Steinbeck’s Unfinished Novel

by Roy H. Williams on April 11, 2016

Roy H. Williams · Invisible Heros · April 11, 2016

Pendulum in Action, invisible heroes, John SteinbeckJohn Steinbeck began writing a novel in the summer of 1957 and abandoned it the day after Christmas.

I was born 93 days later.

Those two events were unconnected before today.

Steinbeck wrote the first 114 pages of his novel before setting it aside. He had already completed 25 novels, including The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, Of Mice and Men and Cannery Row. He was 55 years old.

Steinbeck went on to publish The Winter of Our Discontent in 1961 and then Travels With Charley in 1962 and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature that same year.

He died in 1968, having published nothing else.

I was 10.

“I think he got to a point where he felt he couldn’t contribute anymore. And it was too heartbreaking to try. I mean, after awhile you get tired of being under attack. You’ve got to remember this was a man who had been under attack since he was a young man. He was under attack most of his life. When he wrote The Grapes of Wrath people thought he’d betrayed his own class.”
– Thom Steinbeck, (John’s son,) Sept. 2009

Thom went on to say his father was “a mythologist… He could take the broad myth and reduce it down to something you could understand and were living right next door to.”

The novel John Steinbeck didn’t finish was the story of an American who watched one too many westerns on television, then put on a cowboy hat and spurs and went out into the city to correct the injustices he saw all around him.

In June, 2010, CBS News announced, “John Steinbeck Archive to be Auctioned. Never-Published Works Among Letters and Manuscripts from Nobel Prize Winner’s NYC Apartment.”

That CBS story included the following lines:

“The writer [Steinbeck] had Ingrid Bergman in mind for Vikings, a film script adaptation of a Henrik Ibsen play that he began in 1954 but later abandoned, which Larson attributed to his restless nature and busy schedule. Another project that was later abandoned was a 1957 reworking of Don Quixote, which Steinbeck titled Don Keehan – The Marshal of Manchon. Bloomsbury’s catalog says he had high hopes for it and even considered director Elia Kazan for a movie version with [Henry] Fonda in the lead.”

Have you figured it out yet? I bought the unfinished manuscript.

It sat a long while in a New York bank while they tried to figure out how to insure the manuscript and transport it. They already had my money so I told’em to just shove it into a UPS envelope. But they wouldn’t hear of it.

It finally arrived a few minutes ago. I got 6 pages into it, then set it aside just now to write you this note because a wild and funny thought barged into my head:

Are you ready? I’m going to finish it.

“You’re going to finish reading it?”

No, I’m going to finish writing it.

“What! Who do you think you are?”

I think I’m a ridiculous, middle-aged man who believes it would be fun to write the back half of an unfinished Steinbeck novel.

“Are you comparing yourself with John Steinbeck?”

No. I just think it would be fun. I like to write and this is America and I bought the manuscript.

“You won’t be able to publish it.”

I don’t plan to publish it.

“There are hundreds of writers more qualified than you to undertake such an important task.”

They should have pooled their money and bought the manuscript.

“People will be outraged.”

Those people stay outraged anyway.

“You should leave Don Keehan unfinished out of respect for John Steinbeck.”

“I plan to finish it out of respect for John Steinbeck.”

“Are you really going to do this?”

Yes, I’m really going to do this.

“Can I read it when you’re done?”

No. You’re an obstructionist and a pest. Go away.

Wizard Academy students and alumni will have access to Don Keehan, The Marshall of Manchon in the library tower where he will reside.

Sorry, but I’ve got to run. I have more reading to do.

Exactly 108 more pages.


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