Top Ten Beginnings/Endings of Books

July 30, 2013 Top Ten Tuesday 14


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature/meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week’s topic is Top Ten Beginnings/Endings of Books.

I figured there will be lots of lists with “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” and “Call me Ishmael” on them, so I decided to skip the classics for the most part, at least the ones commonly taught in school.  All of these are personal favorites.  Many of them you will probably recognize.  And apologies, but I only chose nine this week.

Beginnings (in no particular order):

The Name of the Wind (Patrick Rothfuss) (review)
There is so much that is brilliant about the prologue to The Name of the Wind.  I truly wish I could quote the entire thing here.  It’s only a page long, but that’s probably too long for fair use.  The prologue begins,

     It was night again.  The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.
     The most obvious part was a hollow, echoing quiet, made by things that were lacking.  If there had been a wind it would have sighed through the trees, set the inn’s sign creaking on its hooks, and brushed the silence down the road like trailing autumn leaves.  If there had been a crowd, even a handful of men inside the inn, they would have filled the silence with conversation and laughter, the clatter and clamor on expects from a drinking house during the dark hours of the night.  If there had been music . . . but no, of course there was no music.  In fact there were none of these things, and so the silence remained.

The prologue continues, describing the second and the third silence, which belongs to the innkeeper, a man with “dark and distant” eyes, who “moved with the subtle certainty that comes from knowing many things.”  The final paragraph reads

     The Waystone was his, just as the third silence was his.  This was appropriate, as it was the greatest silence of the three, wrapping the others inside itself.  It was deep and wide as autumn’s ending.  It was heavy as a great river-smooth stone.  It was the patient, cut-flower sound of a man who is waiting to die.

The epilogue is nearly identical, but slightly different in subtle and crucial ways, so the tale is bookended by this image of the three silences and the man who is waiting to die.

The Hobbit (J. R. R. Tolkien)

     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 to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.
     It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. . .

Whose Body? (Dorothy L. Sayers)

     “Oh, damn!” said Lord Peter Wimsey at Piccadilly Circus.  “Hi, driver!”
     The taxi man, irritated at receiving this appeal while negotiating the intricacies of turning into Lower Regent Street across the route of a 19 ‘bus, a 38-B and a bicycle, bent an unwilling ear.
     “I’ve left the catalogue behind,” said Lord Peter deprecatingly.  “Uncommonly careless of me.  D’you mind puttin’ back to where we came from?”
     “To the Saville Club, sir?”
     “No110 Piccadillyjust beyondthank you.”
     “Though you was in a hurry,” said the man, overcome with a sense of injury.
     “I’m afraid it’s an awkward place to turn in,” said Lord Peter, answering the thought rather than the words.  His long, amiable face looked as if it had generated spontaneously from his top hat, as white maggots breed from Gorgonzola.

I love the description of Lord Peter, with that completely unexpected simile at the end, and the way Sayers establishes several of his characteristics in the first few paragraphs: his upper-class  speech (dropping the final g’s), his politeness, and even a hint of his silly-ass-about-town façade.

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (Laurie R. King). (review)

Both the Editor’s Preface (written by King) and the Prelude: Author’s Note (ostensibly written by Mary Russell) are wonderful, but my favorite is the beginning of Chapter One:

     I was fifteen when I first met Sherlock Holmes, fifteen years old with my nose in a book as I walked the Sussex Downs, and nearly stepped on him.  In my defence I must say that it was an engrossing book, and it was very rare to come across another person in that particular part of the world in that war year of 1915.  In my seven weeks of peripatetic reading amongst the sheep (which tended to move out of my way) and the gorse bushes (to which I had painfully developed an instinctive awareness) I had never before stepped on a person.

Unfortunately, it’s much too long to quote in its entirely.  The chapter goes on, getting better and better, until Mary startles Holmes first with her powers of observation and intelligence, and then by turning out to be a girl, rather than the boy he had taken her for. . . at which point he roars with laughter at himself, and invites her to tea. 

A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle)

     It was a dark and stormy night.

What I love about this is that L’Engle dared to use the most clichéd opener there is — and it works beautifully, both because of what follows and because it’s not really the narrator, it’s what Meg is thinking. 

Aunt Dimity’s Death (Nancy Atherton)  

     When I learned of Aunt Dimity’s death, I was stunned.  Not because she was dead, but because I had never known she’d been alive.
     Maybe I should explain.

How can you read that, and not want to keep going?

Winnie the Pooh (A. A. Milne)

     Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin.  It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it.  And then he feels that perhaps there isn’t.  Anyhow, here he is at the bottom, and ready to be introduced to you.  Winnie-the-Pooh.
     When I first heard his name, I said, just as you are going to say, “But I thought he was a boy?”
     “So did I,” said Christopher Robin.
     “Then you can’t call him Winnie?”
     “I don’t.”
     “But you said
     “He’s Winnie-ther-Pooh.  Don’t you know what ‘ther’ means?”
     “Ah, yes, now I do,” I said quickly; and I hope you do too, because it’s all the explanation you are going to get.

When I was very young, I had a recording of Maurice Evans reading the first chapter of Winnie the Pooh.  To this day, I can’t read this passage without hearing his voice.  When my daughter was little, we copied the LP onto cassette and later onto CD.  She listened to it at bedtime for months on end, and can now quote the first two and a half pages of the book verbatim (and in a passable British accent.)  

Endings (in no particular order:)

The House at Pooh Corner (A. A. Milne)

     So they went off together.  But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.

I don’t know why, but this ending always makes me cry.  It did even when I was a little girl.

The Name of the Wind (Patrick Rothfuss).  (See the first entry, under “Beginnings.”)

14 Responses to “Top Ten Beginnings/Endings of Books”

  1. Lianne @

    Aww at that ending quote for The House at Pooh Corner =(

    Great list! Yay for The Hobbit and The Name of the Wind. I’m curious about The Beekeeper’s Apprentice; I may already have it on my GR want-to-read pile but that opening was intriguing 🙂

    My TTT

  2. letoile19

    The Hobbit is one of my favourite books and I absolutely love the beginning! It paints such a beautiful and sets the tone of the Shire and his home perfectly.

    I’ve yet to read the other books in your list however am I quite intrigued 🙂

  3. Rita_h

    Yes, I often see Tale of Two Cities (a wonderful classic) quoted, so I’m glad you were so original.
    I’m happy to have stumbled across your blog! I love your selection of books in this post, some I have read, some on my wishlist. Thanks for sharing these with us.

    • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

      It’s on your list, too? Awesome! It’s one of my favorite books and my daughter’s, as well. I’ll be over to check out your list! (Sorry it’s taken so long, but we’ve been very busy shopping and preparing for college and a cross-country trip.)

  4. Greg

    Agree w/ the Hobbit opening and the Pooh stuff too! We all like Pooh in my family and those are so good and calming, somehow. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice is intriguing, was not familiar with that one.

  5. Becki @ The Flutterby Room

    Brilliant list of beginnings and endings. Loved that you including Pooh, I haven’t read any of the books (that I remember) and I’ve really enjoyed reading the beginning and the ending. The beginning of The Hobbit is awesome too. Aunt Dimity’s Death’s beginning sounds interesting, I will have to check it out.

  6. readerholicnotes

    Oh, you chose some great books! I love so many of them and you are spot on with them having great beginnings and/or endings. Thanks for bringing them back to my memory!

    For some reason, the blog is not liking my sign-in (I may have made a mistake…my allergies are making my head hurt!) Anyway, I want to let you know I don’t mean to be anonymous!

    Jan@Notes from a Readerholic