Ten Memorable Scenes in Books
As a writer I often ponder what it is about the books I read that I love. What scenes do I love the most and why? Why are these the books I love and why not others? What is it about a book that hooks me? Why these scenes? We all have our favourites and it’s hard to put a finger on what it is that captures you.
So in the spirit of development I’m going to try to list ten memorable moments or scenes in some of my favourite books. It’s not a list of favourite moments because on a grey day like today I am sure to miss a lot. But I’ll do my best to include my favourites.
These come in no particular order.
1. Independant People by Halldór Laxness
There are many great moments in this one but I particularly like the beginning. The beginning is a short tale about Gunnvör, a farmers wife, who makes a deal with Kolumkilli. She murders in his name and hungers for blood and thereby gains wealth. When her deeds are discovered she is judged to death and it is told that her ghost still haunts the farm and the land she lived on. The tale is short and starts of the story of Bjartur in Summerhouses. It gives the story a certain tone, right from the start.
2. The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker
The moment Frank is about to realise what he has done by solving the puzzle, the cube, always mesmerises me. You get a description of what Frank has been expecting. He was searching for bodily pleasure and “expected virgin whores whose every crevice was his for the asking and whose skills would press him upward, upward – to undreamt-of ecstasies.” (p. 8-9) And instead he meets “sexless things, with their corrugated flesh” and the realisation of what he’s done comes slowly over him, he accepts their terms and still hopes and begs them to show him, his search for something otherworldly still the most important thing and then their gift washes over him. And its not at all what he expects.
The cruelty of the imbalance between his hopes and what he receives sets the mood and makes you understand the horror that lies under the surface, in the walls or behind them. Again another moment that sets the mood perfectly.
3. Rose Madder by Stephen King
Rose Madder is one of my favourite Stephen King novels. Rosie is a strong female character who stands up against all odds and survives. And there are many moments in the novel that I could mention, like the rush through the labyrinth. But the best moment comes early, they often seem to do that. After suffering many years of abuse from her husband, Rose gathers courage and leaves the house and leaves her husband. And she doesn’t just take on the horror that is her husband, but everything that that entails in a Stephen King novel. She’s a fighter, that real Rosie.
4. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
Mr. Wind-Up Bird becomes stuck in a well somewhere along page 250. He climbs down a well and his neighbour pulls up the ladder and he is left there to panic, think and wonder for a few days. He goes through the motions in the well, thinks and then the ladder appears again and he can climb up to the real world again. He has heard the story of Lieutenant Mamiya and his gruesome wells. And he comments that at the bottom of a well you can see the stars, even during daytime. I don’t know if it’s true but his stay in that well always fascinated me. It’s an isolated place and horrendous, but also a place were you can find something deep inside, a sort of balance that calms you and pulls you together. (Of course the first scene in the book is one of my favourites as well. I’ve read it many times. The spaghetti cooking, shirt ironing scene that gets interrupted by the strange phone call.)
5. The Dark Tower by Stephen King
A list like this is incomplete without The Dark Tower and the scene that haunts me from the books is in the last volume. It’s the last stop before the dark tower itself. The section with Dandelo and his victim Patrick. Susanna has just experienced Stephen King’s Deux Ex Machina moment and realised the plot twist and The Gunslinger is out there laughing at Joe’s jokes and it’s getting horrible, intolerable. She manages to kill the vampire and then they head down to the cellar to find his victim speechless and terrified. Dandelo fed on feelings and his cellar of horror stuck with me, for some reason. I return to it again and again, not unlike Roland himself.
6. The Children of Húrin by J.R.R. Tolkien
The fate of Húrin’s children is one thing but the fate of the father is horrendous. The man who sits on a mountain and watches while ill befalls his whole family. He can’t leave and he won’t die. “‘Sit now there,’ said Morgoth, ‘and look out upon the lands where evil and despair shall come upon those whom you have delivered shall come upon those whom you have delivered to me. For you have dared to mock me, and have questioned the power of Melkor, Master of the fates of Arda. Therefore with my eyes you shall see, and with my ears you shall hear, and nothing shall be hidden from you.'” (P. 65)
Can you imagine a fate worse than this?
7. N0S-4R2 by Joe Hill
I like vampire stories, especially those with a bit of “new” take on the matter. Mr. Charlie Manx is easily one of the worst vampires ever composed into being, along with his magical Wraith, Christmasland and his hoard of awful children. The scene were you get to see Christmasland (after much anticipation) immediately made the book one of my favourites ever (even without ever showing Christmasland it would have been an awesome one). All the jolly, fun things spin around and become just one awful nightmare you never want to visit again. Vic is another one of those strong, female characters who doesn’t let her worst nightmare stop her from saving her kid.
8. God’s Demon by Wayne Barlowe
God’s Demon is one of these books I didn’t actually believe could be true before I read it. It’s quite incredible. All of it. His way of describing hell, (he builds it from scratch out of souls!) is incredible and very visual. The character of the marooned Lilith was especially enticing and when she sees the Lord Sargatanas’ artwork for the first time is a very memorable moment.
9. Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
There is nothing like visiting antiquarian bookstore and entering The Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time was quite the experience. To roam around and pick one book to take home with you? It was a magical place and a magical experience that set the tone for the entire book.
10. After Dark by Haruki Murakami
This might not be one of my favourite Murakami books (It’s sometimes hard to tell) but the opening scene in this book just took my breath away. We are birds and we see the whole body of the city, like it’s one organism. We go from the big to the small, a girl is sitting in a restaurant and she is reading a book. The narrator doesn’t know much about her but has to guess that she’s probably a college freshman and that uncertainty sets a tone for the entire novel that, like most of Murakami’s works, is set somewhere between the real and the dreamlike.
It was an interesting exercise to make this list. I didn’t think too much about it, so obviously there are moments that I have looked passed, but it was interesting to see that these memorable moments often come early in the books. Of course it’s important to set interesting part early as to seduce the reader to read on – let them know what kind of incredible things are to come – and it works very well I’m sure.
It occurred to me while I was making this list that I should make a list of good short stories. I’ve been reading a lot of short stories lately and it seems fitting. I have, however, just received an SMS telling me that Mr. Stephen King’s book, Revival, is waiting for me to pick it up so this list might have to wait a while.
In the meanwhile you can tell me what your favourite scenes from novels are?