Thursday, October 1, 2009

Getting the last word in

This book cover by textile artist Celia Birtwell reminds me of my friend Sarah's family house near Sligo, Ireland. I sat at her paned-window with drawn-back curtain and painted watercolors of Ben Bulben.
But that's for another post, another day.
Today I want to bookend my previous post about great first lines by posting some great last lines. The editors at American Book Review chose 100 Best Last Lines as they did First Lines.
Why is the last line of any import? It is the farewell, and it should be bittersweet.
I'm going to list a few from the Review editors, and as last time I will put the rank they gave it, the line in italics and then the author and title.
#1: must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on.
Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable
#2: Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
#3: So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
#5: But I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can't stand it. I been there before.
Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
#41: I lingered round them, under the benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath, and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.
Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights
To me, these endings leave a lot to imagination. There are futures in them. I want to add a few more that weren't on the Review list. These come from challenged books I loved reading; for more on what challenged books are check out Banned Books Week. Among these is one I've always thought was one of the best endings I'd ever read:
So Lyra and her daemon turned away from the world they were born in, and looked toward the sun, and walked into the sky.
Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass
But they never learned what it was that Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which had to do, for there was a gust of wind, and they were gone.
Madeleine L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time
Behind him, across vast distances of space and time, from the place he had left, he thought he heard music too. But perhaps it was only an echo.
Lois Lowry, The Giver
Whether this is my end or a new beginning I have no way of knowing: I have given myself over into the hands of strangers, because it can't be helped. And so I step up, into the darkness within; or else the light.
Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale
Interestingly, the Review chose a final line from The Handmaid's Tale but from the section called Historical Notes after the main story ends. It is: Are there any questions?
How do you feel about the above as ending lines? Do you have one that stuck to you long after you closed the book?


Unknown said...

OH! I got tingles reading those, especially the YA ones!!! And what a beautiful cover.

Bish Denham said...

Here are a few.

"All around spreads a wilderness of wild deer, and the very name of Gwyntystorm has ceased from the lips of men." The Princess and Curdie, by George MacDonald

"Mr. Coreander was not mistaken. But that's another story and shall be told another time." The Neverending Story by Michael Ende.

"But whereever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing." The House at Pooh Corner, by A. A. Milne

"What would you do
If your mother asked you?" The Cat in the Hat, by Dr. Seuss

Linda Kage said...

Thanks for sharing. No ever talks about last lines. It's easy to look over them and forget about 'i'm. But they're important too.

I think my favorite here was the Mark Twain quote.

MG Higgins said...

Love these last lines. I find last lines more engaging than first lines because they tend to be more philosophical. One of my recent favorites is from The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp:

Goodbye, I say, goodbye, as I disappear little by little into the middle of the middle of my own spectacular now.

(And how cool is it to have the title of your book as the last words?)

Andrea Cremer said...

Fabulous post - I have chills!!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Beth: Isn't that an amazing cover? It was designed for an edition by White's Books in the UK. I love the YA ones, too.

Bish: Those are great! I've never read the Princess and Curdie, so I shall have to rectify that.

Linda: Yes, that line says a lot about Huck, who he was and how he grew. And still has the author's humor.

Mel: You are right--it would be super cool to have the title be the last line. Have to keep that idea in mind. I haven't read the Spectacular Now, so onto my TBR list it goes.

Andrea: Isn't it incredible how effective a great line can be?

PJ Hoover said...

These are all great! I have the hardest time coming up with those last lines. The last thing I want is them to sound uber-cheesy.

Robyn Campbell said...

I especially love the one from The Handmaid's Tale. I am getting the book from the local bookstore. Can't wait to get started on it. Okay, here's one for ya.

My troubles are all over, and I am at home; and often before I am quite awake, I fancy I am still in the orchard at Birtwick, standing with my old friends under the apple trees.

Come on, doesn't that just get ya going? Brings tears to my eyes every time. :) Great week of posts, my pal. :)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

PJ: Eeek. Cheesy! Never that.

Robyn: I think you have that book memorized front to back ;)


Angela Ackerman said...

Not always starts or ends, but one line that really stands out for me is one in Stephen King's Dark Tower series when the boy Jake falls to his death. Before he does, he looks up at the gunslinger who couldn't save him and said, "There are other worlds that this."

That's always stuck with me.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Hi Angela! Ooooooooo, THAT is a great line. I can see how it stuck.

Donna said...

Thanks, Tricia. What a wonderful reminder to pay attention to the last line--when reading and when writing. Once again, you sent me to the books on my shelves, this time to read last lines. In most, it is the last paragraph, rather than the last line, that speaks to me. Sometimes it is a poem, as in Alice Walker's BY THE LIGHT OF MY FATHER'S SMILE:
When life descends into the pit
I must become my own candle
willingly burning myself
to light up the darkness around me.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Donna: Oh, that is an extraordinary poem. So much to think about. It reminds me of the poem Ursula Le Guin uses in A Wizard of Earthsea:
Only in silence the word,
only in dark the light,
only in dying life:
bright the hawk's flight
on the empty sky.