October 9, 2014

Once Upon a Time

An opening line for any book is key to understanding the book.  Observe almost any opening sentence and you will find out a lot about the novel.  These sentences are the most important point to any book, because with them, you begin a new journey.

"Mrs Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladie's eardrops, and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate, headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods, with dark secrets of pool and cascade; but by the time it reached Lynde's hollow it was a quiet, well-conducted little stream, for not even a brook could run past Mrs Rachel Lynde's door without due regard for decency and decorum; it probably was conscious that Mrs Rachel Lynde was sitting at her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed, from brooks and children up, and that if she noticed any-thing odd or out of place she would never rest until she had ferreted out the whys and wherefores thereof."
Can you guess this book?  That's right, this is Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery.  Notice how the whole thing is only one sentence?  This shows us that Anne of Green Gables is on the more wordy side of the page, filled with description and great character development.  Before the story has even started, we know exactly what kind of person Mrs Lynde might turn out to be and we want to know what kind of trouble she will try to solve.

How about this one, do you recognize it?

"Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much."
 Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J. K. Rowling begins in this way.  The author and her characters want to be perfectly understood that the Dursleys are normal, which leads us to believe that everyone else is not.  This, of course, is indeed the point the residents of Privet Drive wish to make, and Rowling succeeds in proving that no one is normal.

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."
When you first read J.R.R. Tolkien's, The Hobbit, he leaves you wondering what a hobbit could possibly be and why its in a hole in the ground.  Little do we guess from the first ten words that this "hobbit" will be such a famous legend in Middle Earth and our own world.  We merely sit there thinking, "What's a hobbit?"  Tolkien piqued our curiosity, so of course we will turn the page to find out exactly what's going on.  This is one of the best opening lines in the history of novel writing.

"If you were going to give a gold medal to the least delightful person on Earth, you would have to give that medal to a person named Carmelita Spats, and if you didn’t give it to her, Carmelita Spats was the sort of person who would snatch it from your hands anyway."
This is the opening sentence from The Austere Academy by Lemony Snicket. Snicket has this particular way of writing that beats around the literary bush, and you can never tell where he'll end up  taking you.  Snicket's opening sentence proves to his readers that he is going to blindfold you, spin you around and around and around, and let you try to find the right direction.  That's why it is called The Series of Unfortunate Events.

 And for your further perusal and enjoyment, try these other opening lines.  Can you see how much they affect the mood/story/flow of the book, or do they start so randomly that you can hardly see the connections?  What are some of your favorite opening lines?

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens
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
There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.
When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
It was a dark and stormy night. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

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