Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Why are they so recognizable?

Call me Ishmael.

More than likely, if you can read that sentence, then you know it is from MOBY DICK by Herman Melville.

What about:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Again, you probably read the first twelve words and knew that this was from A TALE OF TWO CITIES by Charles Dickens? Did you know the first sentence was longer than twelve words?

So why are these sentences so recognizable?
I've heard a couple of answers.

"They come from 'classics'."
"Everybody had to read them in school."

Okay, so to play devil's advocate, I offer up three sentences. Do you know which books they come from? In my opinion, they are all 'classics' and I had to read all three of them in school.

All this happened, more or less.

It was a pleasure to burn.

You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.

How'd you do? The answers are:

1. SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

2. FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury

3. FRANKENSTEIN by Mary Shelley

Did you know them?

If not, again I ask, why are the first two sentences so recognizable?

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