Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

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Very Well Then, I Repeat Myself
I've occasionally written about misquotations before, but now I've created a tag for the purpose. The internet is such a virulent misquotation vector that I think it may come in handy.

Here are a couple of children's literature-related ones, for my records and possibly your interest. The first I noticed a couple of years ago, the second just today.


  1. Kenneth Grahame claimed in a letter to Teddy Roosevelt that The Wind in the Willows was a sex-free zone. Of course, he didn't use that phrase, but wrote that it was "clean of the clash of sex" - an interesting phrase, I think, but one that is now frequently quoted as "clear of the clash of sex". As far as I've been able to discover, this error goes back to Lois Kuznet's book Kenneth Grahame (1987). That at least is the earliest example I've been able to find. So, it's a pre-internet mistake, but one that now crops up there and everywhere else. (Having said that, I've not seen Grahame's original letter - perhaps Kuznets has - and the difference between 'n' and 'r' can be debatable in some hands. It's just possible I'm maligning her here.)


  2. Now we have C. S. Lewis's dictum from "On Three Ways of Writing for Children" (1952): “I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story.” Today I saw this rendered in a student essay as “A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest” - which is just horrible. (I don't agree with Lewis as it happens, but still, what a mangling is here!) Google reveals that this version is now rife - it's quoted in 146 sites, and probably by now in books as well.



I don't know what more I can say, but consider this as a warning buoy anchored by a reef, to warn sailors from sweet song of Lorelei Hardy, siren of lazy quotation.

Now I do agree with Lewis on that, but I'd be interested to see you expand your disagreement into a post.

Surely good is good is good.

I don't disagree diametrically - and I think that "good is good is good" is a much better place to start than "adults are from Saturn and children are from Uranus" - but as for elevating that default assumption into a canon, I'm not so sure.

"Good is good is good" suggests a commutativity that few would seriously defend: would you say that an adult novel that can't be enjoyed by a five year old is a bad adult novel? Lewis doesn't go that far, of course. He makes the more plausible argument that his adult experience contains his childhood experience (like a tree adding rings), and that whereas before he could enjoy lemon squash but not hock, now he can enjoy both. He contrasts this with people who think that growing up is a matter of consciously putting childish things aside, and claims that that is the truly jejune attitude. The latter point I agree with - but then I've never felt ashamed of any activity because of its childishness, and find it hard to understand those who do.

Still, I do think Lewis oversimplifies and overstates his case. For example, when he was a child he probably enjoyed playing hide-and-seek. Did he play it as an adult with his fellow Inklings? When he was a baby he was no doubt sent into paroxysms by games of peep-bo. Did that taste survive into his fifties? I doubt it. Of course, we may say that these tastes were sublimated into other kinds of activity - e.g. writing fantasy - and that the important thing is not to cut the taproot that supplies both. But to note that a fifty-year-old does not play hide-and-seek or peep-bo as his preferred leisure activity is not to say that either is a bad children's game. I think there are books that fall into a similar category - though identifying them may be more controversial. I, for example, don't get a lot out of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, but I don't think it's a bad children's book. I feel much the same about The Famous Five series. And so on.

Of course, there's an "it depends what you mean by" element here. If "enjoying" a book means get anything out of it at all, then Lewis may be right: I can admire Carle's book. But that's to set the bar awfully low, and I think he had in mind a more full-fledged enjoyment including a fair degree of imaginative absorption.

I like the analogy of tree rings.

I can imagine enjoying hide and seek, but first I'd have to find someone to play it with- and that person would probably have to be a child. Also I've been known to initiate games of peep-bo and enjoy them (almost)as much as the baby.

In mixed company- I mean child/adult company, I'm the grown-up who'll be down on the floor making things with building blocks and running toy cars around. I find that much more interesting than participating in the conversations adults have- which are mostly about relatives with ailments and what I said to the boss and stuff like that.

I think The Hungry Caterpillar is a brilliant book. Obviously there's not as much in it as there is- say- in The Golden Bowl- but I love the simplicity of the concept and the rhythm of the words- which is close to incantatory- and the boldness of the images. I'd maintain against all comers that THC is art- and art of a high order. I fully expect it to outlive many Booker and Pulitzer winning novels.

I'm not sure about Blyton because I never really got on with her. I think of her as the childhood equivalent of Jeffrey Archer or Dan Brown- and I don't read them either. The literature of childhood, like the literature of adulthood, has plenty of writers who are very popular but have no literary graces apart from the gift (not to be underestimated) of being able to spin a yarn.

I like the analogy of tree rings.

Here, read the whole essay. It's not long, and I feel sure you'll enjoy it.

I think I can't count games played with children, because your pleasure in giving pleasure to them is likely to cause all kinds of interference with your pleasure in the game itself. Can I seriously ask that you try to seek out some like-minded adults (wherever they're hiding) and have a game of hide-and-seek with them? I'd be fascinated to know the result. If we lived closer I'd volunteer myself.

You make a good point re. Blyton - at least with the Famous Five. On the other hand, I often do an ice-breaking exercise with my students at the beginning of the year, which involves asking them to say a little about a book that meant a lot to them in childhood. Almost always one or more of them will say The Magic Faraway Tree - it comes up as often as any other single book. That kind of emotional stickability is one reasonable test of "a good children's book", I think.

Your two comments here have answered any inquiries I'd have raised about your original statement. Thanks; I don't have anything more to say on this.

(Deleted comment)
I was fitter then than I am now, and I managed about 5 minutes before I started to feel bored

This is how I tend to feel about exercise in general.

Thanks. Yes, that is a very good essay. I'm not greatly fond of Lewis but I like everything he says here.

I've gotten into the habit of buying toys from charity shops- which I pass on to the numerous children in my life- but only after I've played with them first. If I had the money I would buy a really good doll's house (for my grand-daughters, of course- ahem)

I need to read The Magic Faraway Tree. It keeps cropping up. I suppose it is possible to run a literary production line and still- occasionally- write something especially good. Dumas, for instance, churned out product with the help of collaborators and most of it is forgotten and unread but in amongst the dross is the Three Musketeers.

I'm with you on the doll's house - something of course I never had when I was the "right" age, but which my parents probably couldn't have afforded anyway.

It's interesting, on reflection, how some toys are considered at least semi-respectable for adults - I'm thinking particularly of train sets - and also some games, as long as they can be rebranded "sports".

Just over a week ago I was in shop in Steyning that sells dolls houses and dolls house furniture. It's very definitely a place for adult obsessives.

I'm sure you're right. Lewis was not a careful man in an argument. I think he enjoyed the general cut and thrust of too much for that, and he's often emphatic about points which a live opponent would take down in seconds.

I like his carelessness, mind you. It's what makes him so readable, so charming, and so infuriating.

I disagree with him about many things, but he taught me to think and feel - how could I not love him (this side idolatry)?

What the second example means is that your student pulled the quote from the web without checking the original. Did the student provide a citation? If it was to the original, that's truly bad scholarly form.

What annoys me is quotations which, when I check the citation footnote, are said to be quoted from some other secondary source, without further info. Yes, but where did it come from originally? The manuals I use say that when you quote a quotation, which you do because you have no access to the original, you cite it as coming from the original source and then add "as quoted in" or words to that effect, followed by your source.

There was no citation...

My understanding of the conventions of citation matches your own, though I sometimes hesitate between just giving the original source (because it's the original source, after all) and the "as quoted in" version. Cutting out all mention of the helpful intermediary feels a little discourteous, somehow, even if it's probably superfluous to the needs of most readers.

The reason for the rule as I understand the reason is, cite the intermediary if you can't verify it with the original - because you don't know if the intermediary got it right. If you can verify it, you don't have to mention that you got it through the intermediary unless the chain of transmittal is relevant (e.g. if it's exceedingly rare, and/or if you want to credit the secondary source for finding it). If I were to discuss all the pieces of research and serendipity I go through in writing a paper, it'd be longer than the paper.

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