Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist...When Dickens was twelve years old he was sent to work in a blacking factory that made shoe polish. A middle-class, well-educated boy was not expected to work for a living but because of financial difficulties at home Dickens was sent away to work. "Not only did this open the child's eyes to the putrid underbelly of society and the many ills that plagued London's lower classes, it also burned into his soul a deep sense of abandonment." No wonder Oliver Twist rang true.
J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan...I saw a movie about the writing of Peter Pan with Johnnie Depp where the friendship with the Llewellyn-Davies family was explained as the catalyst for the writing of this childhood masterpiece. I don't know if that movie was historically accurate or not but here is a quote from Barrie to the five children which makes me think it was: "I always knew that I made Peter by rubbing the five of you violently together, as savages with two sticks produce a flame...that is all he is, the spark I got from you."
A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh... Pooh was based on a real bear, also called Winnie, who traveled from Canada with a Canadian soldier during WWI before finding a home in the London Zoo. Milne's son, Christopher Robin, loved the bear and went to the zoo often to visit it, once being allowed in the cage with the bear to feed it evaporated milk. "When Christopher told him he'd changed his teddy's name to Winnie-the-Pooh, Alan was inspired to write a book about the adventures of a chubby bear called Winnie-the-Pooh and his friend Christopher." Milne wrote these tales not for his son, or just for children, he wrote them, according to literary historians, for the child in us all.
Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind...Mrs. Mitchell didn't want any of her society friends to know that she was writing a novel. When a publisher came to town, a friend commented "that she didn't have what it took to write a novel." This comment angered Margaret "who rushed home, collected the manuscript piled it into an old suitcase...she manged to catch the publisher on the way to the railway station, about to leave the city. Thrusting the case of pages at him, she told him to take it from her before she changed her mind." By the time she got home from the train station she had changed her mind, but by the then it was too late, and a bestseller was born. One of the things the publisher insisted upon, however is that Mitchell change the name of her character from Pansy to Scarlet.
John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath... As soon as it was published The Grapes of Wrath became a banned book. "Even in its title The Grapes of Wrath was a blatant indictment against the system. Taken from the Civil War Anthem, 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic', Steinbeck was suggesting a new civil war was being staged between the rich and the poor...After the book's publication, effigies of Steinbeck were burned by angry Californians who saw his work as a scandalous distortion of the migrant situation."
William Golding, Lord of the Flies...The book was rejected by ten publishers before finding a publisher in 1953. The reading public were initially unimpressed and the book went out of print but within a few years "education departments recognized the symbolic nature of the story." Since 1960 the book has been required reading in many schools and has never been out-of-print since then.
Mario Puzo, The Godfather... Critics and readers assumed that Puzo had mob connections and first-hand information before writing his books. "The baffled writer replied, 'Where would I have time to be in the Mafia? I starved before the success of The Godfather. If I was in the Mafia I would have made enough money so I wouldn't have to write.'" I have never read these books, perhaps it is time.
Robert Baden-Powell, Scouting for Boys... Baden-Powell, a British Army officer was distraught over the lack of outdoor and survival skills his soldiers had so he wrote a little guide, Aid to Scouting. When he returned from the war he decided to write a nonmilitary manual for English lads. This manual, Scouting for Boys launched the Boys/Girl Scouts/Guides. Baden-Powell never intended to launch a worldwide movement, he just thought the book would be helpful for youth groups as they participated in outdoor activities.