Ursula K. Le Guin? Robin W. Winks? Julian F. Fleron? Apocryphal?
The creative adult is a child who has survived.
The prominent science fiction and fantasy writer Ursula K. Le Guin has received credit for this saying; however, she has adamantly disclaimed the statement. Would you please explore this topic?
Reply from Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the 1983 tourist book “An American’s Guide To Britain” by Robin W. Winks. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[ref] 1983, An American’s Guide To Britain by Robin W. Winks, Revised Edition, Chapter: Introduction, Quote Page xi, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. (Verified with scans) [/ref]
An excellent writer of science fiction, Ursula LeGuin, has written that the creative adult is a child who has survived. In this sense of the word, this book is meant to appeal to the child in most of us — for when we are truly an adult, we will also be dead.
Winks credited Le Guin, but he did not use quotation marks. Thus, the statement may have reflected his attempt to paraphrase Le Guin. Currently, Winks is the leading candidate for creator of the saying although the coinage was inadvertent. Also, it remains possible that Winks was simply repeating the misquotation from a previous writer.
QI conjectures that the statement was derived from an imprecise reading of a 1974 essay by Ursula Le Guin titled “Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?” published in “PNLA Quarterly”. Le Guin defended the imagination employed in “fairy-tale, legend, fantasy, science fiction, and the rest of the lunatic fringe”. She praised children’s librarians because they also welcomed this type of fiction:[ref] 1974 Winter, PNLA Quarterly, Volume 38, Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons? by Ursula K. Le Guin, Note: Essay based on a talk given at the 1973 PNLA Conference in Portland, Oregon, Start Page 14, Quote Page 17, Column 2, Pacific Northwest Library Association, Eugene, Oregon. (Verified with scans from FIU Florida International University via Interlibrary Loan) [/ref]
They believe that maturity is not an outgrowing, but a growing up; that an adult is not a dead child, but a child who survived. They believe that all the best faculties of a mature human being exist in the child, and that if these faculties are encouraged in youth they will act well and wisely in the adult, but if they are repressed and denied in the child they will stunt and cripple the adult personality.
And finally they believe that one of the most deeply human, and humane, of these faculties is the power of imagination; so that it is our pleasant duty, as librarians, or teachers, or parents, or writers, or simply as grownups, to encourage that faculty of imagination in our children . . .
The quotation under examination was not present in the passage above, but an inattentive reader who was attempting to condense and simplify Le Guin’s words might have generated the saying.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 1975 Le Guin’s 1974 essay was reprinted in “The Thorny Paradise: Writers On Writing For Children”. Thus, her words were further propagated.[ref] 1975, The Thorny Paradise: Writers On Writing For Children, Edited by Edward Blishen, Chapter: This Fear of Dragons by Ursula Le Guin, Start Page 87, Quote Page 91, Kestrel Books: Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, England. (Verified with scans) [/ref]
In 1978 “Your Personality and How to Live with It” by Gregory G. Young published a thematically related remark:[ref] 1978, Your Personality and How to Live with It by Gregory G. Young, Chapter 9: The Sensitive Personality, Quote Page 229, Atheneum, New York. (Verified with scans) [/ref]
Remember: an adult is a child who has kept his sense of wonder intact while growing in wisdom and age.
In 1979 the collection “The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction” reprinted the 1974 essay by Ursula K. Le Guin:[ref] 1979, The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction by Ursula K. Le Guin, Edited by Susan Wood, Essay: Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons? Start Page 39, Quote Page 44, A Perigee Book: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York. (Verified with scans) [/ref]
I believe that maturity is not an outgrowing, but a growing up: that an adult is not a dead child, but a child who survived.
In 1983 “An American’s Guide To Britain” by Robin W. Winks printed the flawed quotation and attribution as mentioned at the beginning of this article[ref] 1983, An American’s Guide To Britain by Robin W. Winks, Revised Edition, Chapter: Introduction, Quote Page xi, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. (Verified with scans) [/ref]
An excellent writer of science fiction, Ursula LeGuin, has written that the creative adult is a child who has survived.
In 1989 “Discovering the Writer Within: 40 Days to More Imaginative Writing” by Bruce Ballenger and Barry Lane attributed a variant of the quotation under exploration to Le Guin:[ref] 1989, Discovering the Writer Within: 40 Days to More Imaginative Writing by Bruce Ballenger and Barry Lane, Chapter: Day Twenty-Nine: The Road Is Chasing Us, Quote Page 115, Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio. (Verified with scans) [/ref]
When fantasy writer Ursula Le Guin says, “An adult is a child who survived,” she is referring indirectly to the many children whose imaginations don’t survive crippling educations and burdensome lives.
In 2006 “Treasury of Wit & Wisdom: 4,000 of the Funniest, Cleverest, Most Insightful Things Ever Said” printed the following entry:[ref] 2006, Treasury of Wit & Wisdom: 4,000 of the Funniest, Cleverest, Most Insightful Things Ever Said, Compiled by Jeff Bredenberg, Topic: Adulthood, Quote Page 23, The Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York. (Verified with scans) [/ref]
The creative adult is the child who has survived. — Ursula K. Le Guin
In 2014 Le Guin wrote an article about the quotation on her personal blog. She was unable to recall crafting the remark, and she concluded it was a misquotation. In a footnote she pointed to her 1974 essay which contained the phrase “child who survived” as a possible source of the misquotation. She commented about the difficulty of preventing the propagation of incorrect information:[ref] Website: Ursula K. Le Guin, Article number: 91, Article title: The Inner Child and the Nude Politician, Article author: Ursula K. Le Guin, Date on website: October 2014, Website description: Personal blog of author Ursula K. Le Guin who died in 2018. (Accessed ursulakleguin.com on March 1, 2023) link [/ref]
. .. a false attribution on the Internet is like box elder beetles—the miserable little things just keep breeding and tweeting and crawling out of the woodwork.
In 2022 QI received an email from Professor of Mathematics Julian F. Fleron of Westfield State University.[ref] Personal communication via email, From: Julian F. Fleron at domain westfield.ma.edu, To: Garson O’Toole (Quote Investigator), Date: December 6, 2022, Subject: Quote Investigator – Information for a new entry. [/ref] Fleron stated that he had created a database of quotations called the “Mathematical and Educational Quotation Server at Westfield State University” which became available by 1998. The contents of the database changed over time via updates.
In 2006 the misquotation from Le Guin was added to the database based on flawed information obtained from the BrainyQuote website. Le Guin contacted Fleron in 2016 to let him know that the quotation was inaccurate and Fleron removed the item from the database.[ref] Website: Mathematical and Educational Quotation Server at Westfield State University, Website description: Database of Quotations, Created, Edited, and Maintained by Julian F. Fleron, Date: The database has been updated repeatedly; hence, the contents do not have a single date of creation. (Accessed pyrrho.westfield.ma.edu on March 1, 2023) link [/ref] Unfortunately, the quotation is sometimes misattributed to Fleron.
In conclusion, Ursula K. Le Guin did not create the statement under examination, and she directly disclaimed it on her personal blog. In 1974 she did write a sentence with a different meaning that partially matched the statement by containing the word “adult” and the phrase “child who survived”. It is possible that someone misread Le Guin’s 1974 essay and created the misquotation. The first known appearance of the misquotation occurred in a 1983 book by Robin W. Winks.
Image Notes: Children in silhouette from geralt on Pixabay. Image has been cropped and resized.
Acknowledgement: Great thanks to Julian F. Fleron whose note led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Many thanks to the PNLA Webperson and Florida International University who enabled QI to access scans of the 1974 citation.
Update History: On March 4, 2023 the 1974 citation was verified with scans and added to the article.