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Top Five Greatest Opening Lines in a Novel

What do you think British readers voted to be the most memorable and captivating opening lines from the world of literature? Well, Amazon just conducted a poll that included one rather surprising result.

Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens | Wikipedia

Topping the poll was Charles Dickens’ opening to his 1840 French Revolution-era novel A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”, with 29 percent of the vote, while George Orwell’s chilling first line from his dystopian fantasy Nineteen Eighty-Four: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen” came second, with 24 percent of the vote. No surprises there.

Fourth and fifth were the first lines of JM Barrie’s children’s classic, Peter Pan: “All children, except one, grow up” and JRR Tolkien’s deliciously simple opening to The Hobbit: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit”.

In amongst these literary giants, at third place with 22 percent of the votes, came the opening words to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Setting the scene for the story of the orphan wizard, JK Rowling writes: “Mr and Mrs Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

A novel's opening words are clearly important, as Amazon’s polling revealed that 43 percent of British readers say that the first few lines of a book can make or break a novel. Indeed, according to the poll, almost two thirds have stopped reading a book if the initial wording failed to grab their attention.


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