Opening lines

Recently I was thinking of the lovely first line of Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel Rebecca: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

Except my mind did a sort of funny substitution: “Last night I dreamt I went to Pemberley again.”

It’s not really such a stretch. The literary trail from du Maurier’s Rebecca back to Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is fairly clear and quite easy to trace. In both cases a hyper-romantic tale is viewed through the prism of a symbolic locale. Even the sounds of the two words “Manderley” and “Pemberley” have a similar musical line.

Similarly, I was recently thinking about the opening line of Melville’s Moby Dick: “Call me Ishmael.”

Except my mind did a similar sort of substitution: “Call me Starbuck.”

Again there is a similar parallel at work. A sweeping saga of a ship adrift, facing an implacable enemy that mocks our all too human conceit of hegemony over nature. We are told a tale of terrible isolation, of vast stretches of emptiness, of insidious tendrils of madness threatening to seep in at every moment, and above all of the uncertainty that creeps into the thoughts of every crew member, not just of getting home, but of whether there is any longer such a thing as home.

I am speaking, of course, of Battlestar Galactica — a work that arguably could not have existed but for the cultural influence of Moby Dick.

I wonder what other works could likewise evoke their literary kin, via a substitution, in the opening line, of a single word.

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