There's been a few synchronous mutterings on the blogosphere lately about beginnings: Jonathan Strahan posted some opening lines (I recognised only the first two, bad me), and Jodi examined a few of the books on her shelves.

Strangely enough, I'm not particularly into beginnings. As such. They're important, yes, but it's the ending (or the climax) that sticks with me after the book has finished. And the voice of the book. Beginnings have one job, as far as I'm concerned: to give me the voice, straight up.

This maybe has something to do with my bookstore browsing habits. Okay, so it's a cover that tempts into picking up a book. But I very rarely open the book on the first page for a tasting: it will be a random page in the middle. Sometimes I'll glance over the very very first page, where the publisher has printed an exciting snippet, but that always comes from somewhere in the middle of the book anyway. Only if the middle is intriguing will I turn back to the opening and taste it.

Having said that, in the comments to Jodi's post, Rae posted an opening snippet that immediately made me want to run out and pick up the book. And I do have an opening that ranks among my favourites: it's the prologue to Stephen Donaldson's "The Mirror of Her Dreams". It sticks with me partly because I’ve read the book through several times; but I do remember being entranced by the sly whimsy of the opening on first read. But then there are openings I dislike, such as that belonging to The Lord of the Rings. On re-reads I've taken to starting at page 200 or so, when the hobbits have ditched Tom Bloody Bombadil and actually have started acting like they have a purpose. See? Beginnings. They can't be trusted.

Now excuse me while I hunt out "Bridge of Birds" 😉

4 thoughts on “beginnings

  1. *wonders how I missed this post the other day*

    One may or may not agree with Tolkien's choices, both on beginning and ending, but he had a definite purpose in mind. All that wandering around the Shire and the Old Forest serves as a slow crumbling of the starting situation — it gives him time to give us a feel for the world, plus give us the reluctance Frodo feels to leave it, and give us a sense what Frodo will later be giving up, when it becomes clear what sacrifice he has made during his quest.

    Or, to put it another way, Tolkien tries to sink us into what's "back" so that we can understand "there and back again," and why that title of the Hobbit doesn't apply to Frodo, or really to Middle Earth as a whole, and even to the hobbits of the Shire.

    It's a different aesthetic, to be sure, but has its peculiar strength.

  2. To sound completely uncharitable and inflexible, yeah, that's as may be. But it's also deadly dull boring. Not all of it, mind; if I go back, I can normally stand to read the beginning outright, the intro and the birthday and whatnot; but I start to skip as soon as Frodo begins to take a few millennia to cross the Shire to his new place. And the Old Forest? I have to skip it entirely. T Bloody B, you understand.

  3. D'you wanna know what's really strange? I don't hate The Adventures of Tom Bombadil nearly so much as I hate his appearance in LOTR. It's not my favourite, you understand, and I don't seek it out of my bookshelf all that often, but I don't specifically dislike it.

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