John Steinbeck’s Classical Novel Eaten by his dog

If you have known or are a writer, you might be familiar with how protective writers can get with their scripts and drafts. An original manuscript is always like an asset to a writer as it is the outcome of hours, weeks, or even months of effort and creative thinking. Writing in the modern era, backed by digital services, save the writers form a number of inconveniences. Losing your work of weeks to a computer crash can be no less than a nightmare to a writer even.

Praises to IT revolution which have blessed us with the convenience of memory backup options. If you ever happen to lose your data due to Software malfunctions you can always recover it. It would not be wrong to say backup is a blessing in disguise for a writer. However, the classic novelists and writers in the 20th century, couldn’t enjoy this privilege.

Earlier in the times of typewriters and pens when manuscripts were both laborious and time taking to make, the loss of an original copy was a great loss. The threats to the work of an author were more of an elemental nature such as catching fire, being washed away, or being eaten by your dog in this case!

Classic novelist whose first draft was eaten by his dog

Steinbeck's dog - Toby

While you might have heard “my dog ate my homework” but would you believe? One of the classic novelists of 20th century John Steinbeck (1902-1968) actually had to face such misfortune in 1936 by losing the first draft of his classic novella “Of Mice and Mento his pup who ate it.

Steinbeck is said to be a great advocate of hand-written scripts. He highlighted the economic issues of rural labor in his work. Of Mice and Men also depicts the dreams and ambitions of two displaced migrant ranch laborers who kept fleeing place to place in search of new job opportunities.

It is an interesting fact that one of his most famous and globally acclaimed novella which is also considered to be a reason for his overnight success had to meet a catastrophic fate in the first place.

This event involved Steinbeck’s dog, Toby- an Irish setter pup who actually ate the first copy of John’s work in an evening when it was left alone. Unlike conventional travel writers who usually prefer working alone, Steinbeck preferred keeping company and somehow protection in the form of dogs.

Little did Steinbeck know that he will have to lose his first manuscripts of one of the future masterpieces to his beloved pup, Toby. John had to lose two months of work in an evening.

However, having great admiration for his pet dog, Steinbeck took this incident in stride. He is said to be one of the greatest pet lovers in the world of literature. He spent a great portion of his life with dogs. His work is showered with quotes about dogs which depicts his love for this loyal being.  Even after losing a huge proportion of work, Steinbeck didn’t take out his wrath on his pet and took the incident as fate.

It has been reported that the first manuscript of Mice and Men was originally titled “Something that happened” which reflects that some incidents happen to show us simply the way life is which ironically fits the scenario faced by Steinbeck when it came to the first copy of his globally acknowledged novella.

Letter by John Steinbeck to his editor mentioning the incident

In a letter written by Steinbeck to his editor, Elizabeth Otis on May 27 1936, the 34 years old writer, after the confirmation of receipt of a 94 dollars cheque (which was the commission for writing a book review for an English publication) explained the tragic fate his manuscript had met, stating:

Dear Miss Otis:

The check for $94 arrived. Thank you very much. I am enclosing the statement for your records. English criticism always amazes me, mostly because they consider us so foreign.

I never think of the English as so strange. There is a Mexican word — Americanado. It means literally Ameri-caned but by connotation queer, unusual, unpalatable, in-comprehensible, crazy. That is the way the English think of us too.

Minor tragedy stalked. I don’t know whether I told you. My setter pup, left alone one night, made confetti of about half of my ms. book [Of Mice and Men]. Two month’s work to do over again. It sets me back. There was no other draft. I was pretty mad but the poor little fellow may have been acting critically. I didn’t want to ruin a good dog for a ms. I’m not sure is good at all. He only got an ordinary spanking with his punishment flyswatter. But there’s the work to do over from the start.

When John Steinbeck had to rewrite Again

Steinbeck in doubt whether the manuscript was worth giving a read or not, decided to rewrite it and proving himself a formidably disciplined writer as he is said to be, recreated another copy of “Of Mice and Men” over the coming months. His novella got published in 1937.

Steinbeck was a college dropout who moved to New York from California to make his career as a novel writer. After having his works rejected by publishers he moved back to California and took the job as a tour guide but didn’t give up writing. Steinbeck’s parents after watching their son struggle decided to let him use their house and gave him a loan to buy paper for his manuscripts.

He got his first three books published but they failed to leave their mark. His first successful book Tortilla Flat got published in 1935 which generated him enough money to pay for the bills and his puppy- Toby.

Steinbeck was pretty curious about how his second book will do but the destruction of manuscript by Toby made him mope around for a while. He decided to start again and completed the work in time as he promised. After being published in 1937, Of Mice and Men managed to have 117,000 copies sold in first few months adding it to best sellers list.

Of Mice and Men – A major critical success

Steinbeck has strongly emphasized on dreams and ambitions in this book. In a short time span “Of Mice and Men” proved to be a huge fortune for Steinbeck and turned out to be his first major critical success. It managed to gain solid popularity and made its way to the Book-of-the -month club.

Steinbeck was widely appreciated and this proved to be an overnight success for him. Attaining the greatest positive response of any of his work John received Appreciation from many notable critics, including Maxine Garrard, Harry Thornton Moore, and Christopher Morley. New York Times critic, Ralph Thompson termed the novella as a “grand little book, for all its ultimate melodrama.”

John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” faced a backlash too.

To the point, it had been banned from various United States public and school libraries or curricula for apparently encouraging euthanasia, disregarding racial slurs, being anti-business, containing vulgarity, and in general, containing offensive language.

A majority of the restrictions and bans have been lifted and it remains an important book in many other American, British, Australian, Irish, Canadian, and New Zealand high schools.

As a consequence of being a recurrent target of censors, Of Mice and Men appeared on the American Library Association‘s list of the Most Challenged Books of the 21st Century ranking fourth. In the United Kingdom, it was listed at number 52 of the “nation’s best-loved novels” on the BBC‘s 2003 study The Big Read.

Of Mice and Men has been defied 54 times for censorship since it got published in 1937. However, scholars like Thomas Scarseth have struggled to protect the book by emphasizing its literary value. According to Scarseth “in true great literature, the pain of Life is transmuted into the beauty of Art.”

In 1962 when Steinbeck was awarded a Nobel prize, its citation referred “Of Mice and Men” as a “little masterpiece”. Its adaptation as a stage production also proved to be a huge hit, starring Wallace Ford and Broderick Crawford.

Steinbeck refused to leave his home in California to travel to attend any of the performances of the play during its New York run, informing director George S. Kaufman that the play as it existed in his own imagination was “perfect” and that anything presented on stage would only be a disappointment for him.

The production was selected by the New York Drama Critics’ Circle as the best play in 1938. The first adaptation as a film of “Of Mice and Men” was in 1939, two years after the publication of the novella, starring Lon Chaney Jr. with Burgess Meredith. It was directed by Lewis Milestone and was nominated for four Academy Awards.

John Steinbeck and his love for dogs

John Steinbeck was always respectful towards dog wisdom. He once wrote in a letter that he believed his dog was better than him in some areas. He had great affection for domestic animals. It is said that Steinbeck projected his feelings to his dogs. In the 1960s, Steinbeck decided to leave California and renew his association with all of America. He bought a small one-man camper truck and set on a sixteen-week journey which he intended to do alone but then decided to take his dog along.

He ended up writing a classic literary work. We find huge admiration and affection for dogs in his literature. He said, “I’ve seen a look in dogs’ eyes, a quickly vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that basically dogs think humans are nuts”.

It is said that John tested out his writing by reading to his dogs. Who knows Toby- the setter, might not have liked the first reading and did Steinbeck a favor. But it looks like it turned out well for Steinbeck, gaining him an overnight success. In a letter to his fellow writer Louis Paul, Steinbeck stated,

“I have promoted Toby-dog to be lieutenant-colonel in charge of literature.”

None of us can imagine losing our long-term hard work, meeting such catastrophic ends. Who would like to lose something as much as an asset to be eaten by their pup but Steinbeck took the incident as proof that some events in life are likely to happen, to show us the uncertainty of life? Don’t we all want to find editors like toby for our work? Who knows if it could do us a favor as Toby probably did to his master?

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