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Great moments in literature

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1. In This Immortal, by Zelazny, when Conrad says, “Feathers or Lead?”

2. In Twenty Years After, by Dumas, when M. de Beaufort removes the poniard from the pie and says, “I hold one of these poniards to La Remee’s heart and say to him, ‘My friend, I am truly distressed, but if you make any movement or utter a cry, you are a dead man.'”

It’s things like that, those catch-your-breath instants, that are what I live for–why I say I’ll do anything for a good scene.  A long, slow build-up, and a payoff that makes the brain explode.

So–can you think of moments like that, lines that are the culmination of a scene that make your heart skip a beat?  (And, just so no one thinks I’m fishing for compliments, let us exclude any that I might be responsible for).

corwin

Author: corwin

Site administrative account, so probably Corwin, Felix or DD-B.

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  1. If you’ll allow a certain extension of the word “literature”: Christian, in Moulin Rouge, shouting “Because she doesn’t love you!”

    The “Nothing will come of nothing” Lear quote reminds me of a fantastic performance of Richard III that I saw in college (performed by the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express). In Act IV, scene ii, Buckingham, having helped Richard to the throne, is being a little whiny about receiving his promised payment. Kate Norris had been playing Richard as something of a likeable scoundrel, clearly manipulative but fairly sympathetic…until Buckingham pushes a little too hard and Richard shouts “I am not in the giving vein today!” And I dare say the whole audience caught their breaths; it was this crystal-clear moment when Richard turned from scoundrel to all-out villain. Ten years later, I can still hear her delivery of the line.

  2. “As….. you…. wish…..” I know. We all know it. We’ve all seen it, some of us have read it. But the FIRST time you read it or hear it? Oh, holy crap. I’d like to say that I expected it, but I didn’t, even though I read the damn BOOK first and, well, it still took me totally by surprise. I swear on all that is holy, Goldman nailed me and then, and then, and THEN he denied me the reconciliation scene by TELLING ME he was denying me the reconcilation.

    Fuckin’ Goldman.

    Also, who can forget Kevin Spacey limping and then walking off? I am not ashamed to admit that I hadn’t the foggiest clue.

  3. The ending of Tarzan of the Apes:

    Tarzan took the envelope and tore it open. The message was from
    D’Arnot.
    It read:
    Fingerprints prove you Greystoke.
    Congratulations.
    D’ARNOT.
    As Tarzan finished reading, Clayton entered and came toward him
    with extended hand.
    Here was the man who had Tarzan’s title, and Tarzan’s estates, and
    was going to marry the woman whom Tarzan loved—the woman who
    loved Tarzan. A single word from Tarzan would make a great difference
    in this man’s life.
    It would take away his title and his lands and his castles, and—it
    would take them away from Jane Porter also. “I say, old man,” cried
    Clayton, “I haven’t had a chance to thank you for all you’ve done for us.
    It seems as though you had your hands full saving our lives in Africa
    and here.
    “I’m awfully glad you came on here. We must get better acquainted. I
    often thought about you, you know, and the remarkable circumstances
    of your environment.
    “If it’s any of my business, how the devil did you ever get into that
    bally jungle?”
    “I was born there,” said Tarzan, quietly. “My mother was an Ape, and
    of course she couldn’t tell me much about it. I never knew who my father
    was.

  4. I remember reading right over one of these the first time. That one was by Guy Gavriel Kay, in “The Lions of Al-Rassan”, about the incident that started the reconquista. Forgive me if I mess up the details, I don’t have one of my copies at hand, but here we go:

    GGK describes a day out for the whole royal court, with hunts and stuff, not all that gripping really. I was skipping sentences occasionally and skimming over paragraphs, and all of a sudden, the queen was on her death bed, poisoned, and I just went “WTF???

    So I jump back a paragraph, and another, and find that that %&*# author had planned that lulling effect from the start! He goes on about this and that, everybody’s happy and relaxed (including the reader), and then comes something along the lines of “Thus it was that nobody saw where the poisoned arrow came from that struck the queen”. Right in the middle of a paragraph! No warning before, no time afterwards to let it sink in, he blandly keeps on talking about how she was brought back and what was done to save her, and, ooops, by the way, we have ourselves a war.

    Phew.

    As a chapter ending, that sentence would have been a great climax. Keeping it hidden in the middle of a description of a little country trip, and carrying on in the same dry style afterwards? That was scary. Shook me right up.

    Er.
    So it actually wasn’t as much the culmination of a slow build-up, but rather a sucker punch. Erm.
    Sorry, wrong thread.
    *hides*

  5. In The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, the protagonist/narrator saves the life of the Pharoah’s wife (the protagonist is a midwife), and (IIRC) doesn’t want payment or recognition, because of their history, so he gives her a bunch of linen, which she doesn’t know what to do with. She stores it away and goes back to her quiet life. Some time later, her elderly & impoverished best friend dies a peaceful death, and the narrator says “I wrapped her in the finest linen in Egypt, it being mine to give.”

    In The Last of the Wine, by Mary Renault, the narrator Alexias has been quarreling with his father, who is old before his time, kind of broken by life, and terribly conservative in a time when that means supporting tyranny. Alexias, angry after an argument, runs up into the hills and ends up at a shrine, where he admires a statue of…a young Apollo, maybe? that’s particularly beautiful. The keeper of the shrine comes out and tells him the name of the model who posed for the statue, and it’s Alexias’ father, who was a reknowned beauty in his youth, as Alexias is now. Alexias weeps for everything that has happened to his father and what he has become, and what he himself may become when he is older.
    (I don’t have the book to hand, unfortunately, because I keep lending it to people)

  6. Well, lots of things about Bridge of Birds, but most especially the Reveal:

    (MAJOR Spoilers)

    “…was the face of a frightened rabbit.”

    Even if you’ve solved the mystery, the way the scene is written sets you up for a shock anyway. Master Li is confiding in Lotus Cloud and the Key Rabbit, discussing this most confusing situation with allies, and you only have a few sentences warning that the villain is there and about to get his comeuppance.

  7. Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum:

    Then, still with his back to me, in a colorless voice, calm, reassuring: “Monsieur, vous êtes fou.”

  8. I have a real issue remembering lines I love for some reason..

    But Glen Cook’s early books of The Black Company are filled with stunted, cripped sentences. Sentences that are half-formed, and that you need to read several times to understand their full implications, and they often cut to the quick.

    Also, I’m reading Tanith Lee’s Night’s Master right now, and it’s like reading poetry. I’ve nearly cried several times.

  9. > (And, just so no one thinks I’m fishing for compliments, let us exclude any that I might be responsible for).

    Well, this *does* exclude a number of them, but:

    “And then the fit hit the Shan.” – Zelazny’s Lord of Light. I couldn’t believe it when I first read that. Had to re-read the sentence immediately, as my brain was sure it had messed something up. “Did he just?…Damn, he did. That sneaky little bastard…” Knocked me cold.

    Also, the end of A Study in Emerald by Neil Gaiman. Bloody brilliant.

    I’ll not go, on; though I easily could. 🙂

  10. Somebody tittered, but that somebody was not M. Binet

    That perfectly summarizes the atmosphere of the Binet troup in Scaramouche. This one line shows the utter lack of respect the Binet troupe has for its head, the support they offer Andre-Louis and Andre-Louis’ own calm presence and quiet amusement at Binet’s discomfort. And it is a flawless lead in to Andre-Louis’ new life in the theater.

  11. The final line of Lord of Light always gives my heart a pang.

  12. The end of Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card, when the truth about the simulations is revealed.

    The Sword of Shannara, by Terry Brooks. “For the Warlock Lord, the truth was death.”

    A couple from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman run, both from the Brief Lives collection. When a 15,000 year old lawyer meets his end and asks Death whether or not he had a good run. I don’t have the book in front me, but her response was something like this: “You got what everyone gets, a lifetime.”

    Also, the moment when Dream falls apart in the Garden of Destiny, and Delirium, at great pain to herself, is forced to pull herself together for a moment, telling off Destiny in the process. Anyway, possibly imperfectly quoting from memory again: “There are things not written in your book…there are two sides to every coin…you would do well to remember that, brother”

  13. I really like the way you worded the lead-up to the question.

    Finding out why Jane’s upset in Orson Scott Card’s Children of the Mind, and realizing how it applies to this book and the three in the series before it: “‘I always felt such pity for you humans because you could only think of one thing at a time and your memories were so imperfect and . . . now I realize that just getting through the day without killing somebody can be an achievement.'”

    The Tery by F Paul Wilson: “‘I am a man!’ he shouts to those below as the heat builds . . .
    Suddenly there is silence . . . awed . . . shaken.
    ‘I am one of you!'”

    To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: “‘Hey, Boo,’ I said.”

    Illusions by Richard Bach. I can only vaguely remember what all led up to it, and I only have the line recorded (as the book was borrowed). A good line by itself, as well, but when I was reading, I had to stop for a little while and savor it: “If you will practice being fictional for a while, you will understand that fictional characters are sometimes more real than people with bodies and heartbeats.”

  14. “Did you really think I’d explain my masterstroke if you had the slightest chance of affecting it? I did it thirty-seven minutes ago.”

  15. For me, the absolute winner in this category is Dorothy Dunnett, in the 4th Francis Crawford book. We have the long human chess game, and Dunnett is just cranking the wheel of tension tighter and tighter, and then Francis is forced to choose one of the children to die. And as the boy is taken out, he calls out in Gaelic, and we know it must be Francis’s son, not Gabriel’s.

    Oh, how the tension just shatters! I burst out in sobbing hysterics for a solid fifteen minutes, and was utterly useless for most of a day after that.

  16. Since you mention Zelazny…

    It almost seems to me that Lord of Light is one solid continuous collection of super-cool scenes, even the ones that aren’t culminating are mostly so great they are superior to climaxes in most other books. But if you insist on particulars, I guess the Buddhist Lokapalas fighting with Yama is pretty cool. The chant of the Rakshasas in Hellwell is very cool as well.

    Other Zelazny examples: Set’s fight with God in Creatures of Light and Darkness. Pretty much anything with Thoth in it in that book. Several of Vramin’s scenes. The Norns. Oh, the list goes on.

    Let’s see, whatshisname the dragon, awakening in Roadmarks.

    Corwin’s awakening to his power in Nine Princes in Amber, his first pattern walk, too, his first hellride, the fight up the Kolvir, and Eric’s coronation. All extremely cool moments.

  17. Roxane: 100 men! What courage!
    Cyrano: Oh, I have been braver since then.

  18. Niven and Pournelle, near the end of Lucifer’s Hammer.

    “We used to control the lightning…”

    That line gave me chills when I first read it.

  19. Darth @ 14: Damn, I was just about to mention that one. It’s the culmination, thematically and plot-wise, of that particular scene and of everything that’s come before. And then on the rest of that page you’ve got two more panels: a reaction shot with a clock labeled “New York” in the background, and a jump cut to a certain street corner in New York, thirty-seven-and-a-half minutes ago…

    I’ll also throw in a moment from American Gods. A character named Mad Sweeney has just died a sad and miserable death. At the wake, Shadow toasts Sweeney: “The first time I met him I thought he was a world-class jerk with the devil in him. The second time I thought he was a fuckup and I gave him the money to kill himself. He showed me a coin trick I don’t remember how to do, gave me some bruises, and claimed to be a leprechaun. Rest in peace, Mad Sweeney.” Which perfectly sums up how Sweeney has been presented so far.

    Then Mr. Ibis pulls out a notebook: “According to Mr. Ibis, Mad Sweeney had started his life as the guardian of a sacred rock in a small Irish glade, over three thousand years ago…” It completely changes how you think of Sweeney. The sudden contrast — between Ibis’s story and Shadow’s toast, and between his fairy-tale origins and his more or less mundane appearances earlier in the novel — makes the whole episode about Sweeney’s death all the more tragic. It’s a great moment.

  20. Oh, and I’ve always thought this passage from Vladimir Nabokov’s Lectures on Literature captures the Great Moments in Literature phenomenon quite nicely: “Although we read with our minds, the seat of artistic delight is between the shoulder blades. That little shiver behind is quite certainly the highest form of emotion that humanity has attained when evolving pure art and pure science. Let us worship the spine and its tingle. Let us be proud of our being vertebrates, for we are vertebrates tipped at the head with a divine flame.”

  21. “It fell down, a great disastrous fall like a lightning-stricken tower’s, and wept darkness with desire for the light.” –Diane Duane, High Wizardry, as the Devil Itself finally breaks down and admits it just wants to give up and redeem Itself.

    (Diane is really, really good for these moments, and I could go through every one of her books and pick out at least two, but I suggest you do that yourself instead. 🙂 )

  22. One that comes readily to mind, because I just read it, is the ability of Jim Butcher to defuse tense situations with innappropriate humor. In Turn Coat, at the end, of the novel (don’t worry, no spoiler), Harry is taking Butters to play a role-playing game with the werewolves who have suffered a death in their group. They look questioningly at Butters and to break the silence, Harry says, ‘”This is Waldo Butters,” I said. “And his geek penis is longer and harder than all of ours put together.”‘

    Butcher just has a unique ability to be hilarious with his twisted ways of looking at things!

  23. The end of LoL is high on my list as well.

    The recent (last year?) Niven-and-somebody book had an ending that gave me shivers. “You are not alone, and there are some out here on your side.” (more or less)

    “The Raman’s did everything in threes.” !!!!
    (and, of course “It’s full of stars!”)

    Your Evil Twin notes that a lot of Arthur’s short stories had just that kind of final line. _A_Walk_in_the_Dark comes to mind.

    Sorry, but one of yours does make the cut: “Not yet.” (Paid off years and books later.)

    There was a moment in Julian May’s _The_Non-Born_King_ that does it (more than one in the series, in fact) I don’t remember the line exactly, but this is the third book and she has tightly restricted the psionic powers throughout the book; for example, being able to ‘fly’ is rare; being able to lift oneself and a mount is amazing.

    Then, at the height of the opening ceremonies of an annual event, a few newly-repaired spacecraft and some large number of mounted riders are doing some kind of waltz in the air when everything stops. The title character stands up, raises his hands, and the drives on the spacecraft wink out. And nothing falls.

    Jaw on the floor time.

  24. Aaah, Zelazny. I see folks already put almost everything I could think of off the top of my head out already here. The fit hit the Shan, I just read that line last night. When I’m bereft of new books and authors I’m feeling like reading…I return to those who I cannot help but return to those whose works move me most. Zelazny is possibly foremost amongst them. Even reading the tribute stories in Lord of the Fantastic is close enough, for so many of them have that particular ‘feel’.

    Another one who sometimes hits me, though since I’m at work without my library handy I have no direct examples, is Gene Wolfe in his short stories.

  25. “A man should live forever, or die trying.”

  26. @ 8 Another Glen Cook fan is always nice to see. In “The Dragon Never Sleeps,” a wonderful space opera, it ends just as it begins, reaffirming everything they stood for. The quote is the title of the novel.

  27. Rathgar@17
    You know, I wasn’t thinking in that direction at all, but, yes, definitely. That whole play is amazing.

    Re: Mary Renault… there’s that moment in The Bull from the Sea just after Hipollyta’s death: “But the King had been called; and the King had died.”

    And there’s the end of Ring Lardner’s “Haircut.”

  28. corwin

    I wonder why more sf fans aren’t into Mary Renault. She truly is amazing.

  29. The final repetition of “That’s fucking enough” in Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan. That got me good.

    Also, Rebecca Borgstrom’s story Canary and Fish (in the Weapons of the Gods RPG rulebook, if such a thing can be literature) made me skip a beat with “Because I believe in using our skills to solve the problems of the world.”
    Which doesn’t look like much out of context, but there we are.

  30. The ending lines of Jonathan Carroll’s ‘Voice of Our Shadow’ [chilling… it’s just chilling] and ‘Sleeping in Flame’ [also very creepy] both stand out for as endings that just hit one, from out of nowhere.

    Cleopatra to Dollabelo, on Cleopatra’s grieving for Marc Antony in Act V, Sc II:

    Cleopatra
    Think you there was, or might be, such a man
    As this I dream’d of?

    Dolabella
    Gentle madam, no.

    And for just heartbreaking, in it’s understated despair:

    I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

    I do not think that they will sing to me.
    –“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” T.S. Eliot

    And, of course, we have Faulkner… depending on which version you read, the last lines of ‘The Sound and the Fury’ are the Quentin insisting he doesn’t hate the South or, my favorite, is the character description of Dilsey: “They endure”

  31. Gah. Sorry for the typos, everyone. Proofreading should be one’s habit, but I’m afraid I just clicked.

  32. Sorry, a bit long, but my favorite moment from all the books I’ve ever read was from Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun:

    “What struck me on the beach–and it struck me indeed, so that I staggered as at a blow–was that if the Eternal Principle had rested in that curved thorn I had carried about my neck across so many leagues, and if it now rested in the new thorn (perhaps the same thorn) I had only now put there, then it might rest in everything, in every thorn in every bush, in every drop of water in the sea. The thorn was a sacred Claw because all thorns were sacred Claws; the sand in my boots was sacred sand because it came from a beach of sacred sand. The cenobites treasured up the relics of the sannyasins because the sannyasins had approached the Pancreator. But everything had approached and even touched the Pancreator, because everything had dropped from his hand. Everything was a relic. All the world was a relic. I drew off my boots, that had traveled with me so far, and threw them into the waves that I might not walk shod on holy ground.”

  33. Near the end of Haruki Murakami’s “A Wild Sheep Chase,” we finally learn the Rat’s fate in one of the great what-just-hit-me-in-the-head moments of literature. The line’s such a spoiler I’m not going to quote it.

    On the Zelazny theme, “You make the mistake, Eric, of considering yourself necessary. The graveyards are filled with men who thought they could not be replaced,” from “The Guns of Avalon” has always sent chills up my spine.

  34. In Tanith Lee’s “Delirium’s Mistress” there’s a bit where a horse and an eagle are mated and give birth to a beautiful pegasus and an ugly hippogriff-thingy. The story continues with the pegasus and the reader forgets the hippogriff, and is led to believe the author has also forgotten it, for a few hundred pages until it is revealed that she most emphatically hasn’t.

    If I remember rightly, Gogol does something similar with a mnor character in Dead Souls.

  35. @28 I find Renault’s historical writing to be very immature. That is, she has always come across like a history student trying to write fiction, rather than as a historian telling a story. Sabatini’s early work suffered from that problem – he even made sure American reprints of his earliest books included an apology for his inexperience – but clearly he got the hang of it and went on to write tremendous stories.

    In my opinion, Edith Parteger is the best author in the area general historical fiction, and CS Forester is best with military history.

  36. corwin

    EZ: Yes, that moment: “…that I might not walk shod on holy ground” is another one for me as well.

    L. Raymond: I don’t think of Renault as a writer of historical fiction, I think of her as novelizer of myth, and as such second to none.

  37. I apologize, a recent move has my library inaccessible at the moment, so I will have very few exact quotes.

    Also, you may not be fishing for compliments, but I will pay one anyway.

    There is a moment in _Issola_, when a dagger goes someplace which I wasn’t expecting it. I won’t get more specific than that.
    For me, that was the moment as you describe.

    For Zelazny, it would be the last moments of _Divine Madness._
    7 pages long and I was brought to tears in those moments.

    As another Glen Cook fan, I would have to describe it as late in _The Bleak Season_, something like, “The ashes of the pages crumbled in my hands. All gone.”
    Heart wrenching.

    Recently, in Joe Abercrombie’s _The First Law: Book One The Blade Itself_ there is the sentence, “…there was blood on him, but that was good. There was always blood.”
    In context, a brilliant reveal.

  38. From the Prologue of Michael Moorcock’s The Chronicles of Corum.

    “In those days there were oceans of light and cities in the skies and wild flying beasts of bronze. There were herds of crimson cattle that roared and were taller than castles. There were shrill, viridian things that haunted bleak rivers. It was a time of gods, manifesting themselves upon our world in all her aspects; a time of giants who walked on water; of mindless sprites and misshapen creatures who would be summoned by an ill-considered thought but driven away only on pain of some fearful sacrifice; of magics, fantasms, unstable nature, impossible events; insane paradoxes, dreams come true, dreams gone awry; of nightmares assuming reality.”

  39. The entire short story Two Minutes and Forty-five Seconds by Dan Simmons.

    If you’ve read it you know what I mean.

    Heck, any of Simmons’s short “horror” stories…

  40. “Druss the Legend was dead.”

    I read fantasy for those moments you’re talking about skzb. Every good book has one. Great books have more than one. Masterpieces have one you never ever forget.

    I’m also a big fan of the GDP. Gross display of power. As much as I loathe the Terry Goodkind books, they’ve always got a bit of the GDP’s going for them. I still read them just for those few pages. Sad, but true.

    I think one of my favorite GDP’s in a Goodkind book is… let me find it…

    “A thousand people stood in silent terror of one.”

    You’re books are full of awesome moments, skzb. It’s almost like you shuffle through my brain finding badass things for Vlad to do. And then you write about them. Heh.

    That scene in um… damn it, let me go find it too!

    “And then I felt the presence of his weapon, and there was no longer any doubt: the pure raw essence of the predator.”

    Man, that scene gave me wood the first time I read it. Win.

  41. I missed your last line. I included one of yours anyway. Sue me.

  42. “Not with a bang, but a whimper.”
    More T.S. Elliot

  43. This last line is also the story title and it caused me to throw the book across the room in abject terror. Harlan Ellison’s “I have no mouth and I must scream.”

  44. Zelazny’s “For a Breath I Tarry” — from the moment when Frost opens his eyes, through the end.

    I’ve read it many times over the decades, and still I can’t read it without weeping.

  45. @36 …novelizer of myth…

    Maybe I’ve not been exposed to Renault’s best work, but what I’ve read is even worse if I think of it in that way, because I feel that takes it from a clunky attempt to recount actual history to just a poorly told story.

    Which of her novels do you most highly recommend?

  46. corwin

    L. Raymond: The King Must Die

  47. At the end of Mike Resnick’s ‘Santiago’ when the man with the white streak in his hair takes the young girl under his arm to bring her inside and says “Come child, I am Santiago.”

  48. corwin

    I should add to my list, near the end of Barry Hughart’s *Bridge of Birds*, when Li Kao explains , “There is a slight flaw in my character.”

  49. “One of our mother’s Dresden figurines is broken, I thought, and I said aloud to Constance, “I am goint to put death in all their food and watch them die.”
    Constance stirred, and the leaves rustled. “The way you did before?” she asked.
    It had never been spoken of between is, not once in six years.
    “Yes,” I said after a minute, “the way I did before.””

    end of Chapter 8, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson

  50. Hemingway’s ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” — the last section’s ‘nada’ prayer… not so much shocking as going some place *very* different than where one imagines you will be taken when starting the story.

  51. One of the first things I thought of here was another of Mary Renault’s scenes from The Last of the Wine. I no longer have my copy, so I can’t be sure of the words, but things have gone from bad to worse for Alexias in family and civic terms.

    As his father is dying, Alexias says: “Can you consider me so base that I would forgive my enemies?”

    One from non-fiction, at the end of a few pages where Polybius has been detailing Roman standing orders for keeping night watches: “The consequence of the extreme severity of this penalty, and of the absolute impossibility of avoiding it is that the night watches of the Roman army are faultlessly kept.”

    There are many in Peyps (a man with many small flaws in his character) but the one that hit me was his reflection that he really must stop touching the breasts of his maid while she is dressing him – “but by God they are the best I have ever seen.”

    And I must include one from The Hop Quad Dolly by Simon Carr. The narrator is holding forth to a young boy on the excitement of one’s first day at school:

    “Like a train station. In Warsaw. In 1939. The Axis artillery is opening up and your grandmonther’s name is Levi!”

  52. More Zelazny:
    Disk One of the book ends with Billy leaving Cat, and the line, “The laughter followed him. Its range was approximately a quarter of a mile.”
    Part One ends with Billy running off, and the line, “Cat’s laughter followed him for over a minute.”

    Billy isn’t just running, he’s running nearly as fast as humanly possible.

  53. rone@#7, every time somebody expresses admiration for Eco’s “Foucalt’s Pendulum”, I think about how many hundreds of pages it takes Eco to make his point (including a hundred pages in the middle where the plot freezes so that Eco can give us a history lesson), and how Vonnegut reveals the same point in the *first paragraph* of *the introduction* to “Mother Night”.

  54. Eeyore @ 53

    Succinctness is a virtue, but not the only virtue.

  55. Being AFB makes this difficult, but three(slightly odd perhaps) moments that stand out:

    -From the Aubrey-Maturin series, In The Thirteen Gun Salute, the slow realization of Maturin of who (exactly) is on the path in front of him

    (of course, there are multiple ones I could take from here, such as a certain unforgettable dissection, but I loved this moment just because it was so unexpected on first read)

    -From Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, “a little dead grey mouse”… Strange’s first reaction

    -From War with the Newts, Povondra: “That wasn’t a catfish, Frank. We might as well go home, now. We’ve all had it.”

  56. Re 53, 54.

    Indeed. Flabby wandering pointless text is bad and should be excised. I won’t defend that work of Eco, which I never really appreciated, but in other works of his, very lengthy narration is used to great effect, and any editing down would be damaging.

    There is a certain beauty that can only be found in a profound and necessarily lengthy exposition of a thought or topic. The first page or so of Swann’s Way, itself merely the first volume of 7 of Proust’s great work, really just covers a single ramified thought, but it is incredibly exquisite prose. You could boil it all down to something crude like “I used to prefer dreams to reality” but that would utterly destroy the value of the passage.

    Cool moments are cool, but great beauty doesn’t actually require a climax.

    Re 55.

    While O’Brian is superb and that sequence you mention is great, I don’t think that there are all that many really culminating moments in O’Brian, as he tends to treat climactic events very plainly and without emphasis, and spends a lot more time on the aftereffects. So the death of a major character or an enemy ship exploding is almost subtly slipped into the prose, and the consequences may occupy the rest of the book.

  57. “So the death of a major character or an enemy ship exploding is almost subtly slipped into the prose, and the consequences may occupy the rest of the book.”

    or the next book.

    More than a few spring to mind for me though. The conclusion of the Waakzaamheid chase is an obvious one.

  58. Speaking of O’Brian, another would be in The Reverse of the Medal, a book I didn’t like at first, right after the line, “Hats off!” That is what we call “payoff.”

  59. Another vote for “… the face of a frightened rabbit.” Hughart’s “Bridge of Birds” is surely one of the least known best fantasy books ever written. I’m very pleased, but unsurprised, that Steve is familiar enough with it to quote it. Speaking of Master Li, Subterranean Press has all three Hughart novels in a single volume, ISBN 978-1-59606-200-9.

  60. Great replies here. All th eusual suspects: Cook, Zelazny, Wolfe… but no one has mentioned Dick yet. Phil Dick often wrote single sentences full of meaning and changes the entire direction of his book on them:
    such as the climax scenes in high castle. (not writing what happened so as not to spoil anyone)
    Or the notes on scanner darkly… It seems the entire book actually builds to his very personal note.

  61. I have always found this line from Neil Gaiman’s American Gods to make me pause for introspection and give me chills at the same time.

    There was a girl, and her uncle sold her, wrote Mr Ibils in his perfect copperplate handwritting. That is the Tale; The rest is detail

  62. Departing from literature, but also tangential to it, the last line from the movie Seven, where Freeman’s character, Somerset says:

    “Ernest Hemingway once wrote, ‘The world is a fine place, and worth fighting for.’

    “I agree with the second part.’ ”

    Kind of crystalized a lot of things for me when I first heard it.

    I guess for Brust fans Zelazny would come up quite a bit. For me, there’s close to the end of Lord of Light, “… and the girl picked up the block and stared at it for a long time before she named it.”

    And the last line of Jack of Shadows, “Jack wondered whether he would arrive in time.”

  63. Speaking of Mary Renault: The last paragraph of “The Mask of Apollo:

    All tragedies deal with fated meetings; how else could there be a play? Fate deals its stroke; sorrow is purged, or turned to rejoicing; there is death, or triumph; there has been a meeting, and a change. No one will ever make a tragedy – and that is as well, for one could not bear it – whose grief is that the principals never met.

    Speaking of Zelazny – from _way_ back:

    “How can a sorcerer be that strong?”

    “He is as old as the hills. He was once a white wizard and he fell into dark ways…and he is now accounted to be one of the three most powerful, possibly the most powerful, of all the wizards….But even he is not without his problems…”

    “Why is that?” asked the witch’s daughter.

    “Because Dilvish is come alive once more, and I believe he is somewhat angry.”

  64. from Zelazny’s “For a Breath I Tarry”

    “Go away!” said Frost. “Go crush ore!”
    It halted.

  65. Oh wow, I’m late, but I wanted to reply anyway.

    There is the end of The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud. At this point, the demon Bartimaeus, who hates his master Nathaniel for imprisoning him, is ready to die with him because that is the only way to kill an evil demon. But Nathaniel banishes him. This is the last lines, and they still give me chills.

    Humans, they never let you get a word in edgewise. Even in this last moment, he never let me speak. I would rather have liked to tell him exactly what I thought of him.

    But in that last moment, when our essences were almost one, I think he rather knew.

  66. Two scenes come to mind. The first is in a Terry Pratchett story. There is a computer whose computations are ant tracks, a la Hofstadter. There is some more or less pointless conversation going on outside the room this computer is located in. One of the characters happens to notice a sign on the doorpost: “Anthill Inside”. When I read it, I had to reread it and then just howled. Incidentally, my wife read it and never noticed.

    The second such moment that comes to mind is a short story published in Astounding Science Fiction over 50 years ago. We have sent a space ship to Mars and found the ruins of a civilization. They run into aliens and are talking to the them (in English?) and the last line of the story is an alien saying, “Oh, these are not our
    ruins, They’re yours!”

    Under the rules, I should not mention the scene in which the relation between Keira and Sethra is revealed.

  67. Who knows what could have happened if that mountain hadn’t gotten in the way.

    Millenium – J. Varley

  68. In M.A. Foster’s Preserver, the consequences of moving an object on a table, and what it means that the character moved it.

    (Note to SKZB fans: M.A. Foster’s Morphodite trilogy is a _different_ story of an assassin who grows out of his occupation. Recommended.)

  69. One from 80+ years ago:

    “But by God, Eliot, it was a photograph from life.”

    One from last year, about this time:

    “My father once wrote a monograph on how to communicate in the workplace. All seven popes ordered it burned.”

    But, exclusionary rule or not, one of the greatest rushes I can remember having from something I read was the one already mentioned by a couple of people:

    If only I had –
    If only I had –
    Oh.

    Peter

  70. “If only I had –
    If only I had –
    Oh.”

    Um…er…where is that from?

  71. “Um…er…where is that from?”

    Please…tell me that was a joke…

    P.

  72. Uh, no. It looks familiar, and evidently it’s mine, but I can’t remember the context.

  73. Stormbringer’s final words to Elric: “Farewell friend. I was always a thousand times more evil than thou.”

    Susan Delgado shouting “Roland, I love thee!” as she’s burned at the stake at the end of Stephen King’s Wizard and Glass.

  74. “Uh, no. It looks familiar, and evidently it’s mine, but I can’t remember the context.”

    Near the end of Issola, when the Lady Teldra has just been killed by the Jenoine, and Vlad follows Spellbreaker into her (psyche? Soul?). All of a sudden he realizes what’s happening. The rush was because I figured it out, right at the same time he did.

    From the next line it appears that you expected your readers to have figured it out already, but I didn’t until just when Vlad did. He and I must be a little slow.

    Peter.

  75. Building on @74;

    “If only I had {a great weapon}”…

  76. The Joss Whedon X Men book, where Collosus says

    “I am made of RAGE!”

    (And sundry others from above)

  77. I can’t leave you out of it, it’s my favorite. “One damn thing after another”.

  78. Edgar Rice Burroughs:

    “Fly, Sola, fly! Dejah Thoris remains to die by the man she loves!”

    Come on.

  79. A couple years ago, I had the pleasure of telling Larry Niven that for my money he had written the single funniest line in all of science fiction, and that he’d taken me clear past laughing hysterically to just making little mewling noises because there was no air left in my lungs.

    The book was Footfall, and the line was “God was knocking, and he wanted in baaaaad”. Spent the whole damn (very long) book setting that one up.

    Hiya, Steve. . . I see things seem reasonably well with you!

    Best. Geo

  80. Bleh, late to the party as usual.

    George R.R. Martin, “The Hedge Knight”:

    ‘Against the bleak grey sky swayed a tall tall prince in black armor with only half a skull.’

    That line has raised goosebumps every time I’ve read it.

  81. Very late to the party, and this one is either “you get it, or you haven’t read it, and I don’t want to spoil it.” – so if you want context, look it up.

    “overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.”

  82. “I shall diminish, and return to the west, and remain Galadriel”

    Really, Because someone must.

  83. Eeyore: Eco’s verbosity is a finely honed talent and his exposition is well developed, unlike, say, Neal Stephenson’s spastic logorrhea.

    I am a firm believer in succinctness within conversation, but in books, it entirely depends on the writer’s ability.

  84. “Begone, foul dwimmerlaik, lord of carrion! Leave the dead in peace!” A cold voice answered: “Come not between the Nazgul and his prey! Or he will not slay thee in thy turn. He will bear thee away to the houses of lamentation, beyond all darkness, where thy flesh shall be devoured, and thy shrivelled mind be left naked to the Lidless Eye.”
    A sword rang as it was drawn. “Do what you will; but I will hinder it, if I may.”
    “Hinder me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!”
    Then Merry heard of all sounds in that hour the strangest. It seemed that Dernhelm laughed, and the clear voice was like the ring of steel. “But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Eowyn I am, Eomund’s daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him.”

    I had goosebumps the entire time I was transcribing that.

    From my “desert island” book, Cryptonomicon:
    “God damn it,” Shaftoe says, and lunges heroically for the Semper Fi handkerchief. Julieta digs her fingernails into one of the sensitive spots that she has located during her exhaustive cartographic survey of his body. He squirms to no avail; all the Finns are great athletes. He pops out. Too late! He knocks his wallet onto the floor while grabbing the hanky, then rolls off Julieta and wraps it around himself, a flag on a broken pole, the only flag of surrender Bobby Shaftoe will ever wave.

    From The Anubis Gates:
    “IHAY, ENDENBRAY. ANCAY OUYAY IGITDAY?”

    From The Stress of Her Regard:
    “We’re not such divided entities as humans,” came the voice. It laughed, a harsh ringing like bronze bells. “‘What you have done to the least of my brethren, you have done to me.'”
    “How,” demanded Byron, “do you dare to quote Scripture?”
    “How do you dare to publish poetry as your own?” returned the voice, its rage abruptly very evident. “The great Lord Byron! Secretly sucking away at the Gorgon’s teat! Presuming to despise anyone who hasn’t found their way to it! My poetry may not have been brilliant” -the voice was shrill-“but at least it was my own!”
    Byron still had the pistol in his hand, and he laughed now and swept the muzzle across the hillside. “Poetry,” he said good-naturedly, “was the least of the things in which I excelled you.”

    From Blaylock’s The Last Coin:

    “What was the name of your man down at Pest Control?”
    “Biff Chateau.”
    “Fancy my having forgotten a name like that.”

  85. Er, there is one other great passage which I wanted to type “verbatim”, but I can’t find any of my copies of Glory Road. It’s the passage near the beginning where Gordon is trying to figure out what he wants, he’s debating amongst several choices, and he goes into a long list of things which pretty much sums up what causes me to enjoy science fiction and fantasy.

  86. Sorry for the spam, but I think I found a way to copy and paste it from somewhere else:

    I wanted a Roc’s egg. I wanted a harem loaded with lovely odalisques less than the dust beneath my chariot wheels, the rust that never stained my sword. I wanted raw red gold in nuggets the size of your fist and feed that lousy claim jumper to the huskies! I wanted to get up feeling brisk and go out and break some lances, then pick a likely wench for my droit de seigneur — I wanted to stand up to the Baron and dare him to touch my wench! I wanted to hear the purple water chuckling against the skin of the Nancy Lee in the cool of the morning watch and not another sound, nor any movement save the slow tilting of the wings of the albatross that had been pacing us the last thousand miles.

    I wanted the hurtling moons of Barsoom. I wanted Storisende and Poictesme, and Holmes shaking me awake to tell me, “The game’s afoot!” I wanted to float down the Mississippi on a raft and elude a mob in company with the Duke of Bilgewater and the Lost Dauphin.

    I wanted Prester John, and Excalibur held by a moon-white arm out of a silent lake. I wanted to sail with Ulysses and with Tros of Samothrace and eat the lotus in a land that seemed always afternoon. I wanted the feeling of romance and the sense of wonder I had known as a kid. I wanted the world to be what they promised me it was going to be — instead of the tawdry, lousy, fouled-up mess it is.

    – Robert A. Heinlein, Glory Road

  87. From Alan Moore’s Watchmen:

    I already did it 35 minutes ago.

  88. I think this fits here, sort of: the best fictional joke ever told. Specifically: “How many Yendi does it take to sharpen a sword?”

    I’ve never wholly gotten over that one, both the iron self-control it must have taken to not explain the punchline in the dialogue, and the fact that it’s a true, fiction-rooted joke that is only funny to an actual reader. It’s painful that I can’t tell that joke to anyone because it takes a book to explain the premise. “Here, read this so I can tell you a funny joke…”

    I still snicker at it.

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