Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Of Mice And Bunnies

Each year, I try to go back and read a classic novel that I've missed.

Given that there are thousands of classics I haven't yet read, and each year I perhaps read no more than a couple of them, there's no shortage of great books to choose from.

Just recently, I read John Steinbeck's Of Mice And Men

The only other Steinbeck novel I'd read was The Grapes of Wrath which I read back in first year university and absolutely loved. So I was eager (yes, I know, it was after more than 20 years - but I occasionally display a bit of patience) to pick up another Steinbeck novel.

Set in the same Great Depression era as The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men tells the story of two migrant workers named George Milton and Lenny Small.  George is a smart and cynical man with a "plan" for the two of them.  His companion, Lennie, is a large, hulking and incredibly strong man with a mental disability. The two travel together to work on various ranches all the while dreaming of owning their own place. Though he seems to be cynical and scheming in his ways, George looks out for and cares Lennie as if he were a younger brother.

Regularly, throughout the novel, Lennie asks George to again, tell him like it will be one day. As George decribes the dream of their ownership of land, Lennie always fixates on the bunnies, on feeding them and caring for them and petting them and says things like: "Tell me again about the rabbits, George."

I was just near the beginning of the novel when I began to realize the old Bugs Bunny cartoon featuring Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck encountering an abominable snowman was making a reference to this novel. The creature, who picks up both Bugs and Daffy at different times says things like:  "Just what I always wanted. A bunny rabbit of my very own. I will love him, and pet him and hug him and squeeze him and call him George."

As soon as I thought about the snowman's fixation on calling the rabbit George, I figured it must be a reference to Of Mice and Men.

I should have known. Looney Tunes cartoons were continually referencing popular cultural, historical and  literary references. Writer Tedd Pierce and director Chuck Jones were obviously having some fun with the Steinbeck allusion.

Of course, I say obvious now, because for decades I thought the Abominable Snowman scene was hilarious, how the giant lovable monster practically crushed Bugs and Daffy to death out of an over-eager love to cuddle with them. But it wasn't until I read Steinbeck's novel that I realized and could fully appreciate the allusion that was being made in the cartoon.  And reminded myself how these classic cartoons could be enjoyed on so many different levels.

I find it interesting to reaffirm how reading a classic helps you re-appreciate other works that made subtle or not-so-subtle references to them.


Rand MacIvor said...

Great post, Mark!!

lime said...

i am both a steinbeck fan and a bug bunny fan. glad you enjoyed "of mice and men." i remember thinking my dad was torturing me when he'd listen to classcal music but then he pointed out some of his favorite works were all over bugs bunny cartoons. so yes, i agree. it's great how the animators were referencing all sorts of more "high brow" things.

Anonymous said...

I love Steinbecks' work; I read numerous novels of his in my high school years and have to say that he was instrumental in my wanting to become a writer. One of my favorites is 'Travels with Charley'; I'll never tire of that book. Glad you're enjoying him.