More Far Away- and Great First Lines

“He sat, in defiance of municipal orders, astride the gun Zam- Zammah on her brick platform opposite the old Ajaib- Gher– the Wonder House, as the natives called the Lahore Museum”.

The opening lines of Kim, of course. My friend Grayal Farr, formerly of the Special Forces, naturalist, archaeologist, and fellow Kiplingite (see Kipling’s “The Janeites”) was lamenting the fact that this line is not as well known as “Call me Ishmael” or “I had a farm in Africa” with me this morning, in the midst of conversation about bird ID.

Which serendipitous mix reminded me of the image below, given to me by my friend Catherine Lassez. She and her husband Jean- Louis, born in France but long- time Magdalenians, are Asia travelers too.

Kim takes place along the Grand Trunk Road, which leads to the Khyber Pass on the Afghan border– where Catherine snapped this falconer with goshawk in 1990.

There is a similar one pictured in Kipling’s father’s book on the animals of India, which he wrote at the Wonder House.


  1. So good. I've been talking recently with a friend about what makes a good first line, sorta kinda coming around to: the rest of the lines.

    I still personally cling to this one. Not really an opening line, though it starts a section. The first sentence of the book is more famous, but I love love love the elegance of this one and the way it provides a voice you could listen to for 800 pages. Such an effortlessly beautiful sentence.

    Here goes, complete with epigraph:

    You will have the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood.

    Merian C. Cooper to Fay Wray


    This morning's streets are already clattering, near and far, with wood-soled civilian feet. Up in the wind is a scavenging of gulls, sliding, easy, side to side, wings hung out still, now and then a small shrug, only to gather lift for this weaving, unweaving, white and slow faro shuffle off invisible thumbs. . . . Yesterday's first glance, coming along the esplanade in the afternoon, was somber: the sea in shades of gray under gray clouds, the Casino Hermann Goering flat white and the palms in black sawtooth, hardly moving. . . . But this morning the trees in the sun now are back to green. Leftward, far away, the ancient aqueduct loops crumbling, dry yellow, out along the Cap, the houses and villas there baked to warm rusts, gentle corrosions all through Earth's colors, pale raw to deeply burnished.

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