Literary Discovery from an Aquarium?
Aquaria may produce an endless stream of research on things that swim, but no one expects them to contribute to literary scholarship. That changed this week when Monterey Bay Aquarium employee, Lewis Rhames, announced the rediscovery of a letter from John Steinbeck in the archives, a letter that explains a bit more about who actually did the writing of the book, The Log from the Sea of Cortez.
The book tells the story of a marine expedition that Steinbeck took with Monterey biologist Ed Ricketts took in 1940 in the Gulf of California, a body of water between the Baja peninsula and the main part of Mexico that is also known as the Sea of Cortez. Along the way, Rickets collected numerous fish, crabs, anemonnie and other creatures that he cataloged and resold on return. Rickets had a small lab on Cannery Row in Monterey and he made his living supplying specimins to biology labs throughout the world.
The letter Rhames discovered helps answer the question of who wrote the book describing their adventures. While the current copy of The Log from the Sea of Cortez for sale at Amazon bears only Steinbeck's name, it's clear from the book that Rickets contributed a great percentage of the material.
In the letter, Steinbeck wrote,
“I don’t blame you for being unable to pick out my work from Ed Ricketts’, because this book was a true collaboration,”
“However, for your information, I did all of the writing. The thinking and the observation were contributed by both. The passage on non-teleological thinking was perhaps the result of six months or more of discussion. I know that collaborations always give scholars trouble. Don’t worry about this one.”
Rhames, who is an actor who works on the floor of the aquarium with guests, told Jeannie Evers of the Monterey Herald, that he wants to bring the existence of the letter to attention of Steinbeck scholars everywhere who might not know the depth of the collaboration. He pointed out that Steinbeck didn't want to remove Ricketts's from the cover but the editor in New York pushed him to do so to increase sales.