My 200th Post!: First Impressions Through First Lines

So this will be my 200th post!  When I first hit 100 posts, I worked on a blog piece about What Stories Have Taught Me: 100 Small lessons.  So I wished to do something similar for my 200th marker.  I decided to take a tour of books with notable opening lines.

The opening line of a book is often the force that pulls us into a story, a well-baited hook that we swallow gladly.  Some openings are lengthy, some are fairly brief.  I went into this project with some curiosity what I would find when I pulled my favorites off the shelves for a look at their first lines.  I discovered very quickly that while some of my favorites have great opening lines, a lot of them don’t.  Many are nondescript.  Separate them from their books and they don’t have anything to them to perk a reader’s interest.  So a great first line is not necessary to create a good book.  In fact it took some work to get enough good speculative fiction lines to fill this list.  I’ve included picture books,  middle grade novels and a handful of adult title openings I happen to love.  Some of these are obscure, some are well-known to many readers.

You’ll notice that I haven’t included the books with the quotations below.  I promise I will include them . . . eventually.  I’ll be doing a follow up  post with all the actual titles added in.  But I figured I’d give my readers a bit of a challenge:  How many of these titles can you name?  I’ve tried to make sure that each of these lines is distinct enough to lead to a particular book.  Some are fairly obvious from the names and places included in the first line.   Some of them are darned obscure and I will be suitably impressed should anyone guess them.  So, guess away!  And let me know your own favorite opening lines!

1.  All children, except one, grow up.

2.  Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

3.  Johnny never knew for certain why he started seeing the dead.

4. It began with the day when it was almost the Fifth of November, and a doubt arose in some breast—Robert’s, I fancy—as to the quality of the fireworks laid in for the Guy Fawkes celebration.

5. Kidnapping children is never a good idea; all the same, sometimes it has to be done.

6. If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.

7.  “Where’s Papa going with that axe?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

8. Linderwall was a large kingdom, just east of the Mountains of Morning, where philosophers were highly respected and the number five was fashionable.

9. It was almost December and Jonas was beginning to be frightened.

10. There’s no lake at camp Green Lake.

11. There was a boy named Milo who didn’t know what to do with himself – not just sometimes, but always.

12. The monster showed up just after midnight. 

13. Mathias cut a comical figure as he hobbled his way along the cloisters, with his large sandals flip-flopping and his tail peeping from beneath the baggy folds of an oversized novice’s habit.

14. Once upon a time, in a gloomy castle on a lonely hill, where there were thirteen clocks that wouldn’t go, there lived a cold, aggressive Duke, and his neice, the Princess Saralinda.

15. A mouse was looking at Mario.

16. There was a hand in the dark, and it held a knife.

17. Once upon a time there was…. “A king?” did I hear you cry? But if you did cry “king” children, you were wrong because once upon a time there was….. ….. a piece of wood.

18. Once upon a time, fairy tales were awesome.

19.  All night long Seven Sisters whisper and gigle and then, all together, they rush Orion the Hunter and tickle him, and Orion the Hunter laughs so hard he shakes every star in the sky, not to mention Mooncow who loses her balance and falls–puh-loop!–into Big Dipper, which tip-tip-tips and dumps Mooncow into Milky Way , and Mooncow laughs and splashes and rolls on her back and goes floating down down down Milky Way, , and she laughs a great moomoonlaugh and kicks at a lavender star  and the star goes shooting across the sky, up the sky and down the sky, a lavender snowfire-ball down the highnight down . . . down . . .down . . .

20.  When my brother Fish turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of inland because of the hurricane and, of course, the fact that he’d caused it.

21.  One cold rainy day when my father was a little boy, he met an old alley cat on his street.

22. Sylvie had an amazing life, but she didn’t get to live it very often.

23. Far away from here, following the Jade River, there was once a black mountain that cut into the sky like a jagged piece of rough metal.

24. Even weeks later, I heard rumors that I had ruined the Festival of the Twins.

25. It was a dark and stormy night.

26. When Giuseppe found the green violin, he did not think it would help him escape.

27. The last day of Kaile’s life did not start well.

28. One night after dinner when David was reading Doctor Dolittle in the Moon,  and his father was reading the newspaper, and his mother was darning socks, his father suddenly exclaimed: “Well, now, that’s very odd!”

29. Apart from the one in the church tower, there were five clocks in the village that kept rewasonable time, and my father owned one of them.

30. My lady and I are being shut up in a tower for seven years.

31. Later, while I was facing the Potter Moth, or fleeing for my life from the First Ones, or helping mana cannon aboard Jack Havock’s brig Sophronia, I would often think back to the way my life used to be, and to that last afternoon at Larklight, before all our misfortunes began.

32.  The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone. 

33. “Yes, my name is Childermass.”

34. Part of the problem, Nita thought as she tore desperately down Rose Avenue, is that I can’t keep my mouth shut.

35.  Rye and her two friends had never intended to steal the banned book from the Angry Poet–they’d just hoped to read it.

36. There was only orange juice in the fridge.

37. I found him in the garage on a Sunday afternoon.

38.  That fool of a fairy Lucinda did not intend to lay a curse on me.

39. Gwyn’s grandmother gave him five gifts for his birthday, his ninth birthday.

40. When suddenly, on an ordinary Wednesday, it seemed to Barney that the world tilted and ran downhill in all directions, he knew he was about to be haunted again.

41. Everything starts somewhere, although many physicists disagree.

42. Taran wanted to make a sword; but Coll charged with the practical side of his education, decided on horseshoes.

43.  The Dog Star stood beneath the Judgement Seats and raged.

44. Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were-Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter.

45. Three days after my thirteenth birthday, Armas, the Excecutioner and Chief of Prisons, came for me while I ate breakfast.

46. It began with a lone spaceship hurtling through the purple distances toward a brilliant star system.

47. Mrs. Jane Tabby could not explain why all four of her children had wings.

48. Things started to disappear the day of the explosion in the subway system.

49. Out in the muck, where the sea of sugarcane stops and swamps begin, sitting beside a lake bigger than some countries, there is a town called Taper.

50. There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.  

51. They say the people could fly.

52.  Of the first few hauntings I investigated with Lockwood & Co.  I intend to say little,  in part to protect the identity of the victims,   in part because of the gruesome nature of the incidents, but mainly because, in a variety of ingenious ways, we succeeded in messing them all up.

53.  It was Moving Day.

54.  To say that Thunder Rake was a wagon would be to call the sea a puddle, for the Rake was a fortified city, full of workshops and stables, houses, towers, gardens–even a rippling canal.

55.  The day Sacha found out he could see witches was the worst day of his life.

56. The King killed my canary today.

57. It was seven o’clock of a very warm evening in the Seeonee hills when Father Wolf woke up from his day’s rest, scratched himself, yawned, and spread out his paws one after the other to get rid of the sleepy feeling in their tips.

58.  It was my aunt who decided to give me to the dragon.

59. Nobody lived on Deadweather but us and the pirates.

60.  When the city of Ember was built and not yet inhabited, the chief builder and the assistant builder, both of them weary, sat down to speak of the future.

61.There’s those that call it ginseng, but ’round here we just call it ‘sang.

62.  The story begins within the wall of a castle with the birth of a mouse.

63.  “Too many!” James shouted, and slammed the door behind him.

64.  I was twelve years of age when I chopped off my hair, dressed as a boy, and set off to save my family from impending ruin.

65.  In the Urwald you grow up fast or not at all.

66. In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three.

67.   “And don’t try to open them.” (edited because I’d included the other line already)

68. I didn’t know how long I’d been in the king’s prison.

69.  Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice ‘without pictures or conversation?

70. The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home.

71. That night, the night the showman came, the moon was the color of mud.

72. The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another his mother called him ‘WILD THING!’ and Max said ‘I’LL EAT YOU UP!’ so he was sent to bed without eating anything.

73. It is the day of yellow fog, and the Folk are hungry.

74. Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.

75. In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

76. One spring morning at four o’clock the first cuckoo arrived in the Valley of the Moomins

77. Once upon a time – for that is how all stories should begin – there was a boy who lost his mother.

78. Once there was a tree…. and she loved a little boy.

79. Millions of miles from Ozark County, Missouri and I’m still in trouble.

80. When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it’s never good news.

81. Hildegarde sighed, a loud, squeaking, outraged sort of sigh, when she was informed that a new litter of mouselets had been born in the sexton’s closet.

82. Hello.  I am Ivan.  I am a gorilla.  It is not as easy as it looks.

83. Let the eye of your imagination be a camera . . . this is the universe, a glittering ball of galaxies like the ornament on some unimaginable Christmas tree.

84. The building was on fire, and it wasn’t my fault.

85. One night in mid-August just before he went to bed, Eddie Blow stood on his grandmother’s porch looking up at the star-filled sky.

86. Late one Christmas Eve after the town has gone to sleep, the boy boards the mysterious train that waits for him… 

87. The rabbit had been run over minutes before. 

88.  Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night sailed off in a wooden shoe–sailed on a river of crystal light into a sea of dew.

89. Long green ships fly through space, deep and dark and silent space.

90. He came into the world in the middle of the thicket, in one of those little, hidden forest glades which seem to be entirely open, but are really screened in on all sides. 

91.  Caribou was not yet thirteen summers when Branja brought to her the child.

92. As soon as he was born, Mr. and Mrs. Canker knew that their baby was not like other people’s children.

93.  Have you heard of the Flying Dutchman?

94. The temperature of the room dropped fast.

95. I expect I might as well begin by telling you about Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle so that whenever I mention her name, which I do very often in this book, you will not interrupt and ask, “Who is Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle?

96. Thornmallow’s real name was Henry.

97. The Chancellor who led Brin through the corridors was nobody important; just an elderly man with various bits of colored ribbon on his white tunic to show how distinguished he was.

98.  I was born singing.

99. Coraline discovered the door a little while after they moved into the house.

100.  First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys.




About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on June 14, 2014, in General Posts, Lists and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Goodness-there are lots I don’t recognize! Will you ever post the answers?

  2. Lory @ Emerald City Book Review

    Wonderful list! Some I know very well, some are tantalizingly familiar, and with some I have no idea but they sound great. Looking forward to the answers!

  3. Seconding Lory (and Charlotte!) – I just went through and wrote down the numbers of all the ones I think I recognize – only 38 of them!

  1. Pingback: First Lines Follow-Up: The Answers! | Views From the Tesseract

  2. Pingback: My 400th Post: What Brought Me This Far: 100 Books in my Blood | Views From the Tesseract

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