Opening Lines

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Opening Lines

Postby Felstaff » Fri Feb 15, 2008 1:49 pm UTC

This has probably already bindun before (so feel free to lock/merge/stroke chin), but what would you consider an excellent opening line to a novel/story/sequence of words?

Any existing & Made up ones, with the latter being preferred.

Some o' my favourites.

Stephen King - The Gunslinger wrote:"The man in black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed"

Bilbo Baggins - There & Back Again wrote:"In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit."

Tycho Brahe - The Elemenstor Cycle, Book I wrote:"A flash of lightning tore through the tumult, illuminating the grizzled Elemenstor and his ambulatory dresser."


And a few I've just made up:

"In the beginning, there was only a sentence of 11 words."

When he woke from his dream, he had no idea he was still asleep and dreaming of waking up, which was enough of a shock to wake him from the frankly bizarre dream of waking up.

Despite the fact the entire planet had been annihilated only the evening before, the day began pretty much as any other.
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Re: Opening Lines

Postby Liam079 » Fri Feb 15, 2008 4:14 pm UTC

If your going to read this, don't bother

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Re: Opening Lines

Postby MotorToad » Fri Feb 15, 2008 4:33 pm UTC

I've always liked "call me Ishmael," though to be honest I can't give a good reason why.

"It was a dark and stormy night!" Go, Snoopy, go! He's the best writer in comics. :)

Other than those, I can't recall much that have stuck out. I'm more into the meat of the book than the parsley.
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Re: Opening Lines

Postby OmenPigeon » Fri Feb 15, 2008 5:48 pm UTC

MotorToad wrote:"It was a dark and stormy night!" Go, Snoopy, go! He's the best writer in comics. :)

If you're going to bring this up, you really need to go all the way

Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote: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.

Long considered the worst opening line of any novel in the English language, there are a number of annual competitions to try and top it. My favorite is the Lyttle Lytton, which limits entrants to around 20 words. Excellent exemplars include:

Jonathan Thomson wrote:The cosmonauts were transfixed with wonderment as the sun set — over the Earth — there lucklessly, untethered Comrade Todd on fire.

Nick Montfort wrote:If you're going to start reading my novel, please stop touching yourself like that.

Nicole Dickison wrote:Dora liked to explore.

While these are intended as comically tragic examples of hypothetical books, I feel like some of them would make great beginning to comedic novels. For a few years now, I've really, really wanted to hear the full story of Comrade Todd.
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Re: Opening Lines

Postby Izawwlgood » Fri Feb 15, 2008 6:11 pm UTC

Rage.
Sing, O Muse, of the rage of Achilles, of Peleus’ son, murderous, man-killer, fated to die, sing of the rage that cost the Achaens so many good men and sent so many vital, hearty souls down to the dreary House of Death. And while you’re at it, O Muse, sing of the rage of the gods themselves, so petulant and so powerful here on their new Olympos, and of the rage of the post-humans, dead and gone though they might be, and of the rage of those few true humans left, self-absorbed and useless though they may have become. While you are singing, O Muse, sing also of the rage of those thoughtful, sentient, serious but not-so-close-to-human beings out there dreaming under the ice of Europa, dying in the sulfer-ash of Io, and being born in the cold folds of Ganymede.
Oh, and sing of me, O Muse, poor born-again-against-his-will Hockenberry – poor dead Thomas Hockenberry, Ph.D., Hockenbush to his friends, to friends long since turned to dust on a world long since left behind. Sing of my rage, yes, of my rage, O Muse, small and insignificant though that rage may be when measured against the anger of the immortal gods, or when compared to the wrath of the god-killer, Achilles.
On second thought, O Muse, sing of nothing to me. I know you. I have been bound and servant to you, O Muse, you incomparable bitch. And I do not trust you, O Muse. Not one little bit.


Dan Simmons, Ilium

@Liam: was that from Endymion?

Endymion starts: "You are reading this book for the wrong reason"
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Re: Opening Lines

Postby Anomie » Fri Feb 15, 2008 7:08 pm UTC

The first line of Fear and Loathing is amazing, something along the lines of:
"We were in the middle of the desert, a few miles outside some place called Barker, when the drugs began to take hold."
It sums up the rest of the book perfectly.
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Re: Opening Lines

Postby Masuri » Fri Feb 15, 2008 8:03 pm UTC

Stephen King - The Gunslinger wrote:"The man in black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed."


That's probably my favorite starting sentence ever. There's a world of conflict, mystery, intrigue and pop culture wrapped up in those few words. And there's even more meaning to it after you read the last book. I'm struck by the inevitability of it. I wonder if he knew, then, how the series would end.

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Re: Opening Lines

Postby XilDarkz » Fri Feb 15, 2008 10:26 pm UTC

The best opening lines, in my opinion, are the ones that make an equally good closing.

I can still see him burning.


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Re: Opening Lines

Postby Narsil » Fri Feb 15, 2008 10:50 pm UTC

Gravity's Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon wrote:A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare to it now.


This is a great opening. Outlines the whole novel and begins the ticking clock to it's conclusion.

Guts (from Haunted), Chuck Palahniuk wrote:Inhale. Take in as much air as you can. This story should take as long as you can hold your breath, and just a little longer, so listen fast.


I like how this one tells you that the story is going to be as much as you can handle, and then a push over that line. Also, great tie-in ending line.
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Re: Opening Lines

Postby nevskey1 » Fri Feb 15, 2008 11:34 pm UTC

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

Franz Kafka in The Trial wrote:Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything wrong, he was arrested.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez in 100 Years of Solitude wrote:Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.


There are many others, but I that's all I can think of for now.
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Re: Opening Lines

Postby aion7 » Sat Feb 16, 2008 4:08 am UTC

Charles Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities) wrote: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.

Ray Bradbury (Farenheit 451) wrote:It was a pleasure to burn.

H.P. Lovecraft (Call of Cthulhu) wrote:The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.

Edgar Allen Poe (The Tell-Tale Heart) wrote:True! - nervous - very, very nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?



Just a few that I like.
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Re: Opening Lines

Postby Malice » Sat Feb 16, 2008 7:35 am UTC

More "opening lines" than "opening line" here, but...

A Scanner Darkly wrote:Once a guy stood all day shaking bugs from his hair. The doctor told him there were no bugs in his hair. After he had taken a shower for eight hours, standing under hot water hour after hour suffering the pain of the bugs, he got out and dried himself, and he still had bugs in his hair; in fact, he had bugs all over him. A month later he had bugs in his lungs.


I picked that up in a bookstore once, read that paragraph, and bought the book immediately knowing nothing else about it. I was not disappointed.

High Fidelity wrote:My desert-island, all-time, top five most memorable split-ups, in chronological order:
1. Alison Ashworth
2. Penny Hardwick
3. Jackie Allen
4. Charlie Nicholson
5. Sarah Kendrew.

These were the ones that really hurt. Can you see your name in that lot, Laura? I reckon you'd sneak into the top ten, but there's no place for you in the top five; those places are reserved for the kind of humiliations and heartbreaks that you're just not capable of delivering. That probably sounds crueler than it is meant to, but the fact is that we're too old to make each other miserable, and that's a good thing, not a bad thing, so don't take your failure to make the list personally. Those days are gone, and good fucking riddance to them; unhappiness really meant something back then. Now it's just a drag, like a cold or having no money. If you really wanted to mess me up, you should have got to me earlier.


The Catcher in the Rye wrote:If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.


A perfect introduction, not only to Holden's attitude, but to Salinger's "fuck you and your scrubbed, sanctified, unreal adolescents, previous writers" mentality.

The Big Sleep wrote:It was about eleven o'clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn't care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.


A great beginning to a seminal novel, immediately establishing Chandler's iconic character, and not coincidentally giving the feel of a knight preparing his armor for battle.

I wish I had my copy of Fight Club here... Can't remember what its first line is. Chuck Palahniuk, though, is a master of of the first chapter. Invisible Monsters, in particular, is spectacular.

For a fascinating discussion of first lines, see Brett Easton Ellis's self-reflexive novel, Lunar Park, which has a wonderful first line of its own.

Lunar Park wrote:You do a good impression of yourself.
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Re: Opening Lines

Postby Narsil » Sat Feb 16, 2008 2:52 pm UTC

I, however, have my copy right here.

Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club wrote:Tyler gets me a job as a waiter, after that Tyler's pushing a gun in my mouth and saying, the first step to eternal life is you have to die.


That's a pretty aggressive opening line.
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Re: Opening Lines

Postby apricity » Sat Feb 16, 2008 4:14 pm UTC

If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino wrote:You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other throught. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the doors; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, "No, I don't want to watch TV!" Raise your voice-- they won't hear you otherwise-- "I'm reading! I don't want to be disturbed!" Maybe they haven't heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell: "I'm beginning to read Italo Calvino's new novel!" Or if you prefer, don't say anything; just hope they'll leave you alone.


The whole first chapter is like that.
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Re: Opening Lines

Postby Malice » Sat Feb 16, 2008 10:50 pm UTC

Narsil wrote:I, however, have my copy right here.

Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club wrote:Tyler gets me a job as a waiter, after that Tyler's pushing a gun in my mouth and saying, the first step to eternal life is you have to die.


That's a pretty aggressive opening line.


Thanks! Yeah, I love that line. It's such a weird and awesome jump.
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Re: Opening Lines

Postby Narsil » Sun Feb 17, 2008 4:59 am UTC

lanicita wrote:
If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino wrote:You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other throught. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the doors; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, "No, I don't want to watch TV!" Raise your voice-- they won't hear you otherwise-- "I'm reading! I don't want to be disturbed!" Maybe they haven't heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell: "I'm beginning to read Italo Calvino's new novel!" Or if you prefer, don't say anything; just hope they'll leave you alone.


The whole first chapter is like that.
That sounds fun, but does it get stale after a while? I mean sure, I see the irony of reading a book that tells how how to read that particular book without providing you with anything else to read, but that doesn't mean I don't actually want to read a book. My head hurts.
Spoiler:
EsotericWombat wrote:MORE JUNK THAN YOUR BODY HAS ROOM FOR

Mother Superior wrote:What's he got that I dont?
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Re: Opening Lines

Postby apricity » Sun Feb 17, 2008 11:31 pm UTC

Hehe, I don't know, I haven't actually had time to get past chapter 2. I'm still into it at this point though, and I'll probably get further through it this weekend, so I'll let you know :)
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Re: Opening Lines

Postby tiny » Mon Feb 18, 2008 12:34 am UTC

"Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were. "
~ Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.

"Das ist die Geschichte des Musikers Johannes Elias Alder, der zweiundzwanzigjährig sein Leben zu Tode brachte, nachdem er beschlossen hatte, nicht mehr zu schlafen."
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Translation:
"This is the story of the musician Johannes Elias Alder who, at the age of twenty two, brought his life to death after deciding not to sleep ever again."
~ Brother of Sleep by Robert Schneider
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Re: Opening Lines

Postby Felstaff » Mon Feb 18, 2008 9:23 am UTC

I almost forgot, the Football Factory:
Coventry are fuck all.

And then, just to clarify the opening line, it says "They've got a shit team and shit support. Hitler had the right idea when he flattened the place."
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Re: Opening Lines

Postby thejdawg » Mon Feb 18, 2008 12:31 pm UTC

Narsil wrote:
lanicita wrote:
If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino wrote:You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other throught. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the doors; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, "No, I don't want to watch TV!" Raise your voice-- they won't hear you otherwise-- "I'm reading! I don't want to be disturbed!" Maybe they haven't heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell: "I'm beginning to read Italo Calvino's new novel!" Or if you prefer, don't say anything; just hope they'll leave you alone.


The whole first chapter is like that.
That sounds fun, but does it get stale after a while? I mean sure, I see the irony of reading a book that tells how how to read that particular book without providing you with anything else to read, but that doesn't mean I don't actually want to read a book. My head hurts.
It's only half like that. The other half is written in a more traditional form.

It's an excellent, excellent book.

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Re: Opening Lines

Postby no-genius » Mon Feb 18, 2008 2:17 pm UTC

House of leaves wrote:This is not for you


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Re: Opening Lines

Postby pieaholicx » Mon Feb 18, 2008 5:36 pm UTC

I really enjoyed the opening lines to Secret Window, Secret Garden (Stephen King):
"You stole my story," the man on the step said. "You stole my story and something's got to done about it. Right is right and fair is fair and something has to be done."


Definitely starts the story off on the right feeling.
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Re: Opening Lines

Postby trickster721 » Mon Feb 18, 2008 11:50 pm UTC

The Axe Boy lived downstairs.

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Re: Opening Lines

Postby MJPerry » Tue Feb 19, 2008 12:21 am UTC

Dammit- The Gunslinger, The Hobbit, Secret Window, Secret Garden, A Tale of Two Cities... ya'll stole my contributions already!

I also like the opening line of Ulysses. Off the top of my head it's something like-

Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.


It just gives you a good image of the character in the first line.

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Re: Opening Lines

Postby Kag » Wed Feb 20, 2008 2:16 am UTC

I'm rather fond of this one.
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Re: Opening Lines

Postby Upsilon » Wed Feb 20, 2008 3:11 am UTC

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams wrote: The story so far:
In the beginning the Universe was created.
This has made many people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.

I enjoy that one.
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Re: Opening Lines

Postby Jorpho » Wed Feb 20, 2008 3:15 am UTC

Hmm. All I've got is the opening line from David Brin's "The Practice Effect". We can all relate:
The lecture was really boring.


And of course, since it hasn't been mentioned yet, from memory:
Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western spiral arm of the galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.

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Re: Opening Lines

Postby Teut » Wed Feb 20, 2008 9:30 am UTC

There's a few I've always liked. This one can seem confusing but is actually a very clear statement of setting:

The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling wrote:Composite image, optically encoded by escort-craft of the trans-Channel airship Lord Brunel: aerial view of suburban Cherbourg, 14 October 1905.


The whole first chapter of Northern Lights (if not the entire book), plays on giving you enough information to figure things out but never lectures to explain a point. I'm embarassed by how long it took my to figure out what anbaric current was. Anyway, it starts:

Northern Lights, by Phillip Pullman wrote:Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.


And the start of War of the Worlds is utterly iconic - although I can't be bothered to type it all in.

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Re: Opening Lines

Postby zomgmouse » Wed Feb 20, 2008 10:03 am UTC

To continue the Douglas Adams theme, here's the opening line from The Long, Dark Teatime of the Soul:
It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on Earth has ever produced the expression "as pretty as an airport".


EDIT: Just remembered a good one. Dickens' Hard Times:
Mr. Gradgrind wrote:Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else.
Last edited by zomgmouse on Wed Feb 20, 2008 10:15 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Opening Lines

Postby Zak » Wed Feb 20, 2008 10:10 am UTC

Yeah, but i don't think that we can count Douglas Adams, as almost every single line in his books are quote-worthy.

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Re: Opening Lines

Postby Felstaff » Wed Feb 20, 2008 2:11 pm UTC

1000 monkeys at 1000 typewriters wrote:It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times? You stupid monkey!
Away, you scullion! you rampallion! You fustilarian! I'll tickle your catastrophe.

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Re: Opening Lines

Postby rrwoods » Wed Feb 20, 2008 6:32 pm UTC

I suppose you could count a dedication as an opening line if it's a faux-dedication, but I quite like this instead:
House of Leaves wrote:I still get nightmares.
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Re: Opening Lines

Postby Aleril » Wed Feb 20, 2008 8:02 pm UTC

My favorite:

Albert Camus wrote:"Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don't know. I got a telegram from the home: Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours. That doesn't mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday."



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Re: Opening Lines

Postby Princess Marzipan » Thu Feb 21, 2008 2:34 pm UTC

Felstaff wrote:Some o' my favourites.

Stephen King - The Gunslinger wrote:"The man in black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed"


Haven't read the rest of the thread yet, but this line is what immediately came to mind seeing the thread title. Good on you, sir.
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Re: Opening Lines

Postby mosc » Thu Feb 21, 2008 9:02 pm UTC

Every warhammer 40k book starts out with this and I always seem to read if even though I can practically say it without the words on the page anyway by this point. It simply kicks too much ass not to be read:

It is the 41st millennium. For more than a hundred centuries the Emperor has sat immobile on the Golden Throne of Earth. He is a rotting carcass writhing invisibly with power from the Dark Age of Technology. He is the Carrion Lord of the Imperium for whom a thousand souls are sacrificed every day, so that he may never truly die.

To be a man in such times is to be one amongst untold billions. It is to live in the cruellest and most bloody regime imaginable. These are the tales of those times. Forget the power of technology and science, for so much has been forgotten, never to be re-learned. Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for in the grim dark future there is only war.
Title: It was given by the XKCD moderators to me because they didn't care what I thought (I made some rantings, etc). I care what YOU think, the joke is forums.xkcd doesn't care what I think.

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Kendo_Bunny
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Re: Opening Lines

Postby Kendo_Bunny » Thu Feb 21, 2008 9:36 pm UTC

How about some awesome openings to poetry?

T.S. Eliot wrote:April is the cruellest month


Edgar Allen Poe wrote: Lo! Death has reared himself a throne


Allen Ginsburg wrote:I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness


e.e. cummings wrote: you shall above all things be glad and young


Emily Dickinson wrote:I like a look of agony


Matthew Arnold wrote:The sea is calm to-night.


Archibald Macleish wrote:A poem should be palpable and mute

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Felstaff
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Re: Opening Lines

Postby Felstaff » Fri Feb 22, 2008 9:25 am UTC

Poetry, eh? Then there's only one poem of all the poems worth poeming.

Poe wrote:Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
Away, you scullion! you rampallion! You fustilarian! I'll tickle your catastrophe.

cathrl
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Re: Opening Lines

Postby cathrl » Fri Feb 22, 2008 4:39 pm UTC

I can't believe nobody's quoted Rebecca (Daphne Du Maurier) yet:

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

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Judas Maccabeus
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Re: Opening Lines

Postby Judas Maccabeus » Sun Feb 24, 2008 5:50 am UTC

William Shakespeare (Henry V) wrote:O, for a muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention:
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act,
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene.


I'm surprised that this is the first Shakespeare in here. Though most of his first lines ("Who's there?" from Hamlet being my "favorite") aren't too horribly exciting.


I'd do Isaac Asimov, but like Douglas Adams, there are too many good ones to choose from.
Ita res accendent lumina rebus ("Thus truth enlightens truths")
- Lucretius, De rerum natura

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Re: Opening Lines

Postby ++$_ » Sun Feb 24, 2008 9:15 pm UTC

I have to do this, because no one has yet:
Liam079 wrote:
If your going to read this, don't bother
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRGH! (your/you're)

As for some of my favorites:
George Orwell, in 1984, wrote:It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, wrote:It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
'By thy long beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp'st thou me ?'

G.K. Chesterton, in 'The Oracle of the Dog', wrote:"Yes," said Father Brown, "I always like a dog, so long as he isn't spelt backwards."

Jane Austen, in Pride and Prejudice, wrote:It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

Herbert S. Wilf, in Generatingfunctionology, wrote:A generating function is a clothesline on which we hang up a sequence of numbers for display.
Yes, it's a textbook. So what?

EDIT: Forgot one.


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