“Do not dare not to dare.” (In which Lewis did write but did not mean what we probably thought he meant.)

“Do not dare not to dare.”

This favorite Lewis quote shows up all over the worldwidespiderwebthatensnares.

Google search it and you will freely receive almost half-a-billion hits. If you can’t trust that, what can you trust?

But here’s the thing. If you read this quote as a self-standing phrase, you’ll likely get it wrong. By itself, it sounds like, “Whatever it is that you want to do, whatever adventure it is that you want to pursue, whatever big thing it is that is dangling in front of your eyes – perhaps surrounded by crowds and acclaim, by fame and fortune – them for goodness sake just go do it. I dare you! I dare you to not do it! Do not dare not to dare! Or some such thing. Indeed

Glory be, this is Lewis at his how-we-like-and-imagine-him finest, encouraging us to be Amazing People Who Do Amazing Things (And Hopefully Probably Get Noticed In The Doing).

Or not.

This real quote is from The Horse and His Boy. Aravis (human), Shasta (human), Hwin (horse), and Bree (horse) had recently arrived at the Hermit of the Southern March’s humble dwelling after a dreadfully dangerous journey. Shasta stayed but the briefest of moments because after doing the most frightening thing he’d ever done in his life, he’d been immediately sent on another dangerous and difficult quest.

“Shasta’s heart fainted […] for he felt he had no strength left. And he writhed inside at what seemed the cruelty and unfairness of the demand. He had not yet learned that if you do one good deed your reward usually is to be set to do another and harder and better one.”

His new task? To go in pursuit of a King he’d never met, who lived in a place he’d never seen, travelling through a land he’d never visited, to deliver a message he didn’t understand. Woohoo. The stuff of fame and fortune.

Meanwhile, back at the Hermit’s habitat, Aravis, Hwin, and Bree rested from their exhausting journey. They began discussing Aslan – primarily who and what he is.

Aravis: Bree, why do you keep swearing By the Lion and By the Lion’s Mane? I thought you hated lions.

Bree: So I do. But when I speak of the Lion of course I mean Aslan, the great deliverer of Narnia who drove away the Witch and the Winter. All Narnions swear by him.

Aravis: But is he a lion?

Bree (in a shocked voice): No, no of course not.

Aravis: All the stories about him in Tashbban say he is. And if he isn’t a lion why do you call him a lion?

Bree (in a rather superior tone with his eyes half shut): Well, you’d hardly understand that at your age.

And then, you see, a lion, the Lion, who is in fact 100% lion, approached from behind so that Aravis and Hwin saw him, but Bree did not.

Bree (still in a rather superior tone with his eyes half shut): Even a little girl like you, Aravis, must see that it would be quite absurd to suppose he is a real lion. Indeed it would be disrespectful. It he was a lion he’d have to be a Beast just like the rest of us. Why! (and here Bree began to laugh) If he was a lion he’d have four paws, and a tail, and Whiskers!….Aie, ooh, hoo-hoo! Help!

You can guess what had happened. The Lion, the Only Lion, the One True Lion, approached the group, and the Lion’s very real whiskers brushed against Bree’s very real ear, and all of Bree’s puffed up worldly wisdom was shot to pieces as he shot like an arrow to the other side of the enclosure, unable to escape the horror behind him.

Hwin, who’d always been the wisest and bravest of them all, “though shaking all over, gave a strange little neigh and trotted across the the Lion.”

Hwin: Please, you’re so beautiful. You may eat me if you like. I’d sooner be eaten by you than fed by anyone else.

Aslan (planting a lion’s kiss on her twitching, velvet nose): Dearest daughter. I knew you would not be long in coming to me. Joy shall be yours.

And then Aslan said this – and pay close attention because here comes the Dashing Adventurous Big Amazing quote.

Aslan (in a louder voice): Now, Bree, you poor, proud, frightened Horse, draw near. Nearer still, my son. Do not dare not to dare. Touch me. Smell me. Here are my paws, here is my tail, these are my whiskers. I am a true Beast.

Bree (in a shaken voice): Aslan, I’m afraid I must be rather a fool.

Aslan: Happy the Horse who knows that while he is still young.

Did you catch that? Did you see what Lewis did there? He flipped “do not dare not to dare” on its everloving self-focused big-and-amazing-things head.

Do not dare not to dare:

  • to draw near to Christ
  • to see him as he truly is – the True King incarnate
  • to shed one’s foolish fears
  • to shed one’s foolish pride
  • to cast aside one’s foolish notions that are based on rubbishy blather
  • to deny oneself so that the Creator can refashion you into your true self
  • to be undone by the Lord’s almighty presence
  • to be embraced by the Lord’s patient and faithful love.

There is nothing “me” about this quote. There is nothing particularly “dashing and daring” about this quote.

Mostly, there is repentance, surrender, humility, trust, and obedience.

Which makes it, in fact, quite a stunning truth for all to consider.

Isn’t it interesting how even when we quote Lewis correctly, we are quick to make it mean what we want it to mean? Human nature is so very predictable that way.