The Magnificent Door

The opening lines of novels or chapters within a novel can be fairly simple or massively complex, like a beautiful door opening to a wonderfully decorated house. The writers, who are deemed to be the greatest of past and present, are known for great opening lines. I ask  you Mr. Melville . . . why do we have to call him Ishmael? Is that not his name or do we need to be friends immediately or is this a biblical reference or all of the above? The pull or draw of well crafted words are magical. I took the time to list a few (certainly not all) of my favorite opening lines:

“I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice – not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.” –John Irving, A Prayer forOwen Meany

“Dawn arrived as if it were aware of the previous night’s events.”         –Brian Jacques, Redwall (chapter 15)

“While Pearl Tull was dying, a funny thought occurred to her.”             –Anne Tyler, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant 

“It was a pleasure to burn.” –Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

“Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting.” –William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.”                     –F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

“I will tell you in a few words who I am: lover of the hummingbird that darts to the flower beyond the rotted sill where my feet are propped; lover of bright needlepoint and the bright stitching fingers of humorless old ladies bent to their sweet and infamous designs; lover of parasols made from the same puffy stuff as a young girl’s underdrawers; still lover of that small naval boat which somehow survived the distressing years of my life between her decks or in her pilothouse; and also lover of poor dear black Sonny, my mess boy, fellow victim and confidant, and of my wife and child. But most of all, lover of my harmless and sanguine self.” –John Hawkes, Second Skin

“The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting.”–Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.” –J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” –Gabriel García Márquez, 100 Years of Solitude

“When the fair gold morning of April stirred Mary Hawley awake, she turned over to her husband and saw him, little fingers pulling a frog mouth at her.” –John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent

Of course there are superb authors who don’t place a significance on the opening lines (i.e. Anne Proulx), but I am big fan of the opener that grips a reader by the throat and screams, “Read this! It’s gonna be amazing!”

Are there favorite opening lines that I didn’t mention that are your favorite? Please let me know in the comments.

9 thoughts on “The Magnificent Door

  1. I know this will never make the greats but I read this line on vacation, my nephew’s book, after having not read a book in more than a decade, cripes, going on TWO, and it pulled me right in, utterly helpless. I’ve since purchased every book in the series, four or five now:

    “When you have to kill the same terrorist twice in one week, there’s either something wrong with your skills or something wrong with your world. And there’s nothing wrong with my skills.

    Jonathan Maberry, Patient Zero

    I’m a sucker for a good action book.

      1. Oh my God, man… If you like action books these Maberry is an absolute must read! Patient Zero is the first in the series, definitely a great read.

  2. I love these!

    I also love the first lines in The Chronicles of Narnia series. They’re so simple and fairy-tale sounding, but they jump right to the point. My favorite would probably have to be from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader:

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


  3. Yes I know what you mean! My favorite is by John:

    “In the beginning was the Word….and the Word
    became flesh and dwelled among us.”

    You are correct! This statement drew me in and totally changed my life. Thanks for rolling back the pages of my memory.

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