Monday, August 22, 2011

Great First Lines

The first sentence may be the most important sentence in a novel.  A great first line can set the tone for the story or convey the essence of a character in just a few words.  So for today’s post, I thought I’d highlight some of my favorite first lines from historical and fantasy fiction:

  • In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. – The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • On a winter’s day in 1413, just before Christmas, Nicholas Hook decided to commit murder.  – Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell
  • The small boys came early to the hanging. – The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
  • I saw Byzantium in a dream, and knew that I would die there. – Byzantium by Stephen R. Lawhead
  • In the time it takes to pluck a hen, I have ruined myself. – The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen
  • Creating a Golem requires patience, brilliance, study, prayer, and fasting. – The Book of Splendor by Frances Sherwood
  • Some years ago there was in the city of York a society of magicians.  – Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  • Today I have been thinking about the dead. – Enemy of God by Bernard Cornwell
  • It was just past midday, not long before the third summons to prayer, that Ammar ibn Khairan passed through the Gate of the Bells and entered the palace of Al-Fontina in Silvenes to kill the last of the khalifs of Al-Rassan. – The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay
  • The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed. – The Gunslinger by Stephen King
I’m curious to know if you have other good examples.  So, what are some of your favorite first lines?

A Great First Line Requires a Sharp Quill!

5 comments:

HelenR said...

I would have to agree with you on the first line from Pillars of the Earth-- one of my all time favorite novels. Two other great ones come to mind: "Ships at distance have every mans' wish on board"- Zora Neale Hurston- Their Eyes Are Watching God and "In my younger years, my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my head ever since."- F. Scott Fitzgerald- The Great Gatsby. Love the blog by the way. While this is my first post, I have been a follower for the last month or so.

Richard Campbell said...

"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."
Paul Clifford, Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

BJB said...

I can appreciate the impact of a good first line. I submit, however, that many times the first line is judged most favorably in hindsight. That is, beloved books beget beloved first lines, where those first lines would not necessarily stand out as great if separated from the balance of the book, or if put at the front of an otherwise crappy book.

HelenR said...

Well said BJB!

Anne Marsden said...

For me, some of the greatest first lines are not written but played. Think of the opening to Star Wars...to the first chords of Jaws... or even the beginning of Moulin Rouge...each draws us in and binds us tightly to the story that is about to unfold....ah, that is also story telling...