably on this tired shoulders, and stepped out from the shelter of a large chestnut tree into the middle of the road. A violent yellow sunset was pouring through a rift in the clouds to westward, but straight ahead over the hills the sky was the color of dark slate. Every tree and blade of grass was dripping, and the road shone like a river.

C. S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet