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15 Facts About Slaughterhouse-Five

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Based on his experiences as a POW during the Allied bombing of Dresden in 1945, Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five is (rightfully) considered a modern literary masterpiece. It propelled Vonnegut, who had been largely ignored and classified as a sci-fi paperback writer, to fame and literary acclaim.

The novel follows Billy Pilgrim, a man who has become "unstuck in time," and weaves together different periods of his life—his time as a hapless soldier, his post-war optometry career, and a foray in an alien zoo where he served as an exhibit—with humor and profundity. "The dominant theme of what I have written during the past forty-five years or so,” Vonnegut wrote in 1994, “is the inhumanity of many of man’s inventions to man.”

Here are 15 things you may not have known about this 1969 classic (not that the dates matter to Tralfamadorians):

1. After repeated and failed attempts to start his "Dresden book," Vonnegut finally began what would become Slaughterhouse-Five during a two-year teaching stint at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He had stopped writing fiction and was in a considerable funk when he accepted the invitation, offered by his former editor George Starbuck who was a full-time professor of English at the university.

2. He credits the program for rekindling his love of literature. "At Iowa I was suddenly friends with Nelson Algren and Jose Donoso and Vance Bourjaily and Donald Justice...and was amazed. Suddenly writing seemed very important again. This was better than a transplant of monkey glands for a man my age." He also became friends with Richard Yates while there, and some of his students included Gail Godwin, John Irving, Jonathan Penner, Bruce Dobler, John Casey, and Jane Casey.

3. Impressed by the book reviews Vonnegut wrote during his hiatus from fiction, publisher Seymour Lawrence offered Vonnegut a $25,000 advance to work on his Dresden book (and two other novels) full-time.

4. Published on March 31, 1969, Slaughterhouse-Five became an instant and surprise hit. It spent sixteen weeks on the New York Times best seller list and went through five printings by July.

5. The novel owes much of its immediate success to two rave reviews; one in the New York Times Book Review, which was featured on the section's front page, and another in the Saturday Review.

6. Robert Scholes, who wrote the Times review, was a colleague of Vonnegut's at Iowa. As Jerome Kinkowitz writes in The Vonnegut Effect, “A correlation exists between the first two major reviews of Slaughterhouse-Five: each was written by a critic who had heard Vonnegut speak to audiences, and who had been, moreover, impressed by the personal voice in the author’s fictive statement. Not that public speaking was Vonnegut’s chosen profession; rather, his talk at Notre Dame University’s Literary Festival (as heard by Granville Hicks) and his two-year lectureship at the University of Iowa (where Robert Scholes was a colleague) were stopgap measures to generate some income after his customary publishing markets had either closed or ceased to respond."

7. Slaughterhouse-Five was banned from Oakland County, Michigan public schools in 1972. The circuit judge there accused the novel of being “depraved, immoral, psychotic, vulgar, and anti-Christian.” In 1973, a school board in North Dakota immolated 32 copies of the book in the high school's coal burner.

“My books are being thrown out of school libraries all over the country—because they’re supposedly obscene," Vonnegut told the Paris Review. "I’ve seen letters to small-town newspapers that put Slaughterhouse-Five in the same class with Deep Throat and Hustler magazine. How could anybody masturbate to Slaughterhouse-Five?”

8. Slaughterhouse-Five is still being banned in schools. In 2011, Wesley Scroggins, an assistant professor at Missouri State University, called on the Republic, MO school board to ban Vonnegut's novel. He wrote in the local paper, “This is a book that contains so much profane language, it would make a sailor blush with shame. The ‘f word’ is plastered on almost every other page. The content ranges from naked men and women in cages together so that others can watch them having sex to God telling people that they better not mess with his loser, bum of a son, named Jesus Christ.” The board eventually voted 4-0 to remove the novel from the high school curriculum and its library.

9. In response to this ban, the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis gave away 150 free copies of Slaughterhouse-Five to Republic, Missouri students who wanted to read it.

10. The American Library Association listed the book as the 46th most banned or challenged book of the first decade of the 21st century.

11. A film adaptation of Slaughterhouse-Five directed by George Roy Hill and starring Michael Sacks as Billy Pilgrim was produced in 1972. Vonnegut called it "flawless."

12. The character "Wild Bob" is based on William Joseph Cody Garlow, grandson of Buffalo Bill Cody and commander of the 423rd regiment in World War II. A private in that regiment, Vonnegut was captured along with Garlow on December 19, 1944 at the Battle of the Bulge.

13. While Vonnegut fills the novel with non-fiction asides and excerpts from real accounts, the pornographic postcard carried around by Roland Weary depicting a woman with a pony flanked by doric columns is non-existent; the story of the photographer André Le Fèvre is completely fictionalized. However, the name "André Le Fèvre" may come from André Lefèvre, a famous French scoutmaster—the equivalent of a Boy Scout leader.

14. In a "Special Message" written for the Franklin Library's limited edition of Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut writes, “The Dresden atrocity, tremendously expensive and meticulously planned, was so meaningless, finally, that only one person on the entire planet got any benefit from it. I am that person. I wrote this book, which earned a lot of money for me and made my reputation, such as it is... One way or another, I got two or three dollars for every person killed. Some business I’m in.”

15. "So it goes," the book's melancholic refrain, appears in the text 106 times.

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10 Terrific Facts About Stephen King
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Scott Eisen/Getty Images for Warner Bros.

As if being one of the world's most successful and prolific writers wasn't already reason enough to celebrate, Stephen King is ringing in his birthday as the toast of Hollywood. As It continues to break box office records, we're digging into the horror master's past. Here are 10 things you might not have known about Stephen King, who turns 70 years old today.

1. STEPHEN KING AND HIS WIFE, TABITHA, OWN A RADIO STATION.

Stephen and Tabitha King own Zone Radio, a company that serves to head their three radio stations in Maine. One of them, WKIT, is a classic rock station that goes by the tagline "Stephen King's Rock Station."

2. HE'S A HARDCORE RED SOX FAN.

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Not only did he write a story about the Boston Red Sox—The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (who was a former Red Sox pitcher)—he also had a cameo in the Jimmy Fallon/Drew Barrymore movie Fever Pitch, which is about a crazed Sox fan. He plays himself and throws out the first pitch at a game.

In 2004, King and Stewart O'Nan, another novelist, chronicled their reactions to the season that finally brought the World Series title back to Beantown. It's appropriately titled Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season.

3. HE WAS HIT BY A CAR, THEN BOUGHT THE CAR THAT HIT HIM.

You probably remember that King was hit by a van not far from his summer home in Maine in 1999. The incident left King with a collapsed lung, multiple fractures to his hip and leg, and a gash to the head. Afterward, King and his lawyer bought the van for $1500 with King announcing that, "Yes, we've got the van, and I'm going to take a sledgehammer and beat it!"

4. AS A KID, HIS FRIEND WAS STRUCK AND KILLED BY A TRAIN.

King's brain seems to be able to create chilling stories at such an amazing clip, yet he's seen his fair share of horror in real life. In addition to the aforementioned car accident, when King was just a kid his friend was struck and killed by a train (a plot line that made it into his story "The Body," which was adapted into Stand By Me). While it would be easy to assume that this incident informed much of King's writing, the author claims to have no memory of the event:

"According to Mom, I had gone off to play at a neighbor’s house—a house that was near a railroad line. About an hour after I left I came back (she said), as white as a ghost. I would not speak for the rest of the day; I would not tell her why I’d not waited to be picked up or phoned that I wanted to come home; I would not tell her why my chum’s mom hadn’t walked me back but had allowed me to come alone.

"It turned out that the kid I had been playing with had been run over by a freight train while playing on or crossing the tracks (years later, my mother told me they had picked up the pieces in a wicker basket). My mom never knew if I had been near him when it happened, if it had occurred before I even arrived, or if I had wandered away after it happened. Perhaps she had her own ideas on the subject. But as I’ve said, I have no memory of the incident at all; only of having been told about it some years after the fact."

5. HE WROTE A MUSICAL WITH JOHN MELLENCAMP.

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King, John Mellencamp, and T Bone Burnett collaborated on a musical, Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, which made its debut in 2012. The story is based on a house that Mellencamp bought in Indiana that came complete with a ghost story. Legend has it that three siblings were messing around in the woods and one of the brothers accidentally got shot. The surviving brother and sister jumped in the car to go get help, and in their panic, swerved off the road right into a tree and were killed instantly. Of course, the three now haunt the woods by Mellencamp's house.

6. HE PLAYED IN A BAND WITH OTHER SUCCESSFUL AUTHORS.

King played rhythm guitar for a band made up of successful writers called The Rock Bottom Remainders. From 1992 to 2012, the band "toured" about once a year. In addition to King, Amy Tan, Dave Barry, Mitch Albom, Barbara Kingsolver, Matt Groening and Ridley Pearson were just some of its other members.

7. HE'S A NATIVE MAINER.

A photo of Stephen King's home in Bangor, Maine.
By Julia Ess - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

King writes about Maine a lot because he knows and loves The Pine Tree State: he was born there, grew up there, and still lives there (in Bangor). Castle Rock, Derry, and Jerusalem's Lot—the fictional towns he has written about in his books—are just products of King's imagination, but he can tell you exactly where in the state they would be if they were real.

8. HE HAS BATTLED DRUG AND ALCOHOL PROBLEMS.

Throughout much of the 1980s, King struggled with drug and alcohol abuse. In discussing this time, he admitted that, "There's one novel, Cujo, that I barely remember writing at all. I don't say that with pride or shame, only with a vague sense of sorrow and loss. I like that book. I wish I could remember enjoying the good parts as I put them down on the page."

It came to a head when his family members staged an intervention and confronted him with drug paraphernalia they had collected from his trash can. It was the eye-opener King needed; he got help and has been sober ever since.

9. THERE WAS A RUMOR THAT HE WROTE A LOST TIE-IN NOVEL.

King was an avid Lost fan and sometimes wrote about the show in his Entertainment Weekly column, "The Pop of King." The admiration was mutual. Lost's writers mentioned that King was a major influence in their work. There was a lot of speculation that he was the man behind Bad Twin, a Lost tie-in mystery, but he debunked that rumor.

10. HE IS SURROUNDED BY WRITERS.

A photo of Stephen King's son, author Joe Hill
Joe Hill
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Stephen isn't the only writer in the King family: His wife, Tabitha King, has published several novels. Joe, their oldest son, followed in his dad's footsteps and is a bestselling horror writer (he writes under the pen name Joe Hill). Youngest child Owen has written a collection of short stories and one novella and he and his dad co-wrote Sleeping Beauties, which will be released later this month (Owen also married a writer). Naomi, the only King daughter, is a minister and gay activist.

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Dedicated Middle School Teacher Transforms His Classroom Into Hogwarts
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Kyle Ely

It would be hard to dread back-to-school season with Kyle Ely as your teacher. As ABC News reports, the instructor brought a piece of Hogwarts to Evergreen Middle School in Hillsboro, Oregon by plastering his classroom with Harry Potter-themed decor.

The journey into the school's makeshift wizarding world started at his door, which was decorated with red brick wall paper and a "Platform 9 3/4" sign above the entrance. Inside, students found a convincing Hogwarts classroom complete with floating candles, a sorting hat, owl statues, and house crests. He even managed to recreate the starry night sky effect of the school’s Great Hall by covering the ceiling with black garbage bags and splattering them with white paint.

The whole project cost the teacher around $300 to $400 and took him 70 hours to build. As a long-time Harry Potter fan, he said that being able to share his love of the book series with his students made it all pay off it. He wrote in a Facebook post, "Seeing their faces light up made all the time and effort put into this totally worth it."

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Though wildly creative, the Hogwarts-themed classroom at Evergreen Middle School isn't the first of its kind. Back in 2015, a middle school teacher in Oklahoma City outfitted her classroom with a potions station and a stuffed version of Fluffy to make the new school year a little more magical. Here are some more unique classroom themes teachers have used to transport their kids without leaving school.

[h/t ABC News]

Images courtesy of Kyle Ely.

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