Great novels without the first line

Mary Robinette Kowal sez,

Imagine what would happen if the unthinkable occurred. What if the first line were accidentally omitted by the typesetter? Would Moby Dick have been the same if it started, 'Some years ago -- never mind how long precisely -- having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.'

I put together a little quiz for you to try your hand at identifying these famous books by their second lines. Why?

Because when my novel, Glamour in Glass, comes out tomorrow, it will be missing the first line. We don't know how it happened yet, since the last time my editor and I looked at it, the sentence was there. Somehow, that sentence got omitted between here and the printer. The electronic version is being corrected and future editions will have that line, but for now, there are some collector's editions out there.

That's Mary: when life gives you SARS, make sarsaparilla!

New beginnings – or – What happened to my novel’s first sentence?



  1. If you do any signings you should write it in, or get a stamp made to stamp it in and sign that. :)

      1. Do you know that, when I try to close the page at that link, it produces a pop-up demanding that I confirm my desire to leave the page?

        1.  Happened to me too.  The back button, home button, and even closing the browser were all hijacked by the page.  Bad form indeed!

          I had to manually kill the browser process to safely leave the page.

  2. Pop quiz: given the following first line, summarize the hypothetical novel:

        That’s Mary: when life gives you SARS, make sarsaparilla!

  3. Everything in the Oblonsky household was in uproar.

    Way better than that turd of an opener that Tolstoy dropped. Happy families, unhappy families, my ass, start with the story!

  4. A person much more cynical than I might think that this is a great way to promote a new novel. ;)

  5. What a great response to a potentially heart-crushing issue. Mary, you just made another sale. I just downloaded it from iBooks, and can verify that by pointing out that your second paragraph contains a name that will be very familiar to anyone who watched ’60s TV shows featuring flying saucers.

    I’m looking forward to the read, and best of luck with your new novel. (Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, what did you think of the play?)

    1. Exactly. I thought at first while I was taking the quiz “Boy, I must have a photographic memory; I’m awesome”, but it turns out everyone is *supposed* to get 100% (assuming they’ve read the novels)

      1. Yeah, it was a lot easier than I’d thought, mainly because nearly every second line contained the name of a character or some other story-specific wording that made it pretty hard to miss if you’d read the novels.  Or even if you hadn’t.  Never read A Tale of Two Cities but I got it just by recognizing the line as being an apt one to follow the famous first line.

  6. As a compulsive completist, looks like I’ll see you at the UW reading on Friday for my hand-written first sentence!

  7. Moby Dick would have been SHIT without the first line.  What – the narrator doesn’t introduce himself formally AND the baddie gets away in the end AND the narrative is padded out with outdated interludes of cetacean biology?  Shit sandwich.

    1. I never understood how Herman Melville’s Big Book of Whales got to be considered a great novel. That book needed an editor badly. The hundreds of pages of tedious whaling trivia made it such a slog and ruined all the really good stuff that was buried under it.

  8. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of the Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him.

    Hmmm it technically works i suppose.

  9. Harlan Ellison’s short story “How’s The Nightlife In Cissalda?” would not be the same without the first line:

    “When they unscrewed the time capsule, preparatory to helping temponaut Enoch Mirren to disembark, they found him doing a disgusting thing with a disgusting thing.”

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