Firsts for the First

I’m thinking about creative first lines for the first, naturally enough for a bookhound. What are the most famous first lines in English? I guessed three. Of course, there’s the one that makes reference to its own place in the book, “In the beginning…” Then there’s “To be, or not to be…”. While not an official opening line, it is the first line of the speech.

I also guessed “T’was the night before Christmas…” That one got me started thinking about time in first lines, and, of course, “Once upon a time” may be the most well-known beginning there is. I assume many languages have their version of it to turn to. It’s interesting that two literary classics begin, or almost begin with it. Poe’s “The Raven” at least starts “Once upon”, if only to plunge us into, not a time, but a timeless “midnight dreary” where Life and Rationality get crept up on by their opposites.

James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as Young Man, despite being a modernist classic, does begin “Once upon a time…” because the main character’s uncle is telling baby Stephen a story about a little boy and a cow. If you’re a Literary Geek, this is kinda funny.

Of course, Dickens left the timestampers in the dust with “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…”. A lot of first lines like to pin down time, as if this is the information we want and need first. A personal perennial favorite is: “In the year 1878 I took my degree of Doctor of Medicine of the University of London, and proceeded to Netley to go through the course prescribed for surgeons in the army.” How dull, really. But he will shortly meet an unusual person who might look like Basil Rathbone or Benedict Cumberbatch or my friend Donald. This will shake him up a bit and liven the storytelling considerably.

For the sake of my friend and fab fellow blogger, I have to add to this category “Captain’s Log, Stardate series of numbers I’m sure the Trekkies have sorted out into a calendar”.

I suppose marking time– sunlight, seasons, writing deadlines– is a survival tactic as old as our ability to do it. I almost don’t dare write that I hope today is a marker pointing in some good directions, but I suppose Betty White would want me to do it. And then to say swear words and laugh a lot and say/do something kind.

Another first line I’ve known nearly forever came to my mind, and I’ll end on it. It sounds dire, asking a heavy question rather than offering safe information to hold on to: “‘Where’s Pa going with that ax?’ said Fern to her mother…” It’s the first line of Charlotte’s Web, and it doesn’t begin to hint at the wonder, writing, Love, and “the glory of everything” to come. I think it’s the first line I need today.

Its author, E. B. White, is a favorite of my dear friend Bob Colonna, to whom this first post of 2022 is dedicated with all my spun-silk love.

(The photo is E. B. White and Minnie.)

The Ecstasies of a Gigantic List

What could I love more, or want more to blog about, than a thoughtful, informed, ecstatic appreciation of Creativity, that is itself a gorgeous piece of Creativity?

Past readers will know that I have blogged in response to Olivia Rutigliano, who had ranked 45 detective sidekicks. I blogged because I heartily agreed and disagreed with OR. Now she has created a ranking of 100 Sherlock Holmes portrayals on screen, and I would buy this woman a fancy coffee every day for the rest of our lives.

Now click on this!

Her criteria, her observations, her enthusiasm, and her voice make this about as much fun as a Sherlock Holmes fan can possibly have. (Except me. I got to make out with him.)

I thank her, among other things:

for offering me new films, shows, and sketches to watch

for her continued and correct admiration for The Great Mouse Detective and for mentioning Vincent Price

for going into the past, going international, and going multi-species (Yay, Wishbone!)

for liking Murder by Decree, for loving Christopher Lee, and for knowing Ian Richardson also played Dr. Bell

for FINALLY helping me understand my long-standing visceral problem with the lovely and talented actor James D’Arcy. It is NOT his fault, but yeah, he WAS totally the guy I was trapped in literary theory seminars with. There it is. Not his fault, not my fault: Academia’s fault. As it usually winds up being.

Anyway, the only thing I can offer her in return for this Gigantic List are two tips: OR, if you haven’t, as your review suggests, actually watched the Matt Frewer Hound, you might just want… tonotwatchit. Also, if you enjoyed Richardson as Bell, have you seen Arthur and George, I believe also on Masterpiece? Conan Doyle’s (Martin Clunes) secretary Woodie is played by Charles Edwards, who played Doyle to Richardson’s Bell.

How do I love this List? Let me count the ways.