QOTW: Favorite First Lines

20 Aug

This question comes from Myra, who asks:

If you could pick your favourite first line(s) from any novel, what would it be and why?


“Nuns go by, quiet as lust.” -Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye

I love this line because when I read it for the first time, the simile almost gave me goosebumps. Nuns equated with lust? I love, love, love it. I’d love ‘quiet as lust’ even without the nuns, actually.

-The Writer Converting Three Books Into One :O


I have TWO favorite lines:

1. “Taran wanted to make a sword; but Coll, charged with the practical side of his education, decided on horseshoes.” -Lloyd Alexander, THE BOOK OF THREE

I adore this opening line because it establishes so many things–the arch tone of the novel, Taran’s yearning to be a hero, and the dynamic between him and Coll. And something about this line just makes me smile.

2. “The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone. She was very old, though she did not know it, and she was no longer the careless color of sea foam, but rather the color of snow falling on a moonlit night. But her eyes were still clear and unwearied, and she still moved like a shadow on the sea.” -Peter S. Beagle, THE LAST UNICORN

So, this isn’t an opening line as much as it is an opening paragraph. I actually love this one so much that I have it memorized. It perfectly sets up the bittersweet and melancholy mood for the rest of the novel, and I love the description of her moving “like a shadow on the sea.” It’s a perfect example of how lyrical and beautiful Peter S. Beagle’s prose is.


I won’t say Pride and Prejudice because it’s always on these lists, even if it is one of my favorite first lines.

“124 was spiteful.” Beloved, by Toni Morrison.

Note from Savannah: Yeah, another Toni Morrison book! Seriously, if you guys haven’t read any of her stuff before, you should totally go buy a copy of The Bluest Eye. Beloved was the first one I read, but it’s pretty heavy and confusing.

-The Writer Revising Her Novel


“You saw me before I saw you.” STOLEN, by Lucy Christopher

Though I don’t have the book in front of me, and have a very poor memory, Vanessa assured me this was the opening line to one of my favorite books. I think this is such a great way to open the story. It’s kind of haunting, and that feeling sinks in almost immediately. And guess what? It never leaves. Utter brilliance.


What are your favorite first lines from novels? If you use the one from 1984 you’re a cop-out! 😉

39 Responses to “QOTW: Favorite First Lines”

  1. Olga August 20, 2010 at 8:32 AM #

    “Clearly unaware that unlike his good self, I’ve got a thriving career, a frantic social calendar and a very promising love life, my accountant has advised me to keep this stupid financial diary because he thinks I’m likely to get harassed again by distrusting civil servants from the Inland Revenue.” – Confessions of a Sociopathic Social Climber by Adele Lang.

    I adore this line because it’s 100% pure snark. Just like the rest of the book. Highly recommended, by the way.

  2. Launo August 20, 2010 at 8:36 AM #

    “My name is Salmon, like the fish. First name, Susie. I was fourteen years old when I was murdered on December 6th, 1973.”
    It’s so shocking but intriguing too.

    • Vanessa August 20, 2010 at 9:35 AM #

      Oooh… The Lovely Bones! That’s a great opening!

  3. Joan August 20, 2010 at 10:27 AM #

    “This is the story of a boy who used to be a wolf and girl who was becoming one.” Linger

    “The gunman is useless. I know it. He knows it. The whole bank knows it. Even my best mate, Marvin, knows it, and he’s more useless than the gunman.” I am the Messenger. (love this books!)

    • Vanessa August 22, 2010 at 10:50 PM #

      I’ve never read I am the Messenger, though I’ve heard a lot of good things about it! What an interesting opening it has!

  4. Sarah August 20, 2010 at 10:32 AM #

    “Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.”

    From ‘Emma’, by Jane Austen. I love this because you just KNOW that she’s going to have a rough time.

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

    From ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, by J.K. Rowling. I like the fact that this sprawling fantasy series begins with such a neat, personal and witty line.

    “I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975.”

    From ‘The Kite Runner’, by Khaled Hosseini.

    • Vanessa August 22, 2010 at 10:48 PM #

      The first line from Harry Potter has such a wonderful voice! And it’s so memorable.

      Random fact: A friend and I had a Harry Potter movie marathon – 6 movies, 3 days. It was intense. Now, I’ve got to reread all the books! 😀

      I really liked the Kite Runner. The first line has a wonderful voice as well!

    • Susan August 23, 2010 at 1:07 PM #

      The Harry Potter opening line is by far one of my favorites! Great voice, and simple enough that you always remember it.

  5. tymcon August 20, 2010 at 10:43 AM #

    After Stenwold picked up the telescope for the ninth time, Marius said, “You will know first from the sound”, Empire In Black And gold, by Adrian Tchaikovsky (AD from now on)
    I have no idea why but i had to keep reading after that. Oh this post may have a lot of qoutes since i’m pretty much searching through my favouritesXD

    “A razorblade gave me freedom from the Dorms”, Shades Children, Garth Nix.

    “The palace still shook occasionally as the earth rumbled in memory, groaned as if it would deny what happened”, Eye of the world, by robert Jordan.
    If you hear anybody say he’s a bad writer don’t believe it. They’re not lying, it’s just they don’t like his writing style. You see there’s a lot of good things being said about his series so a lot of people who just don’t like his writing style just say he’s not good. Yeah rant overXD

    “The mornings were joyless for him, as mornings always were”, Dragonfly falling by AD

    “Why do these things always come to plague us”, Salute the Dark by AD (Ps: I love book’s name:P)

    “The comets tail spread across the dawn, a red slash that bled above the crags of Dragonstone like a wound in the pink and purple sky”, A clash of Kinga, George rr Martin

    Strangely enough I never really noticed first lines before this post. Now i kind of salivate when i was goign through my books and i noticed awesome onesXD

    • reese August 20, 2010 at 10:41 PM #

      Oh my god, I have to read A Clash of Kings now.

      • tymcon August 21, 2010 at 5:01 AM #

        lol it’s the second in a series:P The first ones a Game of Thrnes

  6. Brenda Agaro August 20, 2010 at 11:53 AM #

    Hello. 🙂

    “That fool of a fairy Lucinda did not intend to lay a curse on me.” (Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine)

    It makes me want to read further (what blessing from a fairy could turn out to be a curse?), and I love the tone.

    “Brown Hannah dwelt at the verge of the Tanglewood. The Tanglewood rose dark and deep. Heaths and moorland stretched to the southeast, scrub barrens to the north. A few poor cottars scratched out meager livings roundabout, mostly cutting peat. The Tanglewood ignored them, standing starkly aloof by a silvery shore. Limitless gray ocean rolled away to the west. A handful of fisherfolk plied its cold, thin waters.” (Treasure at the Heart of the Tanglewood by Meredith Ann Pierce)

    A long opening, I know. I just couldn’t leave out the rest. Not only is the description gorgeous in my opinion, but the author manages to convey the setting in one paragraph. Plus, I love the personification.

    • Vanessa August 22, 2010 at 10:45 PM #

      Hi Brenda! 😀

      LOVE the first line of Ella Enchanted! I totally agree – the tone is SO great! I reread it a month ago, and I swear I can never get bored of reading it!

      I’ve never heard of the other book though! The setting is absolutely gorgeous; it feels like a character itself with the personification! I love when a setting can become a character.

      Thanks for sharing!!

  7. Aurora Blackguard August 20, 2010 at 11:56 AM #

    Okay, mine is more of a whole two pages but it’s so AWESOME that it’s great just to read the whole thing.

    “On the sixteenth of April, in the year 1812 – precisely two days before her sixteenth birthday – Penelope Featherington fell in love.

    It was, in a word, thrilling. The world shook. Her heart leaped. The moment was breathtaking. And, she was able to tell herself with some satisfaction, the man in question – one Colin Bridgerton – felt precisely the same way.

    Oh, not the love part. He certainly didn’t fall in love with her in 1812 (and not in 1813, 1814, 1815, or – oh, blast, not in all the years 1816-1822, either, and certainly not in 1823, when he was out of the country the whole time, anyway). But his earth shook, his heart leaped, and Penelope knew without a shadow of a doubt that his breath was taken away as well. For a good ten seconds.

    Falling off a horse tended to do that to a man.

    It happened thus:

    She’d been out for a walk in Hyde Park with her mother and two older sisters when she felt a thunderous rumbling under her feet (see above: the bit about the earth shaking). Her mother wasn’t paying much attention to her (her mother rarely did), so Penelope slipped away for a moment to see what was about. The rest of the Featheringtons were in rapt conversation with Viscountess Bridgerton and her daughter Daphne, who had just begun to her second season in London, so they were pretending to ignore the rumbling. The Bridgertons were an important family indeed, and conversations with them were NOT to be ignored.

    As Penelope skirted around the edge of a particularly fat-trunked tree, she saw two riders coming her way, galloping along hell-for-leather or whatever expression people liked to use for fools on horseback who care not for their safety and well-being. Penelope felt her heart quicken (it would have been difficult to maintain a sedate pulse as a witness to such excitment, and besides, this allowed her to say that her heart leaped when she fell in love).

    Then, in one of those inexplicable quirks of fate, the wind picked up quite suddenly and lifted her bonned (which much to her mother’s chagrin, she had not tied properly since the ribbon chafed under her chin) straight into the air, and splat! right onto the face of one of the riders.

    Penelope gasped (taking her breath away!), and then the man fell off his horse, landing most inelegantly in a nearby mud puddle.”

    – ROMANCING MR BRIDGERTON by Julia Quinn, Prologue

    One of the funniest and most adorable ones I’ve ever read. Julia Quinn rocks socks 🙂

    • priscillashay August 20, 2010 at 1:21 PM #

      lol, i LOVE JQ!

      “This story begins with a carriage that was never a pumpkin, though it fled at midnight; a godmother who lost track of her charge, though she had no magic wand; and several so-called rats who secretly would have enjoyed wearing livery. And of course there’s a girl too, though she didn’t know how to dance, nor did she want to marry a prince.” – A Kiss at Midnight by Eloisa James

      • Aurora Blackguard August 20, 2010 at 8:49 PM #

        gosh, yes! the lady is a veritable angel of writing! Totally Jane Austen : )

  8. Aly August 20, 2010 at 12:38 PM #

    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

    Love the author’s style; love the book. This opening sentence does a great job of both giving information and making the reader ask a question.

    • Vanessa August 22, 2010 at 10:51 PM #

      Love love LOVE Howl’s Moving Castle! It’s been a while since I’ve read it – I’d forgotten that the last part of that line is just so wonderful!

  9. Rowenna August 20, 2010 at 12:50 PM #

    I am old now and have not much to fear from the anger of the gods. I have no husband nor child, nor hardly a friend through whom they can hurt me. My body, this lean carrion that still has to be washed and fed and have clothes hung about it daily with so many changes, they may kill as soon as they please.

    CS Lewis, Till We Have Faces. It captures the distance, the coldness, and the intelligence of the narrator in one fell swoop. And that line–My body, this lean carrion–shivers. And it demands why one should feel this way–which is the entire arc of the story.

    • Sarah J. Maas August 20, 2010 at 1:36 PM #

      Agh, I’ve been wanting to read that book FOREVER. These opening lines just gave me full-on chills!!!!!

      • Rowenna August 20, 2010 at 2:52 PM #

        Sarah, it’s such a good read! You’ll plow through it in no time. Couldn’t put it down. Of course, the myth of Cupid and Psyche is my all-time favorite ancient story, so that helps 🙂

        • Julie Eshbaugh August 20, 2010 at 11:19 PM #

          Rowenna, I never knew that book was based on the Cupid and Psyche myth! I will definitely have to get a hold of it now. I also love that myth.

          • Vanessa August 22, 2010 at 10:53 PM #

            I didn’t know that either! I love books based on myths! I definitely need to get my hands on this book!!!

  10. Nicole August 20, 2010 at 1:23 PM #

    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.

    The Hobbit By J R R Tolkien

    • Bookflower August 20, 2010 at 7:28 PM #

      I love this opening paragraph! It’s one of the ones that I have memorised.

      One of my other favourites is from Jasper Fforde’s ‘The Eyre Affair’ – ‘My father had a face that could stop a clock.’

      And look at the Discworld series for some of the best opening pages ever! I’m rather a fan of the opening of Wyrd Sisters myself, but there’s too much to type…

      Another of my favourites isn’t really an opening line at all. It’s the first line to an introduction – ‘This is my favourite book in all the world, though I have never read it.’ (Hopefully everyone should know that’s from ‘The Princess Bride’ by William Goldman.)

      • Nicole August 20, 2010 at 11:42 PM #

        I have not read the Princess Bride in years! LOVE

        • Vanessa August 22, 2010 at 10:55 PM #

          Neither have I! I am dying to reread it now!

    • Vanessa August 22, 2010 at 10:54 PM #

      Such a great opening!!! I really love The Hobbit.

  11. Heather August 20, 2010 at 7:00 PM #

    “Above all, mine is a love story. And like most love stories, this one involves chance, gravity, a dash of head trauma.”

    “Lia Kahn is dead. I am Lia Kahn. Therefore- because this is a logic problem even a dimwitted child could solve- I am dead. Except here’s the thing: I’m not.”
    SKINNED by Robin Wasserman

    “These are the things you think when you come home to find that your sister has starved herself to death and you have dropped to your knees to revive her.”
    SKIN by A. M. Vrettos.

    “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”
    I CAPTURE THE CASTLE by Dodie Smith (just for quirk value).

    • Vanessa August 22, 2010 at 10:56 PM #

      Omg, I actually almost put the I CAPTURE THE CASTLE opening line in my post on writing great first lines! I have a huge soft spot for that opening line!

  12. Julie Eshbaugh August 20, 2010 at 10:32 PM #

    OMGosh I regret so much being too sick the past few days to chime in on this Q! This is a great one, Myra. Though I didn’t get my response into the post itself, here’s what I would’ve contributed. (I’m actually shocked that no one beat me to it!)

    “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.” Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

    No comment to add here. Those words speak for themselves. (I have other faves, but I hesitate to add them for fear that they would water down the Lolita lines. <3)

    • reese August 20, 2010 at 10:42 PM #

      I’ve always been super conscious of how words feel in my mouth after Nabokov.

      • Julie Eshbaugh August 20, 2010 at 11:01 PM #

        Yes! I’m a huge fan of well executed alliteration, and the symbolism of the tongue and the mouth all wrapped up in a few lines… Incredible.

  13. Kerrie August 20, 2010 at 10:39 PM #

    “The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit.”

    From Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies.
    It was the first first line that ever really, really caught me. It’s just the perfect disintegration of beauty into distaste, which is what the whole series about. It sets the theme, the main character’s voice and personality, and the setting. Wonderful!

    Also, it reminds me of T.S. Eliot’s:

    “Let us go then, you and I,
    When the evening is spread out against the sky
    Like a patient etherised upon a table”

    From The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.
    Which is another fantastic opening. : )

    Also, WIN for The Last Unicorn.

    • Vanessa August 22, 2010 at 10:58 PM #

      The Uglies is such a great series (and book!).

  14. Julie Eshbaugh August 20, 2010 at 10:56 PM #

    Okay, okay, I can’t resist – here’s the next paragraph of Nabokov’s masterpiece. I had to throw it in here because it is a brilliant example of the incredible meaning that can be tucked into characters’ names. (Nabokov said that he chose the name Dolores Haze for his character to imply “dolorous haze.” But look at the implications of the nicknames!)
    “She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.”

    And I want to add my hubby’s response to this question, because he loves it so much he mentions it often and who can you honestly say talks about their favorite first line of a book? And to top it off, it is the first line in my favorite singer’s (Robert Smith of the Cure) favorite book. AND, it opens a chapter in The Shining. So very cool.
    “The seller of lightning rods arrived just ahead of the storm.” Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury.
    (Also nominated by me for top titles of all time!)

  15. Ella August 21, 2010 at 12:55 PM #

    “It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenburgs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”

    -The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

    I love the language in this, the way she manages to introduce setting and tone and character voice in the space of a few simple vivid words. It’s not purple prose, but at the same time you can tell she was a poet previous to writing this.

    Also I agree with the person who mentioned Uglies above (and 1984, so much love for that book.)

    • Vanessa August 22, 2010 at 11:00 PM #

      The Bell Jar is a fave book of mine. I love how Plath put queer, sultry, and electrocuted in the same sentence.

  16. Susan August 23, 2010 at 1:14 PM #

    “He was tall, about fifty, with darkly handsome, almost sinister features: a neatly trimmed mustache, hair turning silver at the temples, and eyes so black they were like the tinted windows of a sleek limousine – he could see out, but you couldn’t see in.”
    – “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” by John Berendt
    The minute I read that opening line, I knew I was going to like this book. And the thing that’s totally awesome about it is that all that characters are like this – larger than life and totally epic – and also all real (the book’s primarily non-fiction, but reads like a work of fiction).

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