Category Archives: Great Beginnings

Great Beginnings

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Every Who down in Who-ville liked Christmas a lot … But the Grinch, who lived just north of Who-ville, did NOT!

What person wouldn’t want to continue reading a book that starts that way? Why doesn’t the Grinch like Christmas? What happens next? When my kids were young, I always joked that Christmas would not come if they hadn’t seen the television version of How The Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss. I mean, of course, the wonderful 1966 cartoon featuring the voice of Boris Karloff. I’ve never seen the 2000 movie version with Jim Carrey, thanks anyway.

Christmas has never been in jeopardy; we all still watch The Grinch and the book has a place of honour on the fireplace with our handmade fire screen and a sleigh complete with plush Grinch and his dog Max. How The Grinch Stole Christmas has a great beginning, middle and ending.

A Christmas Carol

First published in 1843, Charles Dickens’ tale about a bitter miser who is given a chance for redemption when he is haunted by ghosts on Christmas Eve received immediate critical acclaim. Since then, the story has never been out of print and has been adapted into everything from a Disney cartoon starring Mickey Mouse to a ballet. Of the many film versions, critics and A Christmas Carol fans alike praise the 1951 film featuring Alastair Sim’s celebrated performance as Scrooge. Christmas Eve just wouldn’t be the same in this house without Scrooge’s great (albeit slightly reworded) beginning:

Old Marley was as dead as a doornail. This must be distinctly understood or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.

Alastair Sim as Scrooge.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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Great Beginnings

Charles L.P. Silet of The Strand Magazine calls the famous first sentence of Rebecca “one of the great opening lines in English fiction. In one stroke, du Maurier establishes the voice, the locale, and the dream-like atmosphere of the story.”

Rebecca, the suspense novel that made Daphne du Maurier one of the most popular authors of her day, is about a shy paid companion who, while in the French Riviera with her vacationing employer, meets wealthy Maxim de Winter. She and Max fall in love, marry and return to his large country estate in Cornwall to begin their life together. But Max is haunted by the death of his first wife, Rebecca, in a boating accident the year before. The second Mrs. de Winter (whose given name is never revealed) soon discovers that Rebecca still has a strange hold on everyone at the estate.

Since its debut in 1938, the novel Rebecca has had a hold on the public. It has been adapted for both the small and large screens several times, with the Alfred Hitchcock version starring Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier winning the 1940 Academy Award for Best Picture.

There are three novels inspired by the original and approved by the du Maurier estate:  Mrs. de Winter, by Susan Hill; The Other Rebecca, by Maureen Freely; and Rebecca’s Tale, by Sally Beauman.

Du Maurier herself adapted Rebecca as a stage play in 1939, and a new musical based on the novel premiered in Vienna in 2006, where it played to sold-out houses for two years. Discussions are under way regarding a possible Toronto run of the musical prior to its openings in New York and London in 2010 or 2011.

And it all started with that great beginning sentence. Did it come back to your mind as you read this, or did you know it all along?

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and a chain upon the gate. I called in my dream to the lodge-keeper, and had no answer, and peering closer through the rusted spokes of the gate I saw that the lodge was uninhabited.


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Great Beginnings – Atlas Shrugged

“He’s the character mentioned in the first line of Atlas Shrugged,” read Alex Trebek. It’s the final Jeopardy question and I know the answer! “Who is John Galt?” I immediately respond. The Jeopardy answer also happens to be the complete opening line of Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel.

I read Atlas Shrugged many years ago. Honestly, I don’t know exactly who John Galt is because I don’t remember the details of what happened in the 1000+ paperback pages that follow the memorable opening line. It really was a long time ago that I read the story. I do remember those words, though, and the fact that the question is repeated often throughout the book; it is the reader’s quest to discover the answer.

Based on the question “what if all the creative minds of the world went on strike?”, Rand began writing the epic tale, which includes elements of mystery, science fiction, and romance, under the working title The Strike. The final title “symbolizes the book’s plot: the rebellion of the unrecognized and often persecuted creative heroes who bear the rest of the world on their shoulders”.

Atlas Shrugged received generally negative reviews when it was released, but since then it has achieved enduring popularity, selling over six million copies. In January of this year, the novel was No. 33 among’s top-selling books. With those statistics, I think it’s safe to assume that I wasn’t the only home viewer who won final Jeopardy by knowing this book’s opening line. I also surmise that I’m not alone in thinking this is a great beginning:

“Who is John Galt?”
The light was ebbing, and Eddie Willers could not distinguish the bum’s face. The bum had said it simply, without expression. But from the sunset far at the end of the street, yellow glints caught his eyes, and the eyes looked straight at Eddie Willers, mocking and still –as if the question had been addressed to the causeless uneasiness with him.
“Why did you say that?” asked Eddie Willers, his voice tense.
The bum leaned against the side of the doorway; a wedge of broken glass behind him reflected the metal yellow of the sky.
“Why does it bother you?” he asked.



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Great Beginnings – Angela’s Ashes

It’s so satisfying when you begin reading a new book and are immediately captivated by the story. It could be due to a character so well drawn that she instantly interests you, or a humourous situation that has you laughing out loud. Sometimes there’s just something about the overall style and intelligence of the writing that appeals to your taste and encourages you to keep reading “just one more chapter” until finally collapsing into bed hours later than would have been prudent. The alarm rings way too soon and you start the morning overtired … and wishing you had time to read another chapter before heading out for the day.

That instant involvement doesn’t happen to me often. Some books take an investment of time and patience to get into, needing several pages or even chapters to set the scene and characters and draw me in. Some never do succeed and are set aside unread. Other books are pleasant reads, enjoyed for the short term but then largely forgotten; I’d have to pick them up six months later and read the back cover to remind myself of the plot.

It is wonderful, then, when a book really captures my heart. And best yet when, years after the initial reading, I can still recall the opening paragraphs that grabbed my interest and held it.

Angela’s Ashes is one of those books. I loved the poignant, Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir from page one. Published back in 1996, the tale of Frank McCourt’s poverty-stricken childhood was brought to mind again by the author’s recent passing, so I looked it up and began rereading.

One person’s idea of an excellent book, or paragraph, or even sentence is not necessarily another’s, but for me, this is a great beginning:

When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood; the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.

People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version; the poverty; the shiftless loquacious alcoholic father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying schoolmasters; the English and the terrible things they did to us for eight hundred long years.

Above all – we were wet.


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