Writing

Beware the Ides of March: 16 Dire Literary Warnings

Bust of Julius Caesar/Photo © Shutterstock

Editor's Note:

If you’re stirred by these author quotes, amble down our archive for more.

Ever since Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar wowed the groundlings in 1599, even common folk have known to look askance at the Ides of March, the date of the historic ruler’s assassination. Such is the power of an author to issue warnings that radiate outward in time, retroactively coloring past events as well as wielding influence over the future.

In honor of the Ides (March 15 on our calendar), we’re taking a stroll through literary warnings that inspire the reader to take pause, ponder the matter deeply, and then do whatever they were going to do anyway — just like Caesar did, no? May you fare much better in your gambits.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, 1981
“I warn you, if you bore me, I shall take my revenge.”

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, 2001
“Enter, stranger, but take heed
Of what awaits the sin of greed,
For those who take, but do not earn,
Must pay most dearly in their turn.
So if you seek beneath our floors
A treasure that was never yours,
Thief, you have been warned, beware
Of finding more than treasure there.”

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huck Finn, 1884
“Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.
BY ORDER OF THE AUTHOR
per
G.G., CHIEF OF ORDNANCE”

C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair, 1953
“But, first, remember, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs. And secondly, I give you a warning. Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly: I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters.”

Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Talents, 1998
“Beware
At war
Or at peace,
More people die
Of unenlightened self-interest
Than of any other disease”

James Patterson, Maximum Ride: The Final Warning, 2008
“Here’s a freebie: Don’t play poker with a kid who can read minds.”

Neil Gaiman, Smoke and Mirrors, 1998
“When I was a child, adults would tell me not to make things up, warning me of what would happen if I did. As far as I can tell so far, it seems to involve lots of foreign travel and not having to get up too early in the morning.”

Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club, 1996
“Warning: If you are reading this then this warning is for you. Every word you read of this useless fine print is another second off your life. Don’t you have other things to do? Is your life so empty that you honestly can’t think of a better way to spend these moments? Or are you so impressed with authority that you give respect and credence to all that claim it? Do you read everything you’re supposed to read? Do you think every thing you’re supposed to think? Buy what you’re told to want? Get out of your apartment. Meet a member of the opposite sex. Stop the excessive shopping and masturbation. Quit your job. Start a fight. Prove you’re alive. If you don’t claim your humanity you will become a statistic. You have been warned.”

Nicholas Sparks, A Walk to Remember, 1999
“First you will smile, and then you will cry — don’t say you haven’t been warned.”

Richard Adams, Watership Down, 1972
“All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning. Be cunning and full of tricks and your people shall never be destroyed.”

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, 1855
“Are you the new person drawn toward me?
To begin with, take warning – I am surely far different from what you suppose;
Do you suppose you will find in me your ideal?
Do you think it so easy to have me become your lover?
Do you think the friendship of me would be unalloy’d satisfaction?
Do you think I am trusty and faithful?
Do you see no further than this façade—this smooth and tolerant manner of me?
Do you suppose yourself advancing on real ground toward a real heroic man?
Have you no thought, O dreamer, that it may be all maya, illusion?”

Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, 1971
“1) Never trust a cop in a raincoat.
2) Beware of enthusiasm and of love, both are temporary and quick to sway.
3) If asked if you care about the world’s problems, look deep into the eyes of he who asks, he will never ask you again.
4) Never give your real name.
5) If ever asked to look at yourself, don’t look.
6) Never do anything the person standing in front of you can’t understand.
7) Never create anything, it will be misinterpreted, it will chain you and follow you for the rest of your life.”

Erica Jong, Seducing the Demon: Writing for My Life, 2006
“Beware of books. They are more than innocent assemblages of paper and ink and string and glue. If they are any good, they have the spirit of the author within. Authors are rogues and ruffians and easy lays. They are gluttons for sweets and savories. They devour life and always want more. They have sap, spirit, sex. Books are panderers. The Jews are not wrong to worship books. A real book has pheromones and sprouts grass through its cover.”

Anne Rice, The Queen of the Damned, 1988
“In the flesh,” Maharet said. “In the flesh all wisdom begins. Beware the thing that has no flesh. Beware the gods, beware the idea, beware the devil.”

Timothy Leary, The Politics of Ecstasy, 1968
“Beware of emotions. Any child can tell you that. Watch out for the emotional person. He is a lurching lunatic.”

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, 1818
“Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.”