John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men is one of the classics of American literature, but its iconic status was nearly threatened by an unlikely culprit: the author's dog. In 1936, Steinbeck was working on the manuscript of Of Mice and Men when his Irish setter, Toby, managed to gobble up half of Steinbeck's handwritten pages. This was essentially the loss of two months of writing, but Steinbeck attempted to deal with the comically tragic situation with equanimity.
Even at the time, Steinbeck was able to find some humor in the fact that a dog had eaten his work. In a letter to his editor, Steinbeck wrote, "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 (manuscript) I’m not sure is good at all."
We'll never know if the pages that Toby destroyed would have been better than the masterpiece that Steinbeck ultimately published, but at least the story gives some credence to the age-old excuse of "My dog ate my homework."
The literary life of John Steinbeck:
- Steinbeck was a lifelong dog lover. He famously depicted his road trip across the United States in the company of a Standard Poodle named Charley in the 1960 travelogue Travels with Charley.
- Steinbeck's original title for Of Mice and Men was Something that Happened, but he changed it after reading the Robert Burns poem "To a Mouse."
- Of Mice and Men has frequently been banned from public schools, due to the author's frank depiction of racism in the 1930s, including racial slurs.