Great Openings

Note: This is a totally subjective list, comprised of openings I found most amusing, intriguing, or arresting. You will not find “Call me Ishmael” here, largely because I never read the book. It’s a fine sentence, but it’s all I need. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” is also excluded, even though I read A Tale of Two Cities and liked it. It’s a good opening, but the appeal has worn thin. Maybe it’s just been quoted one too many times for me.

The universe is infinite but bounded, and therefore a beam of light, in whatever direction it may travel, will after billions of centuries return – if powerful enough – to the point of its departure; and it is no different with rumor, that flies about from star to star and makes the rounds of every planet. Stanislaw Lem, The Seventh Sally (technically, a short story – but who said that wasn’t allowed?)

The only possible excuse for this book is that it is an answer to a challenge. Even a bad shot is dignified when he accepts a duel. G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

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

You don’t know me yet, so there is no reason you should care that I’m stuck on a highway with a blowout. But maybe we can relate to each other. Cheryl Mckay and Rene Gutteridge, Never the Bride

Marley was dead: to begin with. There was no doubt whatever about that. Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

These tales concern the doing of things recognized as impossible to do; impossible to believe; and, as the weary reader may well cry aloud, impossible to read about. G. K. Chesterton, Tales of the Long Bow

Technically, the cucumber came first. Phil Vischer, Me, Myself & Bob

I am old now and have not much to fear from the anger of gods. I have no husband nor child, nor hardly a friend, through whom they can hurt me. My body, this learn carrion that still has to be washed and fed and have clothes hung about it daily with so many changes, they may kill as soon as they please. The succession is provided for. My crown passes to my nephew. C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

In a hole in a ground there lived a hobbit. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Liberals have a preternatural gift for striking a position on the side of treason. You could be talking about Scrabble and they would instantly leap to the anti-American position. Ann Coulter, Treason

I don’t remember one thing about the day I was born. It hasn’t been for lack of trying either. I’ve set for hours trying to go back as far as I could, but the earliest thing I remember is riding in the back of Floyd’s wagon and looking at myself in a looking glass. Jonathan Rogers, The Charlatan’s Boy

Had he but known that before the day was over he would discover the hidden dimensions of the universe, Kit might have been better prepared. At least, he would have brought an umbrella. Stephen Lawhead, The Skin Map

And now a drum roll, please, for our final winner, the mother of all memorable first lines, never forgotten to this day, an irreducible part of Western culture …

It was a dark and stormy night. (I don’t know, and neither do you)

I was going to research the name of the author and novel – I saw it somewhere once – but that would just ruin the mystique. Nearly everyone knows this line, and yet they haven’t the faintest idea where it came from. It has not only outlived its author, it has outlived its book. That deserves recognition.

Tales of the Long Bow

I’ve been occupied these last couple weeks, so again I’m going to do a simple post, defined as “a post where I mostly quote other people”. But before that, an introduction.

G. K. Chesterton is an author more quoted than read. He is interesting, he is humorous, he can turn a clever phrase. But his prose is neither clean nor straight as an arrow. In a sense, Tales of the Long Bow is the perfect distillation of his style. Here are topsy-turvey tales and a topsy-turvey telling, where the author abandons the tried-and-true method of starting at the beginning.

Here is a selection of quotations from Tales of the Long Bow, including some that contain that subtle humor and wandering style that always marked Chesterton’s works.

These tales concern the doing of things recognized as impossible to do; impossible to believe; and, as the weary reader may well cry aloud, impossible to read about. Did the narrator merely say that they happened, without saying how they happened, they could easily be classified with the cow who jumped over the moon or the more introspective individual who jumped down his own throat. In short, they are all tall stories; and though tall stories may also be true stories, there is something in the very phrase appropriate to such a topsy-turvydom; for the logician will presumably class a tall story with a corpulent epigram or a long-legged essay.

For our judges are not hampered by any hide-bound code; they are progressive, like Dr. Hunter, and ally themselves on principle with the progressive forces of the age, especially those they are likely to meet out at dinner.

[part of a speech presumably supporting Dr. Hunter and his election to Parliament] “But then, for that matter, we all support Dr. Hunter. I myself have always found him quite supportable; I should say quite satisfactory. He is truly a progressive, and nothing gives me greater pleasure than to watch him progress. As somebody said, I lie awake at night, and in the silence of the whole universe, I seem to hear him climbing, climbing, climbing. All the numerous patients among whom he has laboured so successfully in this locality will join in a heartfelt expression of joy if he passes to the higher world of Westminster. I trust I shall not be misunderstood. Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song.”

‘Yes; I was arrested for that.’

‘Arrested for what?’

‘Arrested for being a rich and respectable old lady,’ answered Hilary Pierce; ‘but I managed to escape that time. It was a fine sight to see the old lady clear a hedge and skedaddle across a meadow.’

The Professor had begun, as he always began, by saying that it was quite easy to explain; which was doubtless true, as he was always explaining it. But he often ended by affirming fallaciously that it was quite easy to understand, and it would be an exaggeration to say that it was always understood.

“I don’t want your talk interrupted. Still less, far, far less, do I want it uninterrupted. I mean while I’m here. A little of your scientific conversation goes a long way with me; I know what you’re like when you’re really chatty. Professor Green will say in his satirical way ‘9920.05,’ to which you will reply with quiet humour ‘75.007.’ This will be too good an opening for a witty fellow like the Professor, who will instantly retort ‘982.09.’ Not in the best taste perhaps, but a great temptation in the heat of debate.”

Again, another recognized military fact is the fact the bow is an obsolete weapon. And nothing is more irritating to a finely balanced taste than to be killed with an obsolete weapon, especially while persistently pulling the trigger of an efficient weapon, without any apparent effect.

You can find the book on Amazon, and as an e-book at this excellent Chesterton website.