Sorry, but C. S. Lewis never said that there (in which I begrudge the alarming glut of authoritative misquotes)

Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different… – “Prince Caspian”

This pithy quote, attributed to the pages of Prince Caspian, the second installment of C. S. Lewis’s Narnian chronicles (that’s right, second, no matter what HarperCollins says),* appears all over the authoritative world wide web.

And when I say all over I mean ALL OVER. 

And when I say ALL OVER, I mean ALLTHEFREAKINGOVER!

Pinterest. Tumblr. Facebook. Goodreads. Yahoo answers. Etsy. Twitter. Finance blogs. Focus on the Family. Amazon. Numerous self-published books.

And approximately 6 million other pages.

It is quoted in mainstream publications. It is quoted in AP History presentations. It is quoted by pastors. It is quoted on every Lewis-loving-blogger’s blog known to humankind. (I hyperbolize.) It is quoted on every quote site in existence. (I exaggerate.) It is even quoted by C. S. Lewis himself on his personal Twitter account. (I joke not.)

At the risk of bringing down all the authoritative walls of Jericho, Google, Yahoo, and Bing in one fell swoop, I regret to inform all the many millions of people who have lauded this quote as meaningful, life-changing, heart-warming, wise, inspiring, eloquent, and other empty blathery things, that C. S. Lewis did not write these words in Prince Caspian, or any of the other Narnian Chronicles.**

It’s true that when Shasta, Aravis, Bree and Hwin race against time across the desert, the view behind them seems to stay the same no matter how long they trot-walk-trot-walk-trot-walk.

It’s also true that when Pole, Scrubb, Puddleglum, Snowflake and Coalblack climb up from the underworld, the view behind them seems to stay the same no matter how long they clop-clop-clop-clop carefully uphill and underground.

And when Caspian, Lucy, Edmund, Eustace, Reepicheep and the others are on the last leg of their outbound voyage, it seems that little changes except for the inherent essence of the sun.

Too, when Peter, Susan, and Edmund are finally wise enough to follow Lucy who is following Aslan who is invisible to all but her, it seems like forever until the other three finally see his golden self walking in front of them.

But the confidently posted, quoted, blogged, tumbled, tweeted, grammed, and pinned quote is no quote at all. Not Lewis’s quote, anyway.**

Still, it has become a 6-million-hits-authoritative fact. No one questions it. No one bothers to look it up. No one takes the time to confirm or fact check or wonder if just maybe – since the quote is never referenced by a page number or given a context or framed within a larger narrative, it might be, well, FAKE – FALSE – UNTRUE – MADE UP – CONTRIVED – NONSENSE  – BLATHERY FOO FOO.***

Confession: I do admire Lewis and love his books, and can tend to get unreasonably bothered and bent out of shape when people toss around his words and ideas without ever having read more than a handful of his 50-plus books and countless articles, notes, letters, reviews, and other writings. (“I’ve read Amos and Jude. Let me tell you everything you wanted to know about God.”)

But this isn’t about Lewis. (Okay, maybe it is a little – but not mostly.)

This is about language and thought and reason and creativity and honor and intellect and caution and so many other things.

It’s about how quickly and carelessly something becomes accepted fact.

It’s about how quickly and carelessly we swallow what the Information Age grazers and snackers share with us.

It’s about how quickly and carelessly we jump on whatever train is currently barreling down the cyber track.

It’s about how quickly and carelessly we discard and surrender our brains, assuming someone else has already done the necessary thinking for us.

Wrong. No. Bad form. Dumb idea. Stop it. Now.

All of us. Just stop it. Else our brains, rather than making thoughtful, adventurous, mindful, and exhilarating use of the vast knowledge now at our fingertips, will simply shut down and take a snooze that soon eclipses mere laziness and instead threatens our very ability to reason, to think, and therefore to be.

Quite frankly, as much as it irritates me, a wildly popular Lewis misquote is nothing more than a symptom of something much deeper, something that should worry us all.

And when I say worry us I mean worry us greatly.

Greatly, indeed.

© 2015 Crystal Kirgiss

* Reading order (also known as “publication order for as long as Lewis lived and beyond”):
Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe
Prince Caspian
Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Silver Chair
Horse and His Boy
Magician’s Nephew
Last Battle

** I am 99% certain that I have never seen this phrase in any of Lewis’s books. To be fair, there are some I have read only once (English Literature in the 16th Century, Excluding Drama, for example). I would happily stand corrected about this quote, by way of a specific title (including publication date, edition, and page number), which would then force me to self-rant about the dangers of publishing a blog post without first meticulously reading and exhausting every possible counter-response.

***Dishearteningly, I have even found uploaded book report about Prince Caspian that include this quote. Dear me.

16 thoughts on “Sorry, but C. S. Lewis never said that there (in which I begrudge the alarming glut of authoritative misquotes)

  1. John Guillen May 13, 2015 / 12:57 am

    There are plenty of quotes attributed to authors that were never actually spoken or written by them. I’ve come to the conclusion that people know this and just don’t care. I have no interest in any kind of quotes, so everyone can keep misquoting Hemingway or Fitzgerald or whomever. Makes no difference to me.

    • ckirgiss May 13, 2015 / 11:43 am

      John – indeed there are misattributed, nonattributed, even unsaid quotes galore. I think that some people do in fact know this – if they also don’t care, that’s their business, but I find it entirely unsettling. However, I think that many people do NOT know this and have never even once considered it. Whether that is more, less, or equally unsettling I can’t decide. The problem is that this also happens in textbooks – those overpriced bastions of educated civilization – because people are content to pass along what other people say other people have said rather than actually finding out for themselves. It’s like a big bad game of Polite Gossip that probably says much more about our culture at large than anyone really wants to deal with. A 2007 medical handbook for people who work with adolescents says in its preface that “Many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were still in their teens” (Adolescent Medicine: A Handbook for Primary Care. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2006, viii). This is offered as evidence that in the past, people gave teens more credence, responsibility, etc. than we do today. Trust me: people are going to quote this left and right in their research on culture, adolescent development, etc. But it’s NOT TRUE (http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_signers_gallery_facts.pdf) and I suspect no one will check because it’s already gotten past co-authors, publishers, editors, and a large swath of the reading public. I think does, or should, make a difference to all of us.

  2. Melanie May 13, 2015 / 10:06 am

    This is so perfectly on point with a huge concern I have as a mother of school age children. When I did research in school, (dare I date myself) I used the Encyclopedia Britannica and the actual book that, nerd that I am, I had actually read. I am wondering how my children are going to discern truth from fiction; not only with simple things like book report research, but the larger picture of …. well, all information. Medical, political, spiritual, oh dear..
    Sigh. bow head. pray. repeat.

    • ckirgiss May 13, 2015 / 11:47 am

      Melanie – our children will discern truth from fiction as we all must: with careful thought, seasoned discernment, and the willingness to do their own checking and thinking and reading and questioning and learning and researching and observing and listening and all other uniquely human things. It’s a wonderful time to be a student, what with all the vast possibilities for accessing information that up until now was impossible to find. And that, as with all good and powerful things, means it is also a terrible time to be a student. Every good thing has it’s dangerous counter.

  3. Cal Armstrong May 13, 2015 / 11:33 am

    There’s an egregious lack of concern for authorship of “popular” quotations and the sloppy use of the Retweet merely spreads the problem. I’ve tracked down Dewey he-never-said-that “quotations” into PhD theses, where they give fictitious page references to support their use.

    • ckirgiss May 13, 2015 / 11:52 am

      Cal – see my reply to John Cullen’s comment for an example of egregious lack of concern that extends far beyond “popular” quotations. What happens on a popular level happens other places, and I think it’s difficult to know sometimes on which level it originated.

  4. Jamie Nelson May 13, 2015 / 2:02 pm

    I love the honesty here. One quote that I am guilty of using is the whole Francis de Asissi Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words. I do not think there is any account of him saying or writing this anywhere other than popular culture. It would be interesting to track it down! Thanks for your intellectual honesty.

    • ckirgiss May 13, 2015 / 2:51 pm

      Jamie – right you are. There is no record of him saying this. Based on biographies, Francis could be a rather fiery preacher. I have also read that part of his rule of 1221 AD has something that is very remotely related to this, but I don’t have a copy on hand to confirm. This exchange is recorded in Chapter XXX of Little Flowers (countless print editions, online here http://www.paxetbonum.net/fioretti_text_E.html#50)

      The said Brother Ruffino, through constant contemplation, was so absorbed in God that he became almost insensible to things external, and very seldom spoke; added to which he never had possessed the gift of speech, neither was he eloquent nor self-possessed. Notwithstanding this, Saint Francis ordered him one day to go to Assisi and preach to the people that which God should dictate to him. On this Brother Ruffino expostulated, saying: “Reverend Father, I pray thee excuse me, and send some other brother in my stead; for thou knowest that I have not the grace of preaching: I am simple and ignorant.” At this Saint Francis answered: “Inasmuch as thou hast not obeyed immediately, I command thee to take off thy clock and thy hood and go to Assisi, where thou shalt enter a church and preach to the people; and this shalt thou do out of holy obedience.”

      Here, Francis extolls the power of preaching, even for a person who doesn’t like or isn’t skilled in it – unless somewhere were to reinterpret that last line as “and you will do this by living an obedient life instead of speaking.” I suspect that’s how many false quotes originate: someone summarizes/interprets/rewords/revises something they once heard, and then it takes off running.

  5. just curious April 20, 2016 / 11:10 pm

    Does anyone actually know where this quote came from then?

  6. Em April 12, 2017 / 10:05 pm

    “It is even quoted by C. S. Lewis himself on his personal Twitter account. (I joke not.)”

    I hope youre joking, because CS Lewis died in 1963, approximately 40 years before he made his Twitter.

    Lol, maybe you were trying to be ironic. I love it.

    I agree, it’s incredibly easy to misquote or misinterpret the information we read on the internet. The written word can be a dangerous thing when it exists uncontested.

    • ckirgiss April 15, 2017 / 10:28 pm

      Indeed – he did die in 1963. “I joke not” regarding the fact that a dead Irish author – like so many other dead folk – unaccountably has a 21st-century Twitter account. In others words, “I joke not” tongue in cheek.
      “The written word can be a dangerous thing when it exists uncontested.” Yes.

  7. Popi May 30, 2017 / 12:35 am

    Thank you for scratching a pet peeve. Two actually. The quote and the author’s preferred published order. Harper Collins is more a marketing firm than a publishing firm.

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