The Time Neil Gaiman Invented a G. K. Chesterton Quote

All this talk of quotations puts me in mind of a very famous one, supposedly by G. K. Chesterton. No doubt you’ve seen it floating around Pinterest, Twitter, etc. by now:

Source: Pinterest
Source: Pinterest.

It certain sounds like Chesterton, and it’s in line with things he did say, but it’s not Chesterton. It is in fact the work of another author of fantastical prose, Mr. Neil Gaiman.

To be fair, Gaiman was basically saying the same thing Chesterton had said, just in fewer words. In his essay “The Red Angel,” Chesterton wrote:

Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

Around seventy years later, Gaiman decided to use this quote as an epigram in his novel Coraline. The only problem was he couldn’t remember how it went. As he explained to a curious fan on Tumblr:

Gaiman in 2009 (with an unidentified dog). Photo by Kyle Cassidy.
Gaiman in 2009 (with an unidentified dog). Photo by Kyle Cassidy.

When I started writing Coraline, I wrote my version of the quote in Tremendous Trifles, meaning to go back later and find the actual quote, as I didn’t own the book, and this was before the Internet. And then ten years went by before I finished the book, and in the meantime I had completely forgotten that the Chesterton quote was mine and not his.

I had always wondered how quotes ended up being attributed to people who never said them. Apparently, that’s how.

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