A writer friend of mine on social media asked what I thought was a very interesting question: what was the most memorable line you've ever read? I've read a good many profound books, but the first thing that came to mind was a line not from a book but from a television show. In the Doctor Who episode "The Face of Evil," the Fourth Doctor remarks, "The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common; they do not alter their views to fit the facts, they alter the facts to fit their views."
The aptness of that quote these days hardly needs to be pointed out.
But there are many others, in books, television, and movies, quotes that somehow stand out for their unexpected depth (sometimes even in otherwise silly settings; the episode "The Face of Evil" was unremarkable in other respects). Some only gain their punch from the context -- I'm reminded of Eowyn's defiant "I am no man" in Return of the King, immediately before she stabs the King of the Nazgûl right between the eyeballs, and the heartbreaking line at the end of Vanilla Sky when Sofia Serrano says, "I'll see you in the next life, when we both are cats." Neither has much significance unless you know the story.
But there are a few true gems that carry their weight even independent of where they're from. Here are a few of my choices:
- "Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends." -- J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
- "You will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do." -- David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest
- "When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall." -- Mohandas Gandhi in Gandhi
- "There is no greater agony than having an untold story inside you." -- Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
- "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." -- Anne Frank, Diary of a Young Girl
- "Oh, yes, the past can hurt. But you can either run from it, or learn from it." -- Rafiki in The Lion King
- "I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth." -- Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum
- "Get busy living, or get busy dying." -- Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption
- "Not important? Blimey. That's amazing. You know, in nine hundred years in time and space, I have never met anyone who wasn't important." -- The Eleventh Doctor, Doctor Who, "A Christmas Carol"
- "Through dangers untold, and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back what you have stolen. For my will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom as great... You have no power over me." -- Sarah in Labyrinth
- "Live now; make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again." -- Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation, "The Inner Light"
Nota bene: If you can watch "The Inner Light" and not ugly cry at the end of it, you're made of sterner stuff than I am. That episode has to be one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen on television.
So... there are a few of my favorite profound quotes from fiction. Let's hear about yours!