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The best of the last

Our contest for the best last lines of books drew some great entries

The best of the last
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When my April 25 column announced a contest for "best last lines" of books (50 words maximum), we at WORLD looked forward to receiving maybe 100 entries. We received about 400 and have included 80 of them over the next eight pages, so if yours is included you hit the top 20 percent. If not, thanks for participating-I had to cut out some very good entries.

The 80 winners are listed this way: First, the 10 finalists for 'best' that went to our panel of judges. (Names of judges, and a paragraph that summarizes the process, are at the end of this article.) Then, 20 in each of three categories-classics, fiction, and nonfiction. Next, two endings chosen as best by the most readers and given honorable mention. (Because how could we slice up 30 ways the three subscriptions to WORLD that we are giving away?) Finally, eight last lines of books of the Bible; these were not subject to best-in-show judging, for every line in the Bible is an inspired winner.

The three endings not from the Bible judged best are in large type on the next several pages. One was a solo submission, but each of the others garnered eight nominations. In those cases we picked out the subscription winner by providential chance. Names of the winners: Julie Clason, Derek McCravy, Kent Schmidgall.

And a special honorable mention to a young reader who recommended our most-nominated ending, the conclusion to C.S. Lewis' The Last Battle. The reader also provided an excellent plot summary and concluded, "I really like when Aslan tells them, 'The term has now ended and the holiday has begun.' That is the best ending to any story. (Signed) Aslan Anthony, age 9 (that really is my name)."

Enjoy-and if a last line intrigues you, head to a library, bookstore, or electronic outlet and take a look at all that precedes it.

10 finalists

Jim Bouton, Ball Four

"You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out it was the other way around all the time."

-submitted by Drew Cochrane

Whittaker Chambers, Witness

". . . when our time shall have come, when our children shall be grown, when the witness that was on us shall have lost its meaning, because our whole world will have borne a more terrible witness or it will no longer exist."

-Samuel Carr

George Eliot, Middlemarch

"For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs."

-Ruth A. Harris, Mike Kittle, Julie Clason, Rae Crum, Carol Fruge, Robin Weidman, Ben Slade III, Hope Owsley

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

"Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter-tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther . . . and one fine morning-So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

-Deborah K. Adams, Megan Von Bergen

Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are

"Max stepped into his private boat and waved goodbye and sailed back over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day and into the night of his very own room where he found his supper waiting for him-and it was still hot."

-Michelle Ule

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

"Nothing had spoiled the day and it had been almost happy. There were three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days like this in his sentence, from reveille to lights out. The three extra ones were because of the leap years."

-Bruce R. Spidell, John R. Torczynski, McCleary family, Janice Hill, Paul Holloway, Derek McCravy, Ralph Clark, Gary Ferris

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

"'You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!'

'Thank goodness!' said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco jar."

-Kent Schmidgall

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

"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."

-Beverlie Kardulas, Connie Ruzich, Beth Walker, Craig Johnson

E.B. White, Charlotte's Web

"It's not often someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both."

-Laura Hawbaker, Jean Worley, Kim & Brad Anderson, Barbara Wingard

Ellis Peters, The Sanctuary Sparrow

"'And now, I suppose,' he said, seeing his friend's face still thoughtful and undismayed, 'you will tell me roundly that God's reach is longer than man's.' 'It had better be,' said Brother Cadfael solemnly, 'otherwise we are all lost.'"

-McCleary family

20 classics

Louisa May Alcott, Little Men

"For love is a flower that grows in any soil, works its sweet miracles undaunted by autumn frost or winter snow, blooming fair and fragrant all the year, and blessing those who give and those who receive."

-Katelyn Snell

Augustine, The City of God

"From all who think that I have said either too little or too much, I beg pardon; and those who are satisfied I ask, not to thank me, but to join me in rejoicing and in thanking God. Amen."

-Chuck Edwards, Cathy Flowers

G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday

"There he saw the sister of Gregory, the girl with the gold-red hair, cutting lilac before breakfast, with the great unconscious gravity of a girl."

-John Rykken

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

"There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when he walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was his mirth."

-the Griffins, Eric Bierker, Vanda Fisher

Joseph Conrad, The Secret Sharer

". . . my white hat left behind to mark the spot where the secret sharer of my cabin and of my thoughts, as though he were my second self, had lowered himself into the water to take his punishment: a free man, a proud swimmer striking out for a new destiny."

-Candy Kanuchok

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

". . . and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!"

-Janiece Robinson, Kent Schimdgall, Jill Kaltenthaler, Brooks Carlson, David Ragonesi, Linda Knowles

Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment

"But here begins a new account, the account of a man's gradual renewal, the account of his gradual regeneration, his gradual transition from one world to another, his acquaintance with a new, unknown reality. It might make the subject of a new story-but our present story is ended."

-Mitchell Sunblade, David Ragonesi

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

"He turned out the light, and went into Jem's room. He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning."

-Megan Hill, Janet Klepper, Mary Pierce, JoAnna Williams, Leslie Hahs

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

"Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in."

-Amy Burback, Jo Ann Kosobucki, Jim & Faith Lawrence

A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner

"So they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing."

-Beth Benson, Alandra Blume

John Milton, Paradise Lost

"Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;The world was all before them, where to chooseTheir place of rest, and Providence their guide.They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,Through Eden took their solitary way."

-Steve & Shirley Rowe, Meghan Bowker

Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind

"I'll think of it all tomorrow, at Tara, I can stand it then. Tomorrow, I'll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day."

-Linda Gale, D'Ann Mateer, Jennifer Rath, Sondra Bolzman, Mrs. Thomas Clarke

George Orwell, Animal Farm

"Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

-Abigail Maurer, Eric Schansberg

George Orwell, 1984

"Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother."

-Michael Friend, Esther Bayazitoglu

Alan Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country

"For it is the dawn that has come, as it has come for a thousand centuries, never failing. But when that dawn will come, of our emancipation, from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear, why, that is a secret."

-Susanna Brister, Betty Reynolds, Judy McDonough, Claude Anderson, Michael & Sharon Krall

Dr. Seuss, Yertle the Turtle

"And today the great Yertle, that Marvelous he,Is King of the Mud. That is all he can see.And the turtles, of course . . . all the turtles are freeAs turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be."

-Linda Knowles

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

"He was soon borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance."

-Vicki Johnson

Kate Douglas Wiggin, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm

"She leaned her head against the sun warmed door, and closing her eyes, whispered, just as if she had been a child saying her prayers, 'God bless Aunt Miranda; God bless the brick house that was. God bless the brick house that is to be!'"

-Virginia Kurtz

Jules Verne, Around the World in Eighty Days

"What had he brought back from this long and weary journey? Nothing, say you? Perhaps so; nothing but a charming woman, who, strange as it may appear, made him the happiest of men! Truly, would you not for less than that make the tour around the world?"

-Amy Meyers

E.B. White, Stuart Little

"But the sky was bright, and he somehow felt he was headed in the right direction."

-Mary Norton

20 from fiction

Richard Adams, Watership Down

"He reached the top of the bank in a single, powerful leap. Hazel followed; and together they slipped away, running easily down through the wood, where the first primroses were beginning to bloom."

-Cindy Pesente

Randy Alcorn, Safely Home

"Every one of them realized something with undiminished clarity in that instant. They wondered why they had not seen it all along. What they knew in that moment, in every fiber of their beings, was that this Person and this Place were all they had ever longed for . . . and ever would."

-Shilloy Lowe, Kimberly Snell, Anita Weber

Lloyd Alexander, The Illyrian Adventure

"The dear girl, I fear, may be contemplating some alarming, disruptive, perhaps dangerous project. In which case, I would naturally do all in my power to keep her from any such rash or foolhardy enterprise. Unless she wished me to accompany her."

-Nathalie Knowles

Wayne Thomas Batson, The Rise of the Wyrm Lord

"Adventures are funny things. They offer dark, uncertain times, forks in the road and choices between comfort and peril. And in such times, heroes can be made or undone."

-Christopher Colacchia

Pat Conroy, The Lords of Discipline

"'I want the name of a man I can respect on my diploma, Colonel.' He handed me back the diploma without signing it. 'There already is, Bubba,' he answered. 'There already is.' And he pointed to my name."

-Chris Weaver, Adrian Yelverton

Leif Enger, Peace Like a River

"Is there a single person on whom I can press belief? No sir. All I can do is say, Here's how it went. Here's what I saw. I've been there and am going back. Make of it what you will."

-Beverlie Kardulas, Bruce MacPhail, Deena Bouknight

Kathryn Forbes, Mama's Bank Account

"'Five times,' I said wonderingly. 'Five times. And all you went through raising us-''It was good,' Mama said.'How can you say that? Why, I can remember times, Mama-''It was good,' Mama repeated firmly. 'All of it.'"

-Katie Nichols

C.S. Forester, The African Queen

"Whether or not they lived happily ever after is not easily decided."

-Ramona Potter

Jan Karon, At Home in Mitford

"He felt a weight lifting off his shoulders as the little plane lifted its gleaming wings over the fields. Go in new life with Christ, he said silently, wondering at the strangely familiar thought. Go, and be as the butterfly."

-Mary Mueller

Richard Llewellyn, How Green Was My Valley

"How green was my valley then, and the valley of them that are gone."

-Betty Reynolds

George MacDonald, At the Back of the North Wind

"A lovely figure, as white and almost as clear as alabaster, was lying on the bed. I saw at once how it was. They thought he was dead. I knew that he had gone to the back of the North Wind."

-Tracy Murchison

Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

"Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's greatest flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. . . . Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters."

-Janet Spears

Cormac McCarthy, The Road

"Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery."

-Andrew Repp

Ralph Moody, Little Britches

"Father had always said grace before meals; always the same twenty-five words, and the ritual was always the same. Mother would look around the table to see that everything was in readiness; then she would nod to Father. Then she nodded to me, and I became a man."

-John Holzmann, Holly Schoeppler, Trish Bober, Amy Gosswiller, Anna Funke, the Dan Fox family, Gina Remer

Frank Peretti, Piercing the Darkness

"Tal smiled and shook his head in wonder. 'Redemption. It will never cease to thrill me.'"

-Mary Cupery

Ellis Peters, One Corpse Too Many

"You did the work that fell to you, and did it well. God disposes all. From the highest to the lowest extreme of a man's scope, wherever justice and retribution can reach him, so can grace."

-Marcia Rigamonti

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, The Yearling

"In the beginning of his sleep he cried out, 'Flag!' It was not his own voice that called. It was a boy's voice. Somewhere beyond the sinkhole, past the magnolia, under the live oaks, a boy and a yearling ran side by side, and were gone forever."

-Joy Kiehl

Jules Verne, Purchase of the North Pole

"The world's inhabitants could thus sleep in peace. To modify the conditions of the Earth's movement is beyond the power of man. It is not given to mankind to change the order established by the Creator in the system of the Universe."

-Ken Mueller

20 from nonfiction

Stephen E. Ambrose, Band of Brothers

"'Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?'

'No,' I answered, 'but I served in a company of heroes.'" -Sgt. Mike Ranney, Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th PIR

-Carl Christensen

Stephen E. Ambrose, D-Day June 6, 1944

"To think of the lives that were given for that principle . . . paying a terrible price on this beach alone, on that one day, 2,000 casualties. But they did it that the world could be free. It just shows what free men will do rather than be slaves."

-Richard Kurtz

Roger Angell, The Summer Game

"The players below us-Mays, DiMaggio, Ruth, Snodgrass-swim and blur in memory, the ball floats over to Terry Turner, and the end of this game may never come."

-Roy D. Hall

Michael J. Behe, Darwin's Black Box

"That life was designed by an intelligence is a shock to us in the twentieth century who have gotten used to thinking of life as the result of simple natural laws. But other centuries have had their shocks. . . . We will endure the opening of Darwin's black box."

-Chuck Edwards

Brother Andrew, God's Smuggler

"Together, the two of us. The twelve of us. The thousands of us. None of us knows where the road will lead. We only know it is the most exciting journey of them all."

-John Boyer

William F. Buckley Jr., Up from Liberalism

"Obedient to God, subservient to the wisdom of my ancestors; never to the authority of political truths arrived at the voting booth. That is a program of sorts, is it not? It is certainly program enough to keep conservatives busy, and liberals at bay. And the nation free."

-Kenneth Fisher

Charles Colson and Ellen Vaughn, Being the Body

"If faith is at war with fear, if catastrophe can turn from death to resurrection, if hope can triumph over despair . . . if there was ever a time for the church to be the church, it is now. Go light your candle!"

-Helen Frank

Nicky Cruz, Run Baby Run

"Vamanos! Let's run. It's time to do Jesus' work."

-Alandra Blume

Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism

"We do not fail in our evangelism if we faithfully tell the gospel to someone who is not subsequently converted; we fail only if we do not faithfully tell the gospel at all."

-David Neal

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

"I go my way, and my left foot says 'Glory,' and my right foot says 'Amen': in and out of Shadow Creek, upstream and down, exultant, in a daze, dancing, to the twin silver trumpets of praise."

-Betty Reynolds, Joanna Strube

Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers

"He (the scientist) has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries."

-Randall Grossman

Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom

"And whether we look backward or forward in history, we can see that time and again, Christianity demonstrates a breathtaking ability to transform weakness into strength."

-Dave Stravers

Alfred Lansing, Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage

"I stayed on deck to watch Elephant Island recede in the distance. . . . I could still see my Burberry flapping in the breeze on the hillside-no doubt it will flap there to the wonderment of gulls and penguins till one of our familiar [gales] blows it all to ribbons."

-John & Angela Eerkes

John C. Lennox, God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?

"Inevitably, of course . . . all of us, have to choose the presupposition with which we start. . . . Either human intelligence ultimately owes its origin to mindless matter; or there is a creator. It is strange that some people claim that it is their intelligence that leads them to prefer the first to the second."

-Chuck Edwards

Douglas MacArthur, Reminiscences

"Today marks my final role call with you. But I want you to know that when I cross the river my last conscious thoughts will be of the Corps-and the Corps-and the Corps. I bid you farewell."

-Lawrence White

David McCullough, 1776

"Especially for those who had been with Washington and who knew what a close call it was at the beginning-often circumstances, storms, contrary winds, the oddities or strengths of individual character had made the difference-the outcome seemed little short of a miracle."

-Douglas R. Meyer

Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death

"For in the end, he [Aldous Huxley] was trying to tell us that what afflicted the people in Brave New World was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking."

-Nancy Spangle

Amity Shlaes, The Forgotten Man

"The country now seemed to remember again what it always knew: that the adventurer was the force who pushed the country forward. It was the adventurer's America too that the soldiers would shortly be defending. And no one wanted to serve more than the Forgotten Man."

-Mark Lasseigne

Joanne Shetler, And the Word Came With Power

". . . besides, I've never quite figured out just how to bring God glory. But I have learned to surrender my dreams to him. And he has made the reality of living according to his plan even better than my greatest dreams."

-Raina Johnson

Joni Eareckson Tada, The God I Love

"There are more important things in life than walking."

-Michelle Weslager

Elie Wiesel, Night

"I wanted to see myself in the mirror hanging on the opposite wall. I had not seen myself since the ghetto. From the depths of the mirror, a corpse gazed back at me. The look in his eyes, as they stared into mine, has never left me."

-Lanette Schulte

Philip Yancey, What's So Amazing About Grace?

"Jessye Norman later confessed that she had no idea what power descended on Wembley Stadium that night. I think I know. The world thirsts for grace. When grace descends, the world falls silent before it."

-Michelle Weeks

The two most popular entries

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known."

-Dale Youngs, Ken Mueller, Lesly McDevitt, Lyle Nussbaum, Drew Flowers, Charlie Starr, Clay Belcher, Patrick Glennon, David Misner, Kalie Jean Ferris, Paul Wicks, Cathy Broom, Bridgette Schulz, Catharine Platt, Gayle Robinson, Vince & Jo Calo, Andy Klepac, Marda Kirkwood, Janet Spears, Mary Norton, Kathryn Dillard, Ann Dennen, Michael Jackowitz, Lisa Richardson, Kalie Jean Ferris, Elsa Wilson, David Chester, Kiersten Llewellyn

C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

"All their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before."

-Randy Jahns, Dan Johnson, Susan Marlow, Thomas & Faith Miller, Jenny Alvis, Caitlin DeMarco, Hanna Austin, Thierry Ross, Lindele Elliot, Danielle Christy, Valerie Benzinger, Helen Keen, Cindy Austin, Emily Newman, Lori Parziale, Pierce family, Christie Thawley, Bonnie Easton, Doug Perkins, Tracy Murchison, John Reishus, Emily Valine, Christopher Colaccia, Amy Meyers, Kerissa Lee, Tom Sanders, David Couchman, Cole Le Mahieu, Amber Amland, Susan Gingrich-Rudd, Sherry and Sarah Worthen, Trevor Thomas-and Aslan Anthony

Eight Bible book endings

Note: translations are those used by contest entrants

Judges 21:25

"In those days there was no King in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes."

-Norman Ripley, Craig Johnson

Job 42:16

"After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children and grandchildren for four generations. So Job died, old and full of days."

-Elsa Wilson

Proverbs 31:30-31

"Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her words bring her praise at the city gate."

-Wes McCarty

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil."

-John Weaver

Matthew 28:19-20

"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen."

-Jasmine Batchelder

John 21:25

"Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written."

-John Langley, Kevin Crain, Tim Paige, Dawnna Pearson, Carol Schoenheit, Mark Carroll

Jude 24

"Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God, our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen."

-Tom Harrison

Revelation 22:20-21

"He who testifies to these things says, 'Yes, I am coming soon.'

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people. Amen."

-Rod Johnson, Cindy Davis, Barry Voorn, Ralph Ringenberg, Dan Johnson, Thomas Grisa, Melvyn Michaelian, Rebekah Jackowitz, Rose McCauley


When readers submitted multiple entries, I chose one as the official entry. Last lines had to be last lines, not those close to the end. If a non-ending snuck by, if an ending is misquoted, or if you nominated one of the quoted lines and we left out your name, please forgive us. The five judges of the 10 quotations I selected as finalists: WORLD reporter Alisa Harris, writing professor Bearden Coleman, college president Stan Oakes, WORLD book editor Susan Olasky, and myself.

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is the former editor in chief of WORLD, having retired in January 2022, and former dean of World Journalism Institute. He joined WORLD in 1992 and has been a university professor and provost. He has written more than 20 books, including Reforming Journalism.



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