Books

John Steinbeck Wrote a Novel About Werewolves, But You Can’t Read It

In a still from Teen Wolf, Michael J. Fox, dressed as a werewolf, prepares to bowl.
Scholars theorize that John Steinbeck’s unpublished werewolf novel may include a scene in which a werewolf goes bowling. MGM

On Saturday, the Guardian reported that among the holdings at the University of Texas’ Harry Ransom Center is the manuscript for an unpublished novel about werewolves written by John Steinbeck. That’s right: John Steinbeck wrote a novel about lycanthropes, those doomed souls eternally curst by the bite of a ravenous man-wolf to undergo a ghastly transformation into a bloodthirsty beast whenever the bone-white light of the full moon shines upon the silent village below. Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962 for his socially-conscious chronicles of the Dust Bowl like The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men, but since none of those books are about werewolves, Stanford professor Gavin Jones is urging the Steinbeck estate to finally publish Murder at Full Moon. The manuscript, rejected by publishers in 1930, is the only surviving trace of three unpublished novels Steinbeck wrote early in his career. Releasing it to the public at long last, Jones argues, will give readers and academics a more complete picture of Steinbeck’s work, particularly when it comes to werewolves.

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With any luck, Murder at Full Moon will eventually make its way to bookstores, but today’s high-powered professionals don’t have time to wait around for the Steinbeck estate to make up their minds in order to find out what John Steinbeck thinks about werewolves. Fortunately, “What would a werewolf novel by John Steinbeck be like?” is exactly the kind of question computers were invented in order to answer, and since investigative journalism involving any kind of computer technology offers nearly unlimited opportunities for embezzlement, we convinced Slate’s management to lavishly fund a “Manhattan Project” to design and build a supercomputer capable of simulating the text of a werewolf novel written by John Steinbeck.

As soon as the check cleared, we trained an A.I. using the complete texts of The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, the account of a werewolf in Petronious’ Satyricon, Leitch Ritchie’s 1831 novel The Man Wolf, and the lyrics to “Werewolves of London,” by Warren Zevon. We’ll leave it for the courts to decide whether or not we “custom-built a supercomputer to host a sentient artificial intelligence known as the WERE-BECK,” as certain expense reports allege, or, as Slate’s lawyers would have it, “learned barely enough about Google Colaboratory to run Max Woolf’s pre-built textgenrnn implementation,” but we think the results speak for themselves. Here, then, is an exclusive, computer-simulated excerpt from John Steinbeck’s unpublished werewolf novel Murder at Full Moon, slightly edited for clarity:

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You ain’t gonna be pretty now. They got to eat. They say they got to get there. We don’t want no trouble, an’ got jus’ the fella to try to get a car. They were wild cards, and the big quiet. They was a blanket on the stove.

“Who’s the Grampa?”

“No,” said Tom. “I don’t know why. I can’t remember. I don’t know what the hell with the family and the dusty star chains completely in the earth and the shadows on the great stove and the shadow of the bank on the dusty water close to the ground.” Now and then he took the potatoes and the leaves were half.

The men were up and the second giggled into the darkness.

She reached down the ditch as he went. “Well, I got to get some little piece. And the hollows could last for a mile.” And then the sun was silent, and the sun was silent.

Tom said, “Well, he ain’t spoolin’, an’ I’m gonna get that pig to set on the road,” and climbed up the shade of the mountains, and the stream rolled near the top of his bunk. “I don’t know how long you done.”

“Well, you ain’t gonna ring to work with the wrecks down the river. I’d like to go a-preachin’ aroun’ the stove. I wouldn’t have no sense, we got to get thirty-five cents a box.”

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Reading this excerpt, it’s amazing how much of Steinbeck’s mature style was already present in this early, simulated novel. You can really see what the Nobel Prize committee meant when they hailed Steinbeck’s “realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception.” You can also really see that Slate’s legal department is unlikely to believe that generating that excerpt above required hundreds of millions of dollars in computer equipment, which is why we hired a monkey with a typewriter to falsify the results. After washing off the poop the monkey had thrown at us, we sat down at what was left of the typewriter and faked the output ourselves. Here, then, is science’s best guess at what Murder at Full Moon is like. Spoilers follow:

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“Tom,” Ma repeated, “what you gonna do, now that you’re a werewolf?”

“It don’ matter. I’ll be all aroun’ in the dark, whenever the moon is full. I’ll be ever’where—wherever they’s a farmer wonderin’ what’s been rippin’ the throats out of their sheep every full moon, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a suspiciously-hirsute high school basketball player pulling off sick dunks, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a high-powered literary editor who’s mad at James Spader for fuckin’ his wife, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys howl at the moon when they’re happy an’—I’ll be in the way pups whine when they’re hungry an’ they know there’s an easy-to-mutilate little old lady nearby. An’ when a pack of lycanthropes eats an entire family an’ paints their house’s walls with their lifeblood, why, I’ll be there. See?”

Ma shook herself. “No,” she said. “For it is written that the curse of the werewolf can only be lifted by a bullet cast of pure silver.”

Tom said craftily, “Tell me like you done before.”

“Tell you what?”

“’Bout the werewolves of London.”

“Look at the moon, Tom, and I’ll tell you so you can almost see it.”

Tom dutifully turned his head. “Aaaaa-oooooooo!” he howled.

“We gonna go to London,” Ma began. She reached in her side pocket and brought out the Luger loaded with silver bullets.

“Go on,” said Tom. “How’s it gonna be. We gonna go to London.”

“We’ll walk through the streets of Soho in the rain,” said Ma. “An’ we’ll have maybe Chinese menus in our hands … an’ we’ll be lookin’ for the place called … Lee Ho Fooks—”

Tom giggled with happiness. “Gonna get a big dish of beef chow mein?”

“Gonna get a big dish of beef chow mein.”

The crash of the silver bullet rolled up the hills and rolled down again. Tom jarred, and then settled slowly forward to the sand, where, through a series of camera dissolves, his werewolf hair appeared to recede into his skin.

Curley and Carlson looked over. And Carlson said, “Now what the hell ya suppose has been eatin’ my livestock?”

Stirring words indeed, from one of America’s great literary masters. Whether the Steinbeck estate publishes Murder at Full Moon or not, we can all agree that Slate got more than its money’s worth from this project, and should not investigate any further.

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