Thursday, June 9

The Open Sesame Challenge

Hello my dears! Firstly, I would like to apologize for not commenting on any of your blogs recently. It’s entirely Blogger’s fault. It is failing to recognize me, and keeps redirecting me to the Google account login in an aggravating loop.

ME: Gmail, password, enter. Oo!

BLOGGER: Redirecting.

ME: OK then. Gmail, password, enter. Oo!

BLOGGER: Redirecting.

ME: Hmm. Gmail, password, enter.  Oo!

Etcetera etcetera. It just isn’t getting any less repetitive.

Now, today Themanycoloursofhappiness mentioned Charles Dickens in her comment and that got my mind in a complete buzz about him, even though every orifice in my face seems to be clogged with mucous.

I’ve read just two of his books, and they are Oliver Twist and Hard Times. I think that probably the main thing I adore about Charles Dickens is his characters. He has an intensely stimulating style of describing his creations in the perfect light with the perfect words that they stand out stark and strong and amazingly believable. And he has the tendency to stun you right out of the middle of his solemn narrative with a bubbling twinkle of humour. This little trick of his has often made me suddenly laugh aloud in a full classroom. I really respect him for having the goodness to do this.

Hard Times is a brilliant, little book that I would certainly recommend. It is very short in comparison to his other works, but it packs just the same punch. All in itself, without any context, without any pretext, the very first page builds a little scene out of thin air. It is just an exceptional little story all of itself, requiring nothing at all to make it work. I have often read the first page all by itself, and each time it succeeds in sending thrills into me.

This is the first page, and (how so unbelievably convienient), the first chapter too. Take a good, long, hearty swig of this!

'NOW, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!'

The scene was a plain, bare, monotonous vault of a school-room, and the speaker's square forefinger emphasized his observations by underscoring every sentence with a line on the schoolmaster's sleeve. The emphasis was helped by the speaker's square wall of a forehead, which had his eyebrows for its base, while his eyes found commodious cellarage in two dark caves, overshadowed by the wall. The emphasis was helped by the speaker's mouth, which was wide, thin, and hard set. The emphasis was helped by the speaker's voice, which was inflexible, dry, and dictatorial. The emphasis was helped by the speaker's hair, which bristled on the skirts of his bald head, a plantation of firs to keep the wind from its shining surface, all covered with knobs, like the crust of a plum pie, as if the head had scarcely warehouse-room for the hard facts stored inside. The speaker's obstinate carriage, square coat, square legs, square shoulders, - nay, his very neckcloth, trained to take him by the throat with an unaccommodating grasp, like a stubborn fact, as it was, - all helped the emphasis.

'In this life, we want nothing but Facts, sir; nothing but Facts!'

The speaker, and the schoolmaster, and the third grown person present, all backed a little, and swept with their eyes the inclined plane of little vessels then and there arranged in order, ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim.

Chapter 1, Hard Times by Charles Dickens (published 1854)

Isn’t it wonderful? For me, it is like in just these few paragraphs, the whole scene, the whole person, is etched out for me with a dark, scratchy pencil. It is such a brilliant little experience, don’t you think?

You know what? I think what would be great would be to have a challenge. How about, for the next couple of weeks, you share all your favourite opening lines, paragraphs, pages or chapters? I have a couple I can whip out, and you do too, I bet, because already, your mind is probably bursting with little snatches of beautifully strung words.  And I would like to call it the Open Sesame Challenge. 

1 comment:

  1. OK I'll take the challenge. I'm reading 'Love Poems from God' very slowly. The intro has already captivated me & promises a lot:

    'I hope a few of these poems will reach in deep enought to cure what separates us from each other, and from the beautiful. I hope you fall into this wine barrel and crawl out legally drunk, and get arrested for doing something that makes God proud of you, like being too happy.'

    Perhaps some of the books you have cited from have caused a little drunkedness, do you think?


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