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George and Lennie George and Lennie
by Asa Butcher
2006-11-03 09:42:24
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Of Mice and Men
Written by John Steinbeck
Covici, Friede, Inc, 1937

John Steinbeck is lucky he died in 1968 because I was going to get a restraining order against his stalking author ass. I was happily reading Casino Royale when Ian Fleming suddenly compares one of the henchmen to Lennie in Of Mice and Men and then Jostein Gaarder talks about Steinbeck and the same book in Sophie's World. Next, while researching the All Quiet on the Western Front iKritic, I discover that Lewis Milestone also directed the 1939 Of Mice and Men film. The man was everywhere and then he was in front of me.

Ok, it wasn't John Steinbeck in the flesh or even his ghost, but a copy of the novella with which he is so greatly associated: Of Mice and Men. The slim book was sat on the shelf of a bookshop in which I was killing some time, I had just the right amount of change in my pocket and it was a temptation to great to resist, especially after it had doggedly pursued me from book to book, book to movie.

My first thought was about the size of the book. In the same way that Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness had surprised me, I couldn't believe how short the story appeared to be and how thin the book felt in my hands. I have come to associate classic literature to thick volumes of text, such as Dickens, yet this book felt like a play we used to read in school - it is a great disappointment that I never did.

It was a surprise to learn that some American school libraries have banned it (I won't write the reason because it would spoil the story) and has been the frequent target of censors, which led to its appearance at number six of the American Library Association's 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000. It truly baffles me how this book could cause controversy of any kind with its powerful story of friendship, hope, loneliness and loss.

First published in 1937, Of Mice and Men is about George and his simple-minded giant of a friend Lennie, who are two drifters during the Great Depression of the 1930s. They share a dream of saving enough money to buy a ranch of their own, but, like a real mouse, Lennie continually gets into trouble and George has to bail him out, until he is unable to save his simple friend one day.

Over a mere 120 pages, Steinbeck forces you to develop an emotional connection with all the characters, especially with the main two characters. You can't help but feel sympathy and respect for George, who has given up any chance of an easy life by taking care of the child-like Lennie. Steinbeck forces you to consider the values of friendship and commitment, and then he turns the world on its head and leaves you shocked.

The reason why this novella continually pops up in different books is simple: it is a superb piece of fiction. It is beautifully written, its characters are rough, yet lovable, and the relationships and interactions are enough to make you laugh and cry. Of Mice and Men should have been introduced to me as a teenager and I am angry that it has taken until this year to finally experience the world of John Steinbeck…what other classics have I missed.

"The best-laid schemes o mice an men, Gang aft agley" - 'To a Mouse' by Robert Burns

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