Every teacher has rolled their eyes at the “my dog ate my homework” excuse, but it really happened to one of America’s most revered authors. In 1936, John Steinbeck’s dog Toby, an Irish setter, turned the first draft of Of Mice and Men into a snack. In a letter dated May 27 of that year, the future Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winner wrote that he “was pretty mad, but the poor little fellow may have been acting critically.”
Steinbeck estimated that Toby making “confetti” of the manuscript would set him back by about two months, but it may have been worth it: Steinbeck’s short, tragic tale of two migrant workers eking out a humble existence in California during the Depression is among the author’s most moving and accomplished works, which is saying something for the man responsible for both East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath. Steinbeck, a lifelong dog-lover, later wrote a travelogue featuring his poodle called Travels with Charley.
Much is lost in translation, but the title of Steinbeck’s most acclaimed novel wasn’t one of those things. The oft-cited rumor that The Grapes of Wrath carried the title The Angry Raisins in Japan comes from a 1996 New York Times article written about Elaine Steinbeck, the author’s widow, but no evidence supports it. The anecdote has spread far and wide nevertheless, thus proving — quite literally, in this case — a quote misattributed to Mark Twain: “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.”