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OPENING LINES CAN urge compelling reading. Here are some tidbits of such openers that sure worked for me. Perhaps you’d like to share your favorites.
The Big Sleep. Raymond Chandler. I wasn’t particularly gripped by the first sentence of Chandler’s noir The Big Sleep; it’s what immediately followed: “I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be, I was calling on four millions dollars.”
The sartorial details are compelling enough. So is four millions dollars in the year of The Big Sleep’s publication,1939.
I had fun with Chandler’s lines, respectfully parodied in ”The Drood Caper,” my noir rendition of Charles Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood, 1870.
Crime and Punishment. Fyodor Dostoevsky. This classic novel begins with “On an exceptionally hot evening early in July a young man came out of the garret in which he lodged on S. Place and walked slowly, as though in hesitation, towards K. Bridge. He had successfully avoided meeting his landlady on the staircase.” Foreboding lines indeed.
Even before reading the opening lines, I was attracted by the bright red cover of the 1956 edition of Constance Garrett’s 1914 translation. I was 13 at the time and browsing the adult section of the local library. (Was I looking for James Joyce or maybe D.H. Lawrence?)
Crime and Punishment is deeply psychological, exceedingly complex, and lengthy. Its Planet PDF version of Constance Garrett’s translation runs 967 pages. And worth the effort. See also “Truth, After a Fashion.”
A Tale of Two Cities. Charles Dickens. In addition to encouraging an outrageous pun (“It was the beast of Thames, it was the wurst of Thames”), this Dickens classic that opened with “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” taught me everything I wanted to know about the French Revolution.
As noted here at SimanaitisSays, the 1935 Ronald Colman classic was a popular choice as time-filler by our high school substitute teachers. (So much so that we could repeat the flick’s dialogue, sort of like fans at midnight renditions of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.)
The Canterbury Tales. Geoffrey Chaucer. It was about that same time I fell in love with the wonderful sound of Middle English, encouraged by a teacher’s insistence we each learn the opening 18 lines of “The General Prologue” of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.
“Whan that aprill with his shoures soote/The droghte of march hath perced to the roote/And bathed every veyne in swich licour/Of which vertu engendred is the flour…. And specially from every shires ende/Of engelond to caunterbury they wende,/The hooly blisful martir for to seke,/That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.”
The tale begins: “The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door….”
The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. In “Celebrating WWW: Wretched Writers Welcome,” I acknowledged that I am not alone in occasionally corrupting the English language. My favorite Bulwer-Lytton Contest entrant from years past, alas, recalled sans attribution, is “After The Rapids, the river widened.”
Yep. I’d read that tale further in search of other howlers. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021