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.

9 Vintage Thanksgiving Side Dishes We Shouldn’t Bring Back

We all have that aunt—the one who’s been bringing her Miracle-Whip-bound pimiento-pea salad to Thanksgiving dinner since time immemorial. Although you may swear she got her recipe straight from the devil, it turns out that cheese-and-lime-Jell-O salads and their ilk were all the rage in her day. So it’s not (totally) her fault! To cut her a little slack, here are some examples of vintage Thanksgiving-themed recipes that will make her salad look like a perfectly golden-brown turkey.

1. CRANBERRY CANDLE SALAD

Best Foods Mayonnaise Ad 1960s with Jello Molds

Nothing complements the tart, refreshing flavor of cranberry sauce like some gelatin and salty, eggy mayonnaise. If that weren’t weird enough, this recipe also tells you to shove a real candle in there and then light it. Ostensibly, you’re supposed to eat around the melted wax, but we can’t be sure—maybe it’s considered a condiment.

2. CANDIED SWEET POTATOES WITH ANGOSTURA BITTERS

This recipe for candied sweet potatoes, which involves baking them in a mixture of butter, sugar, and angostura bitters, is probably either really good or really bad. It sort of makes sense, adding bitters to cut down on the sugar factor. Alternatively, you could just not make a candied version of something that already has the word sweet in its name.

3. CREAMED ONIONS

This once-popular Thanksgiving mainstay has been neglected over the last century, for perhaps obvious reasons. In some households, the idea was to pour creamed onions over the turkey, like gravy, to add a little moisture. Or possibly because eating a chunky mouthful of pearl onions and cream sauce by itself is gross.

4. TURKEY AND STUFFING ON JELL-O

Thanksgiving Jello Ad

There’s not much to this one, is there? It’s a pile of turkey and stuffing dumped on top of a cranberry orange Jell-O ring—sounds delicious!

5. WINTER CORN

This mixture of corn, sour cream, and bacon is sometimes found on Midwestern Thanksgiving tables. It’s mostly off-putting because its main ingredient is creamed corn. That said, creamed corn really needs all the help it can get, so adding bacon can only improve it.

6. SWEET AND SOUR TANG POPCORN (A.K.A. ASTRONAUT POPCORN)

Reportedly, this was a popular Thanksgiving dessert in the ’70s. The idea seems to be an offshoot of caramel corn, but … with Tang powder.

7. HOT DR. PEPPER

You gotta give the good folks at Dr. Pepper a few points for at least trying here. They noticed that soda was not often considered a cozy, comforting holiday drink, and they stepped up to the bat undaunted. Bold move.

8. FROZEN JELLIED TURKEY-VEGETABLE SALAD

There’s only one way to improve a dish as alluring as Jellied Turkey-Vegetable Salad, and that’s to stick it in the freezer. From the sound of the recipe—which combines cream of celery soup, salad dressing, diced turkey, vegetables, and gelatin—this is basically the inside of a turkey pot pie if it was served frozen. And also if it was square.

9. JELL-O FRUIT CORNUCOPIA

Sure, cornucopias were for holding food in olden times, but don’t you wish you could eat one? Well, guess what—your years of longing are finally over, because someone has made a Jell-O version of one with fruit trapped in it. You don’t even have to take the fruit out of the cornucopia this time—you can just pop the whole thing in your mouth. Dreams do come true.

10 Amazing Facts About Stan Lee

BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

Comic book legend Stan Lee’s life was always an open book. The co-creator of some of the greatest superheroes and most beloved stories of all time, Lee—who passed away on November 12 at the age of 95—became just as mythical and larger-than-life as the characters in the panels. In 2015, around the time of Marvel’s 75th anniversary, Lee had the idea to reflect on his own life, as he said, “in the one form it has never been depicted, as a comic book … or if you prefer, a graphic memoir.”

The result, published by the Touchstone imprint of Simon & Schuster in 2015, was Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir—which was written by Lee with Peter David and features artwork by cartoonist and illustrator Colleen Doran. Here are 10 things we learned about Lee.

1. HIS WIFE WAS ALSO HIS BARBER.

As a bit of a throwaway fact, Stanley Martin Lieber (Stan Lee) revealed the secret of his slicked back mane on the second page of his memoir. “My whole adult life, I’ve never been to a barber,” he wrote. “Joanie always cuts my hair.”

2. HIS CONFIDENCE CAME FROM HIS MOTHER.

Lee wrote that as a child he loved to read books by Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and others, and his mother often watched him read: “I probably got my self-confidence from the fact that my mother thought everything I did was brilliant.”

3. YOUNG STAN LEE WROTE OBITUARIES.

Before writing about the fantastic lives of fictional characters, Lee wrote antemortem obituaries for celebrities at an undisclosed news office in New York. He said that he eventually quit that job because it was too “depressing.”

4. CAPTAIN AMERICA WAS HIS FIRST BIG BREAK.

A week into his job at Timely Comics, Lee got the opportunity to write a two-page Captain America comic. He wrote it under the pen name Stan Lee (which became his legal name) and titled it "Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge." His first full comic script would come in Captain America Issue 5, published August 1, 1941.

5. HE WROTE TRAINING FILMS FOR THE ARMY WITH DR. SEUSS.

After being transferred from the army’s Signal Corps in New Jersey, Lee worked as a playwright in the Training Film Division in Queens with eight other men, including a few who went on to be very famous: Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Saroyan, cartoonist Charles Addams (creator of The Addams Family), director Frank Capra (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington [1939] and It’s a Wonderful Life [1946]) and Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss.

6. HE DEFIED THE COMICS CODE AUTHORITY WITH AN ANTI-DRUG COMIC.

In 1971, Lee received a letter from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare asking him to put an anti-drug message in one of his books. He came up with a Spider-Man story that involved his best friend Harry abusing pills because of a break-up. The CCA would not approve the story with their seal because of the mention of drugs, but Lee convinced his publisher, Martin Goodman, to run the comic anyway.

7. AN ISSUE AT THE PRINTERS TURNED THE HULK GREEN.

The character was supposed to be gray, but according to Lee, the printer had a hard time keeping the color consistent. “So as of issue #2,” Lee wrote, “with no explanation, he turned green.”

8. HIS WIFE DESTROYED HIS PRIZED TYPEWRITER.

According to Lee, during an argument, Joanie destroyed the typewriter he used to write the first issues for characters including Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four. “This happened before eBay," he wrote. "Too bad. I could’ve auctioned the parts and made a mint.”

9. A FIRE DESTROYED HIS INTERVIEWS AND LECTURES.

When Lee moved his family to Los Angeles, he set up a studio in Van Nuys where he stored videotapes of his talks and interviews, along with a commissioned bust of his wife. The building was lost to a blaze that the fire department believed was arson, but no one was ever charged with the crime.

10. HIS FAVORITE MARVEL FILM CAMEO WAS BASED ON ONE FROM THE COMICS.

Beginning with the first Spider-Man film in 2002, Stan Lee has made quick cameos in Marvel films as a service to the fans. He said that his appearance in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) was inspired by the story of Reed and Sue Richards’ wedding in Fantastic Four Annual Volume 1 #3, in which he and artist/writer Jack Kirby attempt to crash the ceremony but are thwarted.

A version of this story ran in 2015.

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