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Old 10-31-2011   #1
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Topic Winner Great Opening Lines

No, not the kind of opening lines that might initiate amorous activity, a subject about which I know next to nothing, but great opening lines from literature. I thought it might be fun to assemble a collection of memorable openings from novels, stories, poems or essays--the more obscure, or little-known, the better. To get things started, here is the opening paragraph from one of my favourite novels, a neglected masterpiece (which might interest the Medusa-seeking Dreglers among us):

I grew up in a small Southern town which was different from most other towns because it contained an insane asylum. At the time I was growing up there, however, I did not think of this as a distinction. As we had been aware of it from birth, it had for us who lived there no aspect of novelty; it was simply one of the facts of our existence, and belonged, with the fire station, the clinic, the schoolhouse, and the granary, among those elemental institutions by which life is both sustained and interpreted. I thought all towns had asylums. With the equanimity of a child I accepted the fact that there was madness everywhere, just as there was conflagration, illness, ignorance, and hunger. I can, indeed, remember being disconcerted, somewhere around the age of twelve, by the discovery that other towns did not have asylums, and engaging in much troubled speculation as to how the insane people of these communities were disposed of.

-- J. R. Salamanca, Lilith
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Old 10-31-2011   #2
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Re: Great Opening Lines

For a work of prose. Samuel R. Delany's magic and profound, DHALGREN.to wound the autumnal city. So howled out for the world to give him a name. The in-dark answered with wind.Only, CALL ME ISHMAEL., hooked me deeper...Sorry, not little know, but the ones that cut deepest, to me . . .

"He who hides his madman, dies voiceless."
-- Henri Michaux
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Old 10-31-2011   #3
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Re: Great Opening Lines

Convicts' garb is striped pink and white. Though it was at my heart's bidding that I chose the universe wherein I delight, I at least have the power of finding therein the many meanings I wish to find: there is a close relationship between flowers and convicts. The fragility and delicacy of the former are of the same nature as the brutal insensitivity of the latter. Should I have to portray a convict -- or a criminal -- I shall so bedeck him with flowers that, as he disappears beneath them, he will himself become a flower, a gigantic and new one.

- Jean Genet, The Thief's Journal.
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Old 10-31-2011   #4
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Re: Great Opening Lines

"I am writing this under an appreciable mental strain, since by tonight I shall be no more. Penniless, and at the end of my supply of the drug which alone makes life endurable, I can bear the torture no longer; and shall cast myself from this garret window into the squalid street below. Do not think from my slavery to morphine that I am a weakling or a degenerate. When you have read these hastily scrawled pages you may guess, though never fully realise, why it is that I must have forgetfulness or death." - H.P Lovecraft, "Dagon"

is a huge favorite here.

The introduction to Ligotti's "The Bells Will Sound Forever" is amazing.

"I was sitting in a small park on a dry morning in early spring when a gentleman who looked as if he should be in a hospital sat down on the bench besides me."
Short, but effective.
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Old 10-31-2011   #5
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Re: Great Opening Lines

Once upon a time there lived in Berlin, Germany, a man called Albinus. He was rich, respectable, happy; one day he abandoned his wife for the sake of a youthful mistress; he loved; was not loved; and his life ended in disaster.

This is the whole of the story and we might have left it at that had there not been profit and pleasure in the telling; and although there is plenty of space on a gravestone to contain, bound in moss, the abridged version of a man's life, detail is always welcome.

-- Vladimir Nabokov, Laughter in the Dark
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Old 10-31-2011   #6
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Re: Great Opening Lines

"Several faces I recognized; though I should have known them better had they been shrivel or eaten away by death and decomposition." -- H. P. Lovecraft, "The Tomb"

As a child I was told not to gather souvenirs from the cemetery, but it was hard to determine where our overgrown garden blended with the overgrown fringe of Dreamers' Hill. I had found skulls that clearly lay on our property. If Mother permitted me to collect them, although she would shudder and urge me to find a healthier pastime, why shouldn't I pick up skulls that lay in plain sight a few steps farther on? If it was right to uncover relics with the toe of my boot when I glimpsed them protruding from the earth, why was it wrong to seek them out actively with shovel and crowbar? The inability to make such fine distinctions has forever been my undoing.

-- Brian McNaughton, "The Throne of Bones"
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Old 10-31-2011   #7
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Re: Great Opening Lines

"For a ghoul is a ghoul, and at best an unpleasant companion for man." -- H. P. Lovecraft, The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath

Meryphillia was the least typical ghoul in the graveyard. No man would ever have called her a beauty, but her emaciation was less extreme, her pallor less ghastly, and her gait less grotesque than those of her sisters.

Untypically tender-hearted, she would sometimes shed a tear for a dead infant that her nature compelled her to devour. She was considerate of her fellows, too, and her feeding habits were all but mannerly. Least typical of all, for ghouls love to laugh, was her inextinguishable sorrow for the world of sunlight and human warmth she had lost.

-- Brian McNaughton, "Meryphillia"
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Old 11-01-2011   #8
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Re: Great Opening Lines

"A young man asked a father for his daughter's hand, and received it in a box - her left hand."
- Patricia Highsmith, "The Hand" (Little Tales of Misogyny).
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Old 11-01-2011   #9
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Re: Great Opening Lines

Highsmith is a genuine original; it is exceedingly rare to encounter a female writer with as much hate and vitriol in her heart. Not only was her outlook caustically misanthropic and her humour black as bile, she also penned a nasty little tale of fungal horror! Here is the opening:

On the outskirts of the small town of G--- in eastern Austria lies a mysterious cemetery hardly an acre in size, filled with the remains of paupers for the most part, their places marked by nothing at all, or at best by tombstone fragments now all in the wrong spots. Yet the cemetery became famous for its odd excrescences, bulbous figurines of bluish-green and off-white colour, which eerily rose above the surface of the soil and grew, some, to a height of two metres or so. Others of these mushroom-like growths attained only fifty centimetres, some were even smaller, and all were bizarre, like nothing else in nature, even coral.

-- Patricia Highsmith, "The Mysterious Cemetery," Tales of Natural and Unnatural Catastrophes
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Old 11-05-2011   #10
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Re: Great Opening Lines

As he glided by the extremely small, out-of-the-way cemetery in his airborne prowl car, late at night, Officer Joseph Tinbane heard unfortunate and familiar sounds. A voice. At once he sent his prowl car up over the spiked iron poles of the badly maintained cemetery fence, descended on the far side, listened.

The voice said, muffled and faint, "My name is Mrs. Tillie M. Benton, and I want to get out. Can anybody hear me?"

Philip K. Dick - Counter-Clock World

"What does it mean to be alive except to court disaster and suffering at every moment?"

Tibet: Carnivals?
Ligotti: Ceremonies for initiating children into the cult of the sinister.
Tibet: Gas stations?
Ligotti: Nothing to say about gas stations as such, although I've always responded to the smell of gasoline as if it were a kind of perfume.
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