Parts vs. Whole

I have focused quite a bit on sentences that are fantastic in isolation, that make us take notice through their utter simplicity or powerful independent impact. But sometimes the impact of an opening sentence is difficult to separate from the effect of an entire book. So intertwined are the memories of characters and plot twists with the memory of a particular opening sentence that the sentence itself has the power to unlock emotional connections far beyond what the words themselves seem capable of arousing. It is hard in these cases to separate the effect of the part from the effect of the whole. Consider the following:

“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away….”

Oh, wait, that’s not even a sentence from a book. It makes my point, though. As soon as that sentence came into my head it was immediately joined by the theme song, images of the characters, and memories of various plot points. If that didn’t happen for you, then I suspect you were either raised by wolves or perhaps have a few faulty connections in your brain.

Books are the same way. A simple sentence, seemingly meek and without impact, can pack a powerful punch once it becomes associated in the memory with everything that follows it in a book we adore. There are many examples of this in children’s literature. Here are a few that stand out for me (and I’m pretty sure I don’t need to list the book titles for you):

“It was a dark and stormy night.”

“‘Where’s papa going with that axe?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.”

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

Categories: Fantastic First Lines | Leave a comment

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