Surprised By Misquotes

William O’Flaherty, with a Lewis search engine and years of knowledge at the ready, sleuths out the startling number of quotations from C.S. Lewis that he never said or wrote. He’s been doing this sort of investigation work for at least the last decade that I’ve known him. It’s an interesting and surprising study, directed by the most perfect person for the job – someone who is meticulous, well-read, and full of good humor. In this article, written for cslewis.com, you’ll simply get an overview of what William packs into a full book titled The Misquotable C.S. Lewis that was published this year. We hope you’ll check that out as well.

Believe it or not, C.S. Lewis, Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway and the fictional Sherlock Holmes have something in common. All of them have had quotations attributed to them that they didn’t write or say. Einstein never said, “God does not play dice;” Twain isn’t the author of, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics;” Hemingway never claimed he could write a short story with just six words; and “Elementary, my dear Watson” is never said by Holmes in any book by Conan Doyle.

Determining accurate quotations from those that are paraphrases or knowing when an expression is falsely attributed to someone can be a difficult task. People are often careless when making notes about quotes they’ve enjoyed. I should know, I’ve done it myself. Back in 1982, when I had only been reading Lewis for a couple years, I managed to create a false quote based on something I read in Mere Christianity. It was a minor error, I added an extra word, “not” to the expression, which, of course, changed the meaning. Fortunately, I only wrote the statement on a three-by-five note card for my own personal reminder and didn’t share it with others.

Nearly thirty years later I found myself noticing, and hearing from others, statements that were credited to Lewis, but it was difficult to determine where it was in his writings. This was in 2011, and it was somewhat challenging to confirm if a quotation actually was in C.S. Lewis’s writings. Either you had to have read him so much that you knew where to find it from memory, or you owned one of the few books by him that was in electronic form to search for it.

Even now it is somewhat of a complex process that I go through to determine if something credited to Lewis is actually by him. All of his writings aimed at a Christian audience is now in electronic form (only a few academic titles are not). However, because of my skills with searching online, I usually begin by looking on the Web for counter-claims to expressions alleged to be by Lewis. The exception is if a quotation has a specific reference to one of his works. When this happens I search that Lewis book to see if the expression in question is found there.

The focus of this short article is underscoring some of the surprising discoveries made while researching my new book (The Misquotable C.S. Lewis) where I examined seventy-five quotations credited to Lewis. Early on, when I had uncovered about two dozen items, I noticed all misquotes are not created equal. That is, some quotes credited to Lewis not by him are worse offenders than others. For example, you might be aware that the following is not even close to anything Lewis would wrote: “Be weird. Be random. Be who you are. Because you never know who would love the person you hide.”

However, unless you’ve seen the following quotation before, you might not initially realize that Lewis would not even agree with this statement, much less write it: “Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.” Lewis would not agree with the notion that “Education without values” could ever be useful! One of the important points in The Abolition of Man is there is no such thing as a valueless education.

Next (and this may not seem important, but it is), I realized there were more than falsely attributed quotations to be concerned about. Thus in addition to expressions not by Lewis, I came up with a category I call “Almost Lewis” Quotations. These are sayings that summarize or paraphrase something Lewis actually wrote. I uncovered sixteen “almost” Lewis quotes for my book, but sadly found more after it was published.

In an article I wrote for ChristianityToday.com I gave the following “almost Lewis” quote as the most common misquote in a list of top ten: “I believe in Christ like I believe in the sun. Not because I can see it, but by it I can see everything else.” This might sound familiar to you, or rather the real quotation should be familiar; as it is part of Lewis’s memorial stone in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. This fake version has eight mistakes, not including punctuation changes. Here’s the correctly worded statement: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it, I see everything else.”

In some cases it can be difficult to know if a statement credited to Lewis was an attempt by another person to summarize him. There were a few expressions I uncovered that were close to what Lewis wrote, however, I did not categorize them as “almost” Lewis because another author wrote them and didn’t suggest he was the inspiration (see my example from Rick Warren below).

Before revealing other unexpected findings discovered as the result of writing The Misquotable C.S. Lewis, consider the third and final major category of false quotes. They are quotes that Lewis actually wrote; that is, they are “not quite” him because of context concerns. Thus, while they are statements found in his writings, one must consider the context to fully understand their meaning. Eight are presented in my book.

An example of one is this: “No great wisdom can be reached without sacrifice.” While these words are in The Magician’s Nephew, Uncle Andrew says it as a way of explaining to Digory that he and Polly must make the “sacrifice” and not him in order to achieve the “great wisdom.” Thus the context is advocating having others do the hard work so someone else can benefit. Because of this context, one shouldn’t share the quotation.

Let me conclude with providing a quick survey of the surprising findings by focusing on names you might recognize as having some association with quotations falsely credited to Lewis. There are many other surprises found in my book, The Misquotable C.S. Lewis.

Ryan Seacrest and Phil Keaggy

Consider the following: “We meet no ordinary people in our lives. If you give them a chance, everyone has something amazing to offer.” The first part of this quotation is more associated with Phil Keaggy, a Christian musician I enjoy very much. In a book about Rich Mullins, Keaggy is quoted as falsely crediting Lewis with “We meet no ordinary people in our lives.” This is close to what Lewis wrote. Near the end of “The Weight of Glory” essay he wrote “There are no ordinary people.” He then goes on to state each person will live forever and thus we should show more respect and honor to everyone. Interestingly on the official page of On Air with Ryan Seacrest they credited Lewis with both sentences, but another place online cites Seacrest for the entire expression!

Tim Allen, William Nicholson, and Anthony Hopkins

On the TV show Last Man Standing, in a 2017 episode called “Shadowboxing” Allen’s character, Mike Baxter said this in his Vlog segment: “C.S. Lewis said, ‘experience is a brutal teacher. but you’ll learn, by God, you’ll learn.’” This is an interesting situation, because, this statement is actually misquoting the movie line from Shadowlands written by William Nicholson and of course, Anthony Hopkins is the actor making the original line statement in the film. In the movie the words are as follows: “Experience that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.”

Zig Ziglar

I learned of the following quotation from an article on the Quote Investigator (QI) website: “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” Doubts as to Lewis being the author of this quote can be quickly found by discovering a variety of authors attributed to either this expression or a variation. However, the research done by QI went on to uncover that Zig Ziglar gave credit to someone named Carl Bard (and not Lewis) in his book Zig Ziglar’s Life Lifters. Yet, the findings didn’t stop there. Another variation was found in Rejection, a 1982 book by James R. Sherman. This earliest version by Sherman said, “You can’t go back and make a new start, but you can start right now and make a brand new ending.”

George MacDonald

I discovered three quotes that are actually from, or similar to the writings of George MacDonald that have Lewis’s name falsely associated. However, I’ll mention just the one that is the most commonly misattributed; “You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.” Although these exact words are not found in MacDonald, they are a good paraphrase of what he wrote. In the 28th chapter of Annals of a Quiet Neighbourhood (first published in 1867) you find narration commenting about “the great mistake of teaching children that they have souls.” He goes on to say that “they ought to be taught that they have bodies, and that their bodies die; while they themselves live on.”

Rick Warren

The following expression is one that many believe Lewis wrote, but the clear evidence is against it: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” In the 2002 edition of The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, you find the quote on Day 19, in a chapter entitled “Cultivating Community.” There you do not find any quotation marks around this expression. However, you do find that overall the book is heavily footnoted. While nearly all of Warren’s notes are references to Scripture, some are to other books. In fact, Warren does mention Lewis in The Purpose Driven Life seven times. It is possible that Warren was thinking of Lewis when he wrote this expression, but the chapter you find it in does not mention Lewis at all.

If the above were the only well-known individuals associated in some way with a quotation with Lewis’s name on it then the situation would seem bad enough. However, believe it or not there are more! Expressions credited to him have been linked to the following: Max Lucado, Melody Beattie, Matt Dillon, Charles Spurgeon, Norman Vincent Peale and Lou Holtz. Thus, when noticing quotations alleged to be by Lewis either online or in published books one needs to be cautious in believing they are from him. Likewise, when quoting Lewis or other authors be careful to confirm you are sharing what they actual wrote and not just what you think you remember he said.

 

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