The Best Opening Lines Can Make All the Difference

Van Ryck and the RestFirst impressions, one is often told, are of the utmost importance. Nowhere is this fact more readily apparent than in the opening line of a novel. The first line can set the mood, seize one’s attention or completely befuddle. In every case, they are intended to keep you reading.

Here is an assortment of opening lines from 25 great novels.  Most are intended to include at least one clue as to their origin. The others are so famous that they should be easily recognizable. See if you can guess the name of the novel from which each one came. The answers are at the end.


My Little DroogiesThe First Five Lines

  1. What's it going to be then, eh?
  1. The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it
  1. You don't know about me without you have read a book called "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," but that ain't no matter.
  1. All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
  1. The art of war is of vital importance to the State.


 Rounding Out the First Ten

  1. The Man of La ManchaSee the Child. He is pale and thin, he wears a thin and ragged linen shirt. He stokes the scullery fire.
  1. Buck did not read the newspapers, or he would have known that trouble was brewing, not alone for himself, but for every tidewater dog, strong of muscle and with warm, long hair, from Puget Sound to San Diego.
  1. It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.
  1. Somewhere in la Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing.
  1. The Salinas Valley is in Northern California.


 Into the Second Round

  1. the EXORCISTLike the brief doomed flare of exploding suns that registers dimly on blind men's eyes, the beginning of the horror passed almost unnoticed; in the shriek of what followed, in fact, was forgotten and perhaps not connected to the horror at all.
  1. It was a pleasure to burn.
  1. We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.
  1. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
  1. Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small, unregarded yellow sun.


 Almost Done

  1. I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus This-that-and-the-other (for I shall not trouble you yet with all my titles) who was once, and not so long ago either, known to my friends and relatives and associates as “Claudius the Idiot,” or “That Claudius,” or “Claudius the Stammerer,” or “Clau-Clau-Claudius” or at best as “Poor Uncle Claudius,” am now about to write this strange history of my life; starting from my earliest childhood and continuing year by year until I reach the fateful point of change where, some eight years ago, at the age of fifty-one, I suddenly found myself caught in what I may call the “golden predicament” from which I have never since become disentangled.
  1. The Great White WhaleWhen 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.
  1. As Gregor Samsa awoke from a night of uneasy dreaming, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.
  1. Call me Ishmael.
  1. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.


 Finally the Last Five

  1. The ChiefHe was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish
  1. They're out there. Black boys in white suits up before me to commit sex acts in the hall and get it mopped up before I can catch them.
  1. It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.
  1. Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo...
  1. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.


The Answers
I know you don’t need them but here are the answers, anyway.

  1.      A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  2.      A Bend in the River by V.S Naipaul
  3.     Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  4.      Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  5.     The Art of War by Sun Tzu
  6.      Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy
  7.     The Call of the Wild by Jack London
  8.     Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  9.      Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes
  10.      East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  11.      The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
  12.      Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  13.      Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
  14.      Genesis by The Big Guy
  15.      The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  16.      I, Claudius by Robert Graves
  17.      The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  18.      The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
  19.      Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
  20.      Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
  21.      The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  22.      One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
  23.      Paul Clifford by Edward Bulwer-Lytton
  24.      A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man by James Joyce
  25.      A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.