Think you know literature? See if you recognize these famous first lines


From Edward George Bulwer-Lytton's, "It was a dark and stormy night," to the immortal beginning of Charles Dickens's "A Tale of Two Cities" — "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" — the opening of a novel provides a chance for an author to make a powerful first impression on the reader.

In honor of National Read a Book Day, September 6, here's a look at the first sentence — and only the first sentence — of some of the greatest stories ever written. See how many you recognize.

  • Oldest first
  • Newest first
  • Most recommended

In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit.

Last night I dreamed I went to Manderly again.

Who is John Galt?

Western Rover
Herriman, UT

DN won't let me include a link to one of my favorite Far Side comics, published years ago in this very newspaper. Herman Melville writes and discards page after page, tearing his hair with frustration: "Call me Warren." "Call me Roger." "Call me Larry." "Call me Al." "Call me Bill."

Salt Lake City, UT

It hasn't been around long enough to enter the canon of fine literature, but Brady Udall's "The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint" has a great opening:

"If I could tell you only one thing about my life it would be this: when I was seven years old the mailman ran over my head. As formative events go, nothing else comes close."

Hard to put the book down after that.

California Cougar
Anaheim, CA

"The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed."

Thus begins Stephen King's epic 7 volume Dark Tower series. Long live Roland Deschain!

Arm of Orion
Cottonwood Heights, UT

I like this one, "The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become Legend."

-Every Wheel of Time book.-

Wasatch Al
South Jordan, UT

I Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father...

Brent T. Aurora CO
Aurora, CO

Didn't do well on this quiz. Mainly I became preoccupied with the growing list of books four at a time for 60 questions. I consider reading to be one of my favorite things to do, I have been reading avidly for about 46 years, and would consider myself a well read person. So presented with this list of approximately (there were a few repeats) 120 books, most of whose titles I recognize, found that I have read only 15 of them. Book lists always bug me this way.

Brent T. Aurora CO
Aurora, CO

"A small dusty man in a small dusty room. That's how I always thought of him, just a small dusty man in a small dusty room." Yeah, it's two lines with the period inserted; but one of my favorite memorable lines from a book read 40 years ago.

Wasatch Rebel
Kearns, Utah

Not a novel, but I like this opening line: "It was now lunch time and they were all sitting under the double green fly of the dining tent pretending
that nothing had happened."

Highland, UT

Brilliant Wasatch Al - brilliant!

Salt Lake City, UT

The list reminds me of Mark Twain's comment: "The classics are books that everyone appreciates but no one reads." Here are four more opening lines from great books that are a little more captivating than the 60 on the DN list:

"People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father's blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day." (True Grit)

"This book does not claim to be an account of facts and events but of personal experiences, experiences which millions of prisoners have suffered time and again." (Man's Search for Meaning.)

"At the first gesture of morning, flies began stirring. Inman's eyes and the long wound at his neck drew them, and the sound of their wings and the touch of their feet were soon more potent than a yardful of roosters in rousing a man to wake." (Cold Mountain)

"When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow." (If you can't guess that one, you need to go back to high school!)

David Lloyd-Jones
Toronto, 00

Indian Summer is Like a Woman.
Who Is John Galt?

Porn for teens.


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