First Meetings in Fiction

Last week’s post was about memorable goodbyes in literature. This week, I’m flipping that around to discuss characters’ memorable first meetings — which can help hook readers early in a work of fiction.

I’ll start by again mentioning Jane Eyre, in which Charlotte Bronte’s quiet but feisty governess heroine initially encounters a galloping Rochester on a path where his horse slips and injures him. It’s significant — and portentous — that Rochester’s temporary disability puts him on a somewhat equal footing with Jane despite being her employer.

In L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, siblings Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert decide to adopt a boy to help with the farm chores. When Matthew goes to the train station to meet him, the “boy” is a girl: Anne Shirley. That mistake and Matthew’s shyness make for awkward acquaintance-getting, but, before the horse-and-wagon ride home is done, the orphaned Anne wins over Matthew with her talkativeness, enthusiasm, intelligence, and (understandable) neediness.

Moving from England to Canada to France, we have German surgeon Ravic in Paris on the run from the Nazis when — in the opening page of Erich Maria Remarque’s Arch of Triumph — he dramatically meets an almost catatonic Joan Madou on the street as she’s (possibly) contemplating suicide. What ensues is loosely based on Remarque’s relationship with famed actress Marlene Dietrich.

Then there’s A.S. Byatt’s Possession, in which little-known scholar Roland Michell and better-known scholar Maud Bailey meet to try to solve a long-ago mystery involving two 19th-century poets. The initial Maud-Roland encounter is somewhat strained, but things gradually warm up between the two.

Or how about the part-comedic/part-scary first meeting of Moby-Dick characters Ishmael and Queequeg when they’re forced to share the same inn room before boarding Captain Ahab’s ill-fated ship?

Ray Bradbury wrote the screenplay for the 1956 movie version of Herman Melville’s classic work — three years after the publication of Fahrenheit 451. In that Bradbury novel, the meeting between professional “fireman” (book burner) Guy Montag and free-thinking teen Clarisse McClellan is the spark that causes Guy to question his beliefs and what he’s doing with his life.

Another fascinating first meeting is when Kiki Belsey visits Carlene Kipps in Zadie Smith’s On Beauty. Their annoying, self-centered husbands are academic and authorial rivals, yet the two women manage to carve out something of a friendship.

There are many memorable meetings in L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz — Dorothy coming across the Scarecrow, the two of them meeting the Tin Woodman, the three of them encountering the Cowardly Lion, the four of them meeting the Wizard, etc. (And black-and-white meets color in The Wizard of Oz movie. 🙂 )

In J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, the title character learns he’s a wizard when meeting Hagrid; then, on the train to Hogwarts, he encounters the two people (Hermione and Ron) who will become his closest friends; then Harry is introduced to Hogwarts headmaster Dumbledore; then he later meets arch-villain Lord Voldemort; and so on.

There are also first meetings — often in a continuing series of novels — that are long anticipated/delayed. For instance, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series has Jack first hearing Major Susan Turner’s voice on the phone in 61 Hours, but our curious hero doesn’t come face-to-face with that potential romantic interest until four books later, in Never Go Back. A meeting teased that long is often worth waiting for — and, in this case, it is.

An engineer visiting a Massachusetts town is also curious — about the dour, limping Ethan Frome when he first meets him in Edith Wharton’s novel. Readers soon learn about Ethan’s melancholy, tragic history.

Then there are meetings with celebrities, as when the time-traveling Sam Fowler encounters Mark Twain, President Grant, and other notables in Darryl Brock’s If I Never Get Back.

Not to mention difficult meetings between people who don’t understand each other’s language, as in Zhilin’s initial “conversation” with his captor in Leo Tolstoy’s tale “The Prisoner of the Caucasus.” (I’m currently reading a collection of that author’s short stories.)

What are your favorite first meetings in literature?

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)

I’m writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

48 thoughts on “First Meetings in Fiction

  1. Howdy, Dave!

    — What are your favorite first meetings in literature? —

    Absurdly blaming it all on the centennial of the Easter Rising this month, I flashed on the encounter, or nonencounter, in the Dublin-born Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” between the title character on the one side and Estragon and Vladimir on the other side, even though it was neither the first nor a meeting, which, in the Beckettian multiverse, makes about as much sense as anything else, but — Wait! — the thing that confers the exalted status of favorite upon it is my cherished memory of a friend’s apocryphal description of the marketing tagline of the piece when it was presented about 55 years ago as an episode of the television series “Play of the Week” with Zero Mostel and Burgess Meredith in the principal roles: “Laugh Riot of the Year!”

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, J.J.!

      “Laugh Riot of the Year”? That is indeed a rather odd “review”/description, apocryphal or otherwise. I know “Waiting for Godot” has some absurdist humor, but… Still, I’ve never read or seen “Godot” (still waiting…), so what do I know?

      It was quite a theatrical encounter when the powerhouse actors Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen met on stage a few years ago as Vladimir and Estragon.

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      • — “Laugh Riot of the Year”? That is indeed a rather odd “review”/description, apocryphal or otherwise. —

        And, with all due respect to Mr. Mostel, it is one likely to be replete with Zero accuracy, at least based on the original script and the three productions I personally have seen. However, I guess it could fairly be called the “Laugh Riot of the Year” in any 12-month period when the only other show around is the same author’s “Krapp’s Last Tape.”

        — It was quite a theatrical encounter when the powerhouse actors Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen met on stage a few years ago as Vladimir and Estragon. —

        Yeah, those guys are pretty good, too.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Ha — “Zero accuracy”! And ha again — “those guys are pretty good, too”! But, unlike Burgess Meredith, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen never played The Penguin in “Batman”…

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  2. I first met author Dave Astor long before he wrote his “Comic (and Column) Confessional.” That should have taught him not to show up a National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ conferences, but it didn’t, for which I’m glad.

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  3. Stargazer encounters new object of observation; explorer and pals meet largest body of water for the first time:

    from First Looking into Chapman’s Homer
    By John Keats

    …Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
    When a new planet swims into his ken;
    Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
    He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men
    Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—
    Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re so right, Michele — first in the Broadway play version and then in the movie version and then in the 2013 live TV version. Thanks for mentioning “The Sound of Music”!

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  4. Such a wonderful and thought provoking topic, Dave. And much like your ‘obsessive’ topic a few weeks ago, I think this can apply to so many memorable books. Some of the classics have been mentioned (“Pride and Prejudice”, “Great Expectations” and “Rebecca” on the Facebook link) but there are so many unforgettable first meetings in more modern literature as well. When Walter Moody walks into that bar and meets the other eleven characters from Eleanor Gatton’s “The Luminaries”. Or in George Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” where one of the characters is kind of fostered for a few years. He finally returns home, meeting a young lady on the way. He tries to become very friendly with her, only to find later that it was his sister! Much grown up, and obviously unrecognisable to him.

    I’m currently reading John Jakes’ epic saga “The Kent Family Chronicles” where the protagonist meets Benjamin Franklin in London, and is convinced to immigrate to America. He meets a wonderful family who run a printing house, which sets Mr Kent up to eventually begin his own printing firm. But before that he meets an intelligent, headstrong woman, who becomes his wife.

    Thank you for making me think of so many enjoyable first meetings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the kind words, Susan!

      “The Luminaries” is a TERRIFIC example. What a memorable scene in a novel of many memorable scenes — and an illustration of how first meetings can involve not just two people but many. (So glad you recommended that novel to me a while back!)

      You reminded me that there are also memorable first meetings in another recent, long, ambitious, wonderful novel: Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch.” One of them involves young protagonist Theo Decker encountering the elderly Welty Blackwell at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, just before a terrorist bomb goes off. That meeting, and the bombing, totally affect the subsequent course of Theo’s life.

      And thanks for the interesting descriptions of first meetings in “Song of Ice and Fire” (I still have to try that ultra-popular series) and “The Kent Family Chronicles”!

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      • I’m not sure why, Dave, but your comment reminded me of Raskolnikov meeting Marmeladov for the first time. And my thoughts also went down the same path as jhNY, thinking about the first time that *I* met Raskolnikov. Such fond memories of meeting so many literary characters over the years, and this is such a great blog to share them!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Susan, the meeting of Raskolnikov and Marmeladov WAS memorable — in of itself and, more importantly, it leading to Raskolnikov meeting Marmeladov’s daughter Sonya. Great mention!

          And, yes, readers “meeting” Raskolnikov and other characters from various literary works — what a pleasure, even if it’s a partly painful pleasure at times.

          Speaking of iconic 19th-century Russian literature, I’m still reading that book of Tolstoy’s short stories (a couple of them almost novella length) I mentioned at the end of my column. Many of them are “Crime and Punishment”-like riveting and disturbing — “The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” “The Kreutzer Sonata,” “The Devil,” etc. — and have fateful first meetings.

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  5. Hi Dave … I hope you’re having a lovely Spring so far. I haven’t had the chance to comment much recently, but I’ve been following your posts and the replies. I don’t know why this came into my head first thing, but what about the meeting between Pip and the convict in the graveyard in “Great Expectations”? I wish I could be more articulate, Dave, but I just got off work and my brain cells are in revolt. Have a great week 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nice to see you here again, Pat — and thanks for reading even when not commenting! I hope you’re having a nice spring, too, despite the tiring work.

      I’ve read almost every Dickens novel, but that was so long ago (mostly in college) that I rarely remember the details clearly enough to include examples in my posts. So I appreciate you mentioning that iconic “Great Expectations” scene! MANY memorable first meetings in Dickens’ work, if I only could remember them… 🙂

      Have a great week, too!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. As you said Dave..first encounter between Jane and Mr. Rochester only thing is Jane Eyre helped this man injured without having a clue who he was until much later she officially met him as the governess.

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    • Very true, bebe! Jane was surprised when she returned to Thornfield Hall and learned that the injured man was the Rochester who owned the place and who was the “guardian” of the girl (Adele) she was teaching. Jane was the type of person who would help someone no matter their station in life.

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  7. I suppose I’d have to go with Pride & Prejudice; after all, the novel is also called “First Impressions.” which tells one a lot about the novel and what it’s about. However, “Persuasion” is much more about second chances, which is also very interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Kat Lib! Well said! I didn’t know “Pride and Prejudice” was also called “First Impressions” — appropriate for this topic indeed. And I agree that the second chance for Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth in “Persuasion” is more compelling than many first chances in other novels.

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          • Actually, I think most of Austen’s novels revolve around first meetings. I’ve mentioned P&P, as well as Persuasion. I also think that the way Fanny Price met with Edmund when they were both young had much to do with their very significant relationship throughout the entire novel and was very important to both, especially after they both realized neither one was suited for either of the Crawfords (in Mansfield Park). There’s another relationship between Henry Tilney and Catherine Morland, that Henry’s father tried to screw-up in Northanger Abbey, but was unsuccessful. Finally, I have to give precedence to the two couples in Sense & Sensibility, first to Elinor Dashwood, who stays true to Edward, In spite of everything, and Marianne who finally gives up her passionate feelings for Willoughby to switch them over to the more stable relationship that Colonel Brandon offers to her.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Well said, Kat Lib! A number of first meetings in Jane Austen novels became quite significant — even if it took a few years for things to jell between the respective two people. I continue to be impressed with your deep knowledge of Austen’s work.

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              • Thanks, Dave. One of the reasons I have such a deep knowledge of Austen’s work is that I read all of her novels over and over, as well as watching the BBC productions over and over — although I must admit to being well aware that the broadcast versions are not exactly the best versions to watch if you care about Austen. Some are much better than others.

                Liked by 1 person

                • You’re welcome, Kat Lib! Multiple rereading (and seeing the great and not-so-great screen versions) definitely helps! I’ve read Jane Austen’s six novels a grand total of…one time apiece. 🙂

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