First Lines Follow-Up: The Answers!

Last week I posted  my 200th post and listed one hundred opening lines from science fiction and fantasy.  This week I post my follow-up post which includes all the titles and authors.  You can find the original post here.

This is actually the second time I’m posting this–and I apologize for any bad links or confusion.  After several hours of labor to get this done last night, I accidentally left open an earlier screen version and when the computer closed, it re-saved my published post back to draft form and lacking those hours of work.  I’ve finally got it back up to snuff and hope you will enjoy!


1.  All children, except one, grow up.– Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie  This is likely one of the most well-known opening lines, and it’s also on of the shortest that still provides readers with a real hook to pull them in.

2.  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 Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling  Anyone who has read these books would recognize the first line.  By the introduction of characters who insist their lives are “perfectly normal” readers are already clued in to the fact that things must be far from normal in the story, why else add a line like that?

3.  Johnny never knew for certain why he started seeing the dead.–Johnny and the Dead by Terry Pratchett While this is pretty close to repeating the title of the book, it’s still one great line from which to start a story!

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. —The Phoenix and the Carpet one of my more obscure choices . . . anyone guess this Nesbet book?

5. Kidnapping children is never a good idea; all the same, sometimes it has to be done. The Island of the Aunts by Eva Ibbotson.  Subversive first lines like this one are always a great way to let readers know what they are in for!

6. If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. —The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket.  Don’t say he didn’t warn you!

7.  “Where’s Papa going with that axe?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.–Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White.  Another famous opener.  It’s notably not a comfortable opening point for a story, the reader is immediately thrown into Fern’s crisis.  It is not the opening one expects if they are told the story is about the charming and powerful friendship of a pig and a spider.

8. Linderwall was a large kingdom, just east of the Mountains of Morning, where philosophers were highly respected and the number five was fashionable.–Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede. Humorous reads often have some of the best opening lines.

9. It was almost December and Jonas was beginning to be frightened.–The Giver by Lois Lowry .  You feel the chill of this line almost immediately.

10. There’s no lake at camp Green Lake.– Holes by Louis Sacher. The absurdity of this line caught me from the start–it’s a real hook, and once that book catches hold, it doesn’t let go very easily.

11. There was a boy named Milo who didn’t know what to do with himself – not just sometimes, but always.–The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.  While not as well known as some, I still hope most of you got this opening line!

12. The monster showed up just after midnight.   —A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.  Here’s a book that makes good on its monster promise from the very first line.

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. Redwall by Brian Jacques.  It’s the tail peeping out that’s the clincher.

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 niece, the Princess Saralinda.–The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber. This is one of two books on my list that starts by describing clocks.

15. A mouse was looking at Mario.  The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden. This quiet little line nevertheless gives us two of our main characters for this story.

16. There was a hand in the dark, and it held a knife. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. Gaiman manages to write a lot of intriguing first lines!  He’s one of the best at it I’ve found.

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.–Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi. Narrator introductions often indicate pieces that work well as read alouds . . .

18. Once upon a time, fairy tales were awesome. A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz.  Another delightfully subversive narrator who can’t wait to share.

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 . . . —Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli.  This bit of incandescent language may be more appealing to me as an adult, but I thought it worth including.

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.–Savvy by Ingrid Law.   Who doesn’t want to find out more after that bit of information?

21.  One cold rainy day when my father was a little boy, he met an old alley cat on his street.–My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannet.  While not the most remarkable of lines, it’s a notable story in that the author uses the conceit of talking about his father’s adventures from the past. Readers never learn the father’s actual name, as we see him only as the narrator describes him.

22. Sylvie had an amazing life, but she didn’t get to live it very often.– The Great Good Thing by Roderick Townley.   A sort of  “huh?” moment until you read more and understand the situation.

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. —Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin .  I didn’t include a lot of lines where the book’s setting is described.  Often I find the descriptions too bland or basic to be worth “great opening line” status.  This is one of the exceptions.

24. Even weeks later, I heard rumors that I had ruined the Festival of the Twins.  The Vengekeep Prophecies by Brian Farrey.  First person narrators are often spouting off great opening lines.  And they can be so much fun to read!

25. It was a dark and stormy night.– A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. Who else could get away with this line?

26. When Giuseppe found the green violin, he did not think it would help him escape.–The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby.  So much tantalizing information in one sentence!

27. The last day of Kaile’s life did not start well.Ghoulish Song by William Alexander. An alarming start indeed!

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!” —The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron.  I have to wonder if there are any other notable books that manage to mention another book title in the opening sentence.

29. Apart from the one in the church tower, there were five clocks in the village that kept reasonable time, and my father owned one of them.–The White Mountains by John Christopher. My other clock opener.

30. My lady and I are being shut up in a tower for seven years. Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale.  This sets the scene quite nicely–and prompts readers familiar with their fairy tales to immediately twig to which story this is fashioned after.

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. — Larklight by Philip Reeves.  Granted, it’s pretty obvious from the sentence what book it comes from, but it’s just such a delightful mishmash of great adventure mayhem that I wanted to include it!

32.  The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone. The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle.  Yep, one of my  adult titles here.  The line seems plain in some ways, but it works beautifully.

33. “Yes, my name is Childermass.” The Chessmen of Doom by John Bellairs.  Bellairs gets rather overlooked today by readers.  He’s written quite a number of books, but they rarely get mentioned beyond The House With a Clock in Its Walls.

34. Part of the problem, Nita thought as she tore desperately down Rose Avenue, is that I can’t keep my mouth shut.–So You Want to Be a Wizard by Diane Duane .  Surprisingly, unless it’s first person, it’s rare to get the thoughts of the main character as  the first line like this.

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.–The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham. I love this line–and I knew I was going to love the book after reading the opening!

36. There was only orange juice in the fridge.– Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman.  In this case it’s the combination of the title and the opener that make it significant.

37. I found him in the garage on a Sunday afternoon. –Skellig by David Almond. Found who? is the immediate question readers will have.

38.  That fool of a fairy Lucinda did not intend to lay a curse on me.–Ella Enchanted  by Gail Carson Levine. Oh, what a marvelous way to begin a retelling of Cinderella!

39. Gwyn’s grandmother gave him five gifts for his birthday, his ninth birthday.–Snow Spider by Jenny Nimmo.  Significant birthday presents are always a great start to a story.

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. —The Haunting by Margaret Mahy.  Mahy has a way with language sometimes . . . it’s why this book remains a favorite.

41. Everything starts somewhere, although many physicists disagree.–Hogfather by Terry Pratchett.  My second adult book on the list, but really, how could I not include some Pratchett zingers in this list?

42. Taran wanted to make a sword; but Coll charged with the practical side of his education, decided on horseshoes. —The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander.  A great bit of character capture in one line!

43.  The Dog Star stood beneath the Judgement Seats and raged.– Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones.  I’d forgotten about this opening line until I was looking for books to use.  Oh, what a stunning opening!

44. Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were-Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter. The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter.  A real classic and instantly recognizable.

45. Three days after my thirteenth birthday, Armas, the Excecutioner and Chief of Prisons, came for me while I ate breakfast. —The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell. Who doesn’t want to read on after that line?

46. It began with a lone spaceship hurtling through the purple distances toward a brilliant star system. —Spacebread  by Steven Senn.  One of my obscure gems.  This just reads so poetically and perfectly captures the tone of space opera present in the story.

47. Mrs. Jane Tabby could not explain why all four of her children had wings.–Catwings by Ursula LeGuin.  Another obvious, but delightful opening.

48. Things started to disappear the day of the explosion in the subway system.– The Bronze King  by Suzy McKee Charnas.  A mystery set up from the beginning . . .

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. Boys of Blur by N. D. Wilson.  A perfect bit of scene setting, and glorious writing.

50. There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.–The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis.  In my opinion, perhaps the quintessential opening.

51. They say the people could fly.–The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton.  This is an example of the title echoed in the first line, but it’s such a beautiful invocation for an opening, how can you hear it and not feel your heart lift?

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.–The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud.  One of the longer opening lines,  mayhem and trouble and clearly going to be part of this story!

53.  It was Moving Day. The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex.  A simple line.  But capped like this, it’s more significant–especially when readers read on and figure out what kind of Moving Day it is!

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. —The Star Shard by Frederic S. Durbin.  An opening line that sets the scene a hell of a lot better than the cover image does!

55.  The day Sacha found out he could see witches was the worst day of his life. —The Inquisitor’s Apprentice by Chris Moriarty.  A great opening for this alternate history story.

56. The King killed my canary today. —Goose Chase by Patricia Kindl. Ooooh bad king! Poor Canary!

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. —The Jungle Book  by Rudyard Kipling.  A laconic opening, but quite appropriate for Kipling’s most well-known story.

58.  It was my aunt who decided to give me to the dragon. Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George.  There’s a couple variations on this “feed girl to dragon” thing, but this tells us who to blame for the idea in this story!

59. Nobody lived on Deadweather but us and the pirates.–Deadweather and Sunrise by Geoff Rodkey.  A fun and adventurous bit of a pirate story–and a protagonist whose family makes the Dursleys seem like parents of the year!

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.–The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau.  Not a “hold your breath” opening, but certainly one that speaks to what is being created here.

61.There’s those that call it ginseng, but ’round here we just call it ‘sang.  —Seven Wild Sisters by Charles DeLint. DeLint is good for “local flavor” style openings.  His books convey a sense of personal community, culture and language.

62.  The story begins within the wall of a castle with the birth of a mouse.–The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo.  A great way to open a fairy-tale-eque story!

63.  “Too many!” James shouted, and slammed the door behind him. —The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. It’s pretty rare to find dialogue in an opening line–this is one of the few.

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.– Kat Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis. I like this heroine already!

65.  In the Urwald you grow up fast or not at all.–Jinx by Sage Blackwood. Well, we know this landscape isn’t a particularly friendly one . . .

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. —Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones.  We get the fairy tale setting and then the author throws us not to the youngest, but the eldest of three, thereby focusing on the “wrong” character for traditional fairy tale rules.

67.  “And don’t try to open them.”  —The Boxes by William Sleator.  I admit, this was my error, I used an opening line twice.  So here’s a new one.  It’s a doozy in that it sets up the audience from the first six words.  Obviously if someone is going to exhort a character in the very first line to not open something, that thing will be opened before the end of the book.  And like Pandora’s box, it will mean trouble!

68. I didn’t know how long I’d been in the king’s prison.–The Thief  by Megan Whelan Turner.  Well we don’t either, but we’re now wondering how he got there and when he’s going to get out.

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?–Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.  And thus another example of bored children in need of adventure!

70. The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home.–The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.  Again, a quiet line, but I’m guessing many folks guessed the book on this one.

71. That night, the night the showman came, the moon was the color of mud.–Wild Boy by Rob Lloyd Jones.  It’s perfectly atmospheric for this Victorian steampunkish mystery.

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.–Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.   I dare you not to have known what book this line was from!  It’s also one of the only opening lines that stretches over three pages.

73. It is the day of yellow fog, and the Folk are hungry. —The Folk Keeper by Franny Billingsley. Atmospheric, scene setting, a great opener for this book.

74. Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.–The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. Not my favorite opener ever, but not a bad one.

75. In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.–The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.  Despite the fact that this is such a basic line, it is beautifully done.  The fact of the hobbit is so firmly and practically established by the sentence, that the reader has already accepted that the hobbit is “real”.

76. One spring morning at four o’clock the first cuckoo arrived in the Valley of the Moomins.  Finn Family Moomintroll by Jove Jannson.   I wanted to include one of the books from this beloved series!

77. Once upon a time – for that is how all stories should begin – there was a boy who lost his mother.–The Book of Lost Things by John Connelly. A classic sort of opening, worthy of this fairy-talesque story.

78. Once there was a tree…. and she loved a little boy.–The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.  Fan of the book or not, you’ve got to admit it’s a pretty intriguing opening line.  Of course now it’s giving me the idea to try to write alternate stories around these opening lines . . .

79. Millions of miles from Ozark County, Missouri and I’m still in trouble.–An Alien Music by Anabel and Edgar Johnson.  Another obscure reference.  The narrator’s voice comes through loud and clear in this opener.

80. When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it’s never good news.– Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz.  But now you want to know what kind of news it was . . .

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.-Bless This Mouse by Lois Lowry.  If you had any doubt who and what and where this book takes place, this first sentence will clear that right up.

82. Hello.  I am Ivan.  I am a gorilla.  It is not as easy as it looks. —The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.  You start to get a notion why this took home the Newbery.

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.–Wings by Terry Pratchett.  I don’t necessarily expect many to recognize this line unless they are firm Terry Pratchett fans, but I rarely have found an opening of Sir Terry’s that I did not like!

84. The building was on fire, and it wasn’t my fault.  —Blood Rites by Jim Butcher. Admittedly adult.  From the Harry Dresden series.  It’s a wonderful line that fills me with glee to read, because it captures the tone and the kind of events to expect in one go.

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. — Spaceship Under the Apple Tree by Louis Slobodkin.  One of the classic stories of children SF.  Not a hugely exciting opening, but  something hopeful in the mix.

86. Late one Christmas Eve after the town has gone to sleep, the boy boards the mysterious train that waits for him… —The Polar Express by Chris Van Allesburg.  I do believe this is the only line on the list that is written in present tense, happening as the narrator describes it.

87. The rabbit had been run over minutes before. —Sabriel by Garth Nix. Remarkably enough, I remember this line crystal clear despite the years since I’ve read the book.

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.–Wynken, Blynken, and Nod by Eugene Field. I’ve included this one out of a real love for this piece of fantasy poetry.  If you’ve never tucked your little ones in at night with this spellbinding verse, it’s worth trying.

89. Long green ships fly through space, deep and dark and silent space.–Commander Toad and the Space Pirates by Jane Yolen.  I wonder if anyone got this one.  It’s one of those not so obscure, but rarely remember variety.    This opening line is pretty poetic for an easy reader!

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. —Bambi by Felix Salten. The book that first introduced me to the word “thicket”!

91.  Caribou was not yet thirteen summers when Branja brought to her the child.– TheWoman Who Loved Reindeer by Meredith Ann Pierce.  This is more of a teen read, but it’s got such a great opening I wanted to include it here.

92. As soon as he was born, Mr. and Mrs. Canker knew that their baby was not like other people’s children.–Which Witch? by Evan Ibbotson. From this line the story goes on to tell you just why this is so.

93.  Have you heard of the Flying Dutchman?–The Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones. Whether you answer this question yes or no, you likely want to keep reading.

94. The temperature of the room dropped fast. —The Amulet of Samarkand by Johnathan Stroud. Great way to plunge you right into the story!

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?”–Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald. The author manages to get away with using “Piggle-Wiggle” twice in the opening line and in the title–just in case you were wondering who the book is about.

96. Thornmallow’s real name was Henry. —Wizard’s Hall by Jane Yolen.  The boy wizard before Harry Potter ever came along!

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.–A Rag, A Bone, And a Hank of Hair by Nicholas Fisk. This line gives us a viewpoint of an unreliable narrator.

98.  I was born singing.–Fairest by Gail Carson Levine. I have a personal love of this opening line.

99. Coraline discovered the door a little while after they moved into the house.–Coraline by Neil Gaiman. As I said, Neil Gaiman has some great opening lines.  This one introduces a discovery that certainly makes you want to keep reading.

100.  First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys.–Something Wicked this Way Comes by Ray Bradbury.  I wanted to conclude this list with a master of SF and Fantasy writing.


So, now you have all the openings, the titles and authors.  I hope you find some new things to try in the mix!

Comments welcome!



About Stephanie Whelan

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

Posted on June 20, 2014, in General Posts, Lists and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. What a lovely post idea! I quail a bit at the amount of time and effort you put into this – you’re so brave! I really liked reading through all of these – recognizing some, and finding lots of new-to-me titles and authors!

    • Thanks! It is a lot of work, though it teaches me a lot in the process, so I think it’s a good trade-off. I only hope it helps inspire others and get them thinking about fiction in different ways.

  2. Thanks for saying where they’re from! I’m glad that most of the ones I didn’t know are from books I haven’t read (yet!).

  3. Lory @ Emerald City Book Review

    Such a wonderful list! Reminds me of my old issues of Cricket Magazine, there was a recurring feature with memorable first lines. Your commentary was an additional plus. I DID get The Phoenix and the Carpet, but there were some others that eluded me.

  4. I missed several that I had read – but there are still many books that I now want to read! I’m still a fan of Cricket Magazine’s Favorite First Sentences feature. And thank you for putting so much work into this!

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