15 Things You Might Not Know About Of Mice and Men

iStock / Penguin
iStock / Penguin

You probably spent some time as a teenager reading John Steinbeck’s novella Of Mice and Men. Even if you know about Lennie and George’s heartbreaking pursuit of life, liberty, and a hutch full of rabbits, there are a few things you might have missed about the iconic story during English class. 

1. STEINBECK HAD DONE LENNIE AND GEORGE’S GIG. 

Although he was a Stanford University graduate and had published five books by the time he wrote Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck had more in common with his itinerant main characters than readers might have expected. “I was a bindle-stiff myself for quite a spell,” the author told The New York Times in 1937, employing the now archaic nickname for migrant workers. “I worked in the same country that the story is laid in.” With Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck wanted to tell the story of a community largely unheralded in literature and high culture. 

2. LENNIE WAS BASED ON A REAL PERSON.

In the same New York Times article, Steinbeck recalled a fellow laborer on whom Lennie Small’s arc was based: “Lennie was a real person. He's in an insane asylum in California right now. I worked alongside him for many weeks. He didn't kill a girl. He killed a ranch foreman. Got sore because the boss had fired his pal and stuck a pitchfork right through his stomach. I hate to tell you how many times. I saw him do it. We couldn't stop him until it was too late.” 

3. OF MICE AND MEN WAS ARGUABLY THE FIRST “PLAY-NOVELETTE.” 

The stage intrigued Steinbeck as much as prose did, and the book shares similarities with both media. Like a theatrical piece, Of Mice and Men manifests in three acts. Its narration bears the character of stage direction, and its dialogue has the feel of something one might hear in a play. 

4. STEINBECK HIMSELF WON A NEW YORK DRAMA CRITICS’ CIRCLE AWARD FOR THE STAGE PRODUCTION. 

Around eight months after its initial publication, Of Mice and Men made its way to the stage, opening in New York in November of 1937. The following year, Steinbeck accepted the New York Drama Critics’ Circle’s Best Play Award for the production. 

5. THE ORIGINAL TITLE WAS MUCH MORE MATTER-OF-FACT. 

Before he opted to make his title an homage to Scottish poet Robert Burns’ 1785 poem “To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough,” Steinbeck considered a far more deliberate option: Something That Happened.

6. THE TITULAR POEM IS NOT QUITE HOW MOST PEOPLE REMEMBER IT.

Ask any American reader to identify the line of verse that inspired Steinbeck’s title, and you’ll more than likely hear, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” In fact, this is simply the English-language paraphrasing of the original Scottish poem, which reads, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.” 

7. STEINBECK’S DOG ATE HIS HOMEWORK. REALLY. 

Perhaps none too pleased with the ultimate fate of the canines featured in Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck’s dog, Toby, devoured an early draft of the story, which the author had written longhand on notepaper. 

8. THE NOVELLA WAS AN EARLY SELECTION FOR THE BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB. 

In operation for 88 years between 1926 and 2014, the Book of the Month Club was the premiere mail order book service operating in the United States. Before it was even officially published, Of Mice and Men was chosen for distribution by the organization. 

9. OF MICE AND MEN IS ONE OF THE MOST COMMONLY READ BOOKS IN AMERICAN SCHOOLS. 

In the 1990s, the Center for the Learning and Teaching of Literature placed Steinbeck’s novella among the 10 most commonly taught books in public schools, Catholic schools, and independent high schools. 

10. THAT SAID, IT IS ALSO ONE OF THE MOST CHALLENGED BOOKS. 

Of Mice and Men proves that with such prevalence comes backlash. The novella ranked as the fifth most frequently challenged piece of literature on the American Library Association’s list of 100 Most Banned or Challenged Books between 2000 and 2009. 

11. THE BOOK HAS BEEN OPPOSED FOR SOME PECULIAR REASONS. 

By and large, the heat taken by Of Mice and Men has singled out the story’s strong language, sexual scenarios, and violence. But one organization in Chattanooga, Tenn. was a little more creative, taking issue with the “anti-business attitude” it saw in Steinbeck’s text. The establishment also raised the issue that Steinbeck “was very questionable as to his patriotism.” 

12. OF MICE AND MEN PLAYED A BIG ROLE ON LOONEY TUNES. 

Following the release of the 1939 film adaptation of the book, the Lennie character earned parody and homage alike in pop culture, most notably in Warner Bros.’ Looney Tunes shorts. Lennie took form across the cartoon canon as a hound dog (“Of Fox and Hounds” in 1940 and “Lonesome Lenny” in 1946), an oversized cat (“Hoppy Go Lucky” in 1952 and “Cat-Tails for Two” in 1953), and a tremendous yeti (“The Abominable Snow Rabbit” in 1961 and “Spaced Out Bunny” in 1980), among other incarnations.

13. THE HOUSE WHERE STEINBECK WROTE THE BOOK IS NOW A LANDMARK. 

If you’re interested in taking a gander at where the great American author wrote about Lennie and George, take a trip to Monte Sereno, Calif. Between 1936 and 1938, Steinbeck and his wife Carol lived at 16250 Greenwood Lane. The house, a 1989 addition to the National Register of Historic Places, should not be confused with Steinbeck’s similarly recognized childhood home in nearby Salinas, Calif. While in Monte Sereno, Steinbeck wrote both Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath

14. THE SAME NEIGHBORHOOD LATER INSPIRED OTHER 20TH CENTURY ARTISTS. 

Monte Sereno, as it in fact became known some time after Steinbeck’s departure from the city, was also the home of Beat Generation writer Neal Cassady and artist Thomas Kinkade

15. AN ACTIVIST GROUP HAS ADOPTED OF MICE AND MEN AS PART OF ITS CURRICULUM.

The London-based Anti-Bullying Alliance maintains a list of 10 books aimed at educating young people about the problem of bullying and potential methods for deterrence. Of Mice and Men retains a place on this list among novels like To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and nonfiction books including My Story by Rosa Parks.

This post originally ran in 2015.

16 Unforgettable Facts About Dumbo

The Walt Disney Co.
The Walt Disney Co.

Even though Dumbo is Disney's shortest feature-length movie, there are still plenty of secrets to share about this little elephant and his escapades. 

1. Like many Disney movies, this one started as a book.

Dumbo the Flying Elephant, written by Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl, started out as a 36-page "Roll-A-Book." The "book" was a series of illustrations on a scroll, and readers would turn a little wheel at the top of the "book" to read the next panel.

2. Dumbo originally had a different sidekick.

Edward Brophy in Dumbo
The Walt Disney Co.

In the original book, Timothy Q. Mouse didn't exist. Instead, Dumbo’s sidekick was Red Robin. By the end of the book, Red and Dumbo have signed a film contract and are headed to Hollywood.

3. The studio had to keep production cheap.

Due to the war efforts, the studio had instructions to keep Dumbo as inexpensive as possible. As a result, backgrounds are noticeably less detailed than in other Disney movies, and the characters are much simpler. By the end of production, Dumbo had cost just $812,000 to make.

4. Dumbo almost landed the cover of Time.

TIME magazine had plans to honor Dumbo as “Mammal of the Year.” But then Pearl Harbor happened and they opted for a more serious cover, though they still called the animated elephant “Mammal of the Year” in an inside feature.

5. An animator’s strike was parodied in the movie.

There was an extremely heated animator’s strike during production. It's said that Disney mocked his striking workers by putting a scene in where a group of clowns decide to "hit the big boss for a raise." See for yourself:

6. The movie is only 64 minutes long.

At just over an hour, Dumbo is the shortest feature-length Disney movie. Walt was advised to extend the storyline, but he resisted, saying, "You can stretch a story just so far and after that it won't hold together."

7. Harry Truman refused to try the Dumbo ride at Disneyland.

When Harry S. Truman visited Disneyland in 1957, he refused to ride the popular attraction based on the Dumbo movie. It wasn't a fear of heights that stopped him, though; Truman, a Democrat, didn't want to be seen riding in a symbol of the Republican party.

8. Dumbo was Walt Disney’s personal favorite movie.

A scene from 'Dumbo' (1941)
The Walt Disney Co.

When the movie later aired on the Disneyland TV show, Disney admitted to the audience that Dumbo held a special place in his heart. “From the very start, Dumbo was a happy picture," he said. "We weren’t restricted by any set storyline so we could give our imaginations full play. In other words, if a good idea came to us, we’d put it in the story. It was really a happy picture from beginning to end.”

9. Dumbo II almost happened.

After being named chief creative officer of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios in 2006, one of John Lasseter’s first acts was to quash a proposed sequel that was in the works. The premise: Dumbo and his circus buddies have to figure their way out of the big city after the circus train accidentally leaves them there.

10. A live-action remake is in the works.

Though it was originally announced in 2015, bringing a live-action version of Dumbo to the big screen took a little longer than anticipated. The Tim Burton-directed movie won't be out until later this month, and film execs have hinted that the story will take viewers beyond the original tale. 

11. Cels from Dumbo are extremely valuable.

Not knowing that original animation cels would someday be worth a lot of money, artists weren’t too careful with preserving their art. In fact, it was just the opposite: while animators were working on movies like Fantasia and Dumbo, they’d take the finished slippery cels and use them to skate down hallways. Between that and the fact that the earth-toned paints used in the Dumbo color palette were particularly prone to flaking, any remaining cels from the film are among the most valuable of any Disney movie.

12. The song “Baby Mine” was nominated for an Academy Award.

Get your hankies out! The heartbreaking tune, sung while Jumbo the elephant uses her trunk to rock baby Dumbo through the bars of her cage, was nominated for an Oscar but lost to “The Last Time I Saw Paris” from Lady Be Good. The film did win an Oscar for Best Score, however.

13. The “Pink Elephants on Parade” segment is a bit controversial.

Of course it is! It features candy-colored pachyderm hallucinations that are the result of an underage drinker imbibing too much champagne. Though the scene passed muster in 1941, it doesn’t always today. When Dumbo is reformatted for publication, the “Pink Elephant” scene is often replaced with Dumbo dreaming of flying.

14. Dumbo has an octopus named after him.

Thanks to the ear-like fins that protrude from the sides of their heads, these Grimpoteuthis octopods have been dubbed the “Dumbo” octopus. The fins help them swim, of course, not fly.

15. Dumbo did speak—eventually.

Dumbo didn’t utter a single word during the 1941 movie, but by the 1980s the little elephant had grown up and found his voice. When the live-action show Dumbo’s Circus debuted on The Disney Channel more than 40 years after the original movie, Dumbo was suddenly pretty chatty.

16. A tune called "Sing a Song of Cheese" was cut from the film.

Timothy Q. Mouse was once slated to sing an ode to his favorite dairy product. It was axed from the final film, presumably because it didn't actually have anything to do with the plot of the movie.

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2015.

The 10 Most Popular Puppy Names of 2019

iStock.com/Lakshmi3
iStock.com/Lakshmi3

If you brought home a new dog or puppy recently and named it Luna, you’re far from the only one. The name, which means moon in Latin, is the most popular puppy name for 2019.

This analysis of cute canine monikers comes from Trupanion, a provider of medical insurance for pets. The company looked at its database of 500,000 dogs and crunched the numbers to identify the names that are currently having a moment. (Although some of the names that cracked the top 10 list, like Daisy and Max, have been around for quite some time.)

Interestingly, Luna wasn’t always popular. As Trupanion points out, “Looking back 10 years, Luna was barely a blip on the name game chart … not even cracking the list of top 20 names.” Nor did it appear on ​Banfield Pet Hospital's list of the 10 most popular dog names of 2018.

Often, there's some overlap between popular pet names and baby names. Luna was the 31st most popular baby name for girls in 2018. This is perhaps linked to the popularity of the Harry Potter character Luna Lovegood, as well as the publicity the name has received in recent years from celebrities like John Legend and Chrissy Teigen and Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem, as both couples named their daughters Luna.

Second on the list of popular puppy names is Bella (its longer form, Isabella, was the fifth most popular baby name for girls last year). Check out the top 10 list below to see if your pooch’s name is trending right now.

1. Luna
2. Bella
3. Charlie
4. Bailey
5. Lucy
6. Cooper
7. Max
8. Daisy
9. Bear
10. Oliver

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