THEY can be the result of a blinding flash of inspiration or an arduous slog through piles of crumpled paper.
A new poll has revealed that the nation’s favourite opening line from a novel is JM Barrie’s Peter Pan, which begins: “All children, except one, grow up.”
Since the Scottish author published the novel in 1911 it has become a children’s classic.
Now its opening line has been named the nation’s favourite, according to 1,000 people polled for World Book Day, which takes place on 5 March.
But it’s not just childhood fairytales of which adults have fond memories, as the opening lines from 19th-century novel A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens came in second place with: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
And George Orwell’s 1984 secured third place with: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
However, the first words of 50 Shades of Grey did little to inspire, as just one in 20 were wooed by EL James’ opening line: “I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror.”
One in five of those polled, in a survey funded by Asda, admitted they would put a book down if the first line wasn’t engaging.
Yet one in four would continue reading to the end even if they didn’t enjoy it and, with complete disregard for the opening line, 15 per cent admitted jumping to the last chapter first to find out a book’s ending.
When it comes to reading with their children, one in eight parents says youngsters will switch off if a book doesn’t capture their imagination quickly, and one in ten is forced to adopt character voices to make reading more enjoyable.
Parents know when they deserve an Oscar, as one in seven children will enjoy a book so much that they will read it again and 21 per cent of people admit they’ve claimed a line from a book as their own in order to impress a member of the opposite sex.
Among the canon of literary classics, a plethora of first lines failed to make the list. Moby Dick by Herman Melville, begins: “Call me Ishmael” while Leo Tolstoy starts Anna Karenina with the famous line: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Yesterday Laura Grooby, Asda’s book buyer, said: “First impressions are everything and even though hundreds of new books are released every week, it is clear the nation never forgets a famous opening line. This year, we hope by encouraging everyone to pick up and persevere with a book on World Book Day, children and adults alike will enjoy the pleasures reading can bring.”
As Stephen King, author of The Shining, said in a recent interview: “An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say, ‘Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this’.”
THE NATION’S TOP 10 MOST MEMORABLE OPENING LINES
1‘All children, except one, grow up.’
2 ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.’
A Tale of Two Cities
3 ‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.’
4 ‘When Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.’
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
5 ‘Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, ‘and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice ‘without pictures or conversation?’
Alice in Wonderland
6 ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of good fortune must be in want of a wife.’
Pride and Prejudice
7 ‘Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.’
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
8 ‘Here is Edward Bear, coming down the stairs now, bump bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin.’
9 ‘My father got the dog drunk on cherry brandy at the party last night.’
10 ‘The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play, so we sat in the house all that cold, cold wet day.’
The Cat in the Hat
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