Opening paragraphs are not created equal, and I have a lot of favorites. Robert McCammon's The Providence Rider, George Eliot's Adam Bede, Peter Straub's Ghost Story, Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, and Stephen King's The Gunslinger all open with passages or lines that are among my favorites.
But there can only be one favorite, and mine is the paragraph that introduces Clive Barker's Imajica.
Let’s start with the weight of that word pivotal. You won’t know this until you’ve read the book, but how can it not relate to the Pivot, the Imajica’s phallic source of power, which the reader will learn was audaciously moved from where it had been placed originally by God to the majestic, if moribund, city of Yzordderrex?
Then there’s the way the paragraph hints at the genre the reader is about to encounter. Quexos’ name and the reference to a Second Dominion certainly call to mind an otherworldly setting. This must be some kind of fantasy work.
The poetry of the language additionally sets expectations for a novel of moving prose and profound ideas. We already know it’s a large book by the weight of it in our hands, and the opening paragraph confirms that it will have an expansive sweep to it. If the book didn’t live up to its initial lines, the paragraph itself would be strangely diminished. One of the more playful aspects of the paragraph, in fact, is the challenge that it sets out for its author—who does end up following Quexos’ pivotal teaching. A truly remarkable feat.
Related to the previous point, the paragraph also gives us a whiff of specific characters, especially, “… but they could only ever be phantoms, agents, or, on rare occasion, reflections of the three real and self-willed beings who stood at the center.” But to say more than that would be an injustice to the virgin reader of Imajica.
Three different words for “made-up tale” appear in this single paragraph, by the way: fiction, drama, and story. This, too, is important. It’s as if Barker is alerting us to the fact that what we are about to engage with is only a tale. It’s the kind of comfort you might offer a child before putting them to bed with a tale of wolves and cutthroats. Cold comfort, in other words.
"Needless to say, this dogma did not go unchallenged ..." If you're not already hooked, there might not be much help for you, and this book might not be right for you. But if something whispers to you from the lines that introduce Imajica, you may be in for the ride of your life. I have yet to encounter a book remotely like it, in ambition of scope or profundity of theme. And part of me knew I was in for something special the first time I read that paragraph.