If You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, Any Road Will Take You There
Every so often, I come across some Alice in Wonderland misquotes on social media. And when I say every so often, I mean every single day. Sometimes it is a Disney Alice quote mistakenly attributed to Lewis Carroll, sometimes it is an actual Lewis Carroll quote that is just a little off, and sometimes it is just plain wrong. Like this:
This Cheshire Cat misquote is all over the Internet. It’s available for purchase at Amazon as well, if you’d like to hang your ignorance on the wall. To be fair, Cheshire Cat says something similar to “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” But it’s not quite as pithy and quotable:
‘Cheshire Puss,’ she began, rather timidly, as she did not at all know whether it would like the name: however, it only grinned a little wider. ‘Come, it’s pleased so far,’ thought Alice, and she went on. ‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
‘I don’t much care where—’ said Alice.
‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.
‘—so long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.
‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’
That is the actual exchange between Alice and Cheshire Cat from Chapter 6 Pig and Pepper of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. As you can see, it’s a little wordy for an Instagram post. It’s almost no wonder that it’s been shortened over the years to “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” That doesn’t change the fact that Cheshire Cat never said it. But guess who did! THIS cool cat!
“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there” are lyrics from the song Any Road, written by George Harrison. Any Road appeared on George’s final album Brainwashed in 2002. Fans of mortality will note that Mr. Harrison died in 2001. There’s an explanation for this anachronism: George was at work on the album while he fought his battle with cancer, and his lookalike son Dhani and pal Jeff Lynne completed the album per his instructions after his death. George favored the audience of a VH1 special with a few stanzas from the song during one of his last TV appearances, at the behest of Ravi Shankar’s wife.
Now that we know the phrase “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there” is not Lewis Carroll’s, the questions is, is it 100% George’s? According to More Annotated Alice by Martin Gardner, a phrase very similar to this is included in the Talmud, a monumental text of Jewish instruction and law. I haven’t been able to confirm this, but Martin Gardner’s word among Carrollians is pretty much Alice instruction and law. So I’m inclined to believe him. While I can find no evidence that George ever studied the Talmud, he certainly was a spiritual fellow open to all sorts or ideas and faiths. So it’s entirely possible he came across the phrase during his lifelong spiritual journey. It’s also possible he came up with it himself. We may never know!
So what DID we learn today?
1) The Cheshire Cat never said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”
2) George Harrison did!
3) Any Road is a very catchy, underappreciated song.
4) George is almost certainly the most Cheshire Cat-like Beatle.