Did a bit of searching on Steinbeck's "To a God Unknown"... which just arrived yesterday along with a CD of gamelan music. (Thanks for the Xmas present! Very much appreciated!)
It was the first real book that I read that really spoke to me about paganism. I also think it was the right one to read, in that it shows both the positive and negative aspects. If you want a vision of wild, chaotic nature worship, it is very much worth reading. It will change your perspective on your reality (esp. if you live in California), and , if you are inclined towards paganism, it will change your thoughts on, well... practically everything. It's about the closest I've ever seen to a Californian mythology, imbueing the land with a tangible, mystical power.
Lots of people hate Steinbeck with a passion in Northern California, probably from being forced to read him in school. Steinbeck isn't an easy read, I guess. Still, when you spend your high school years in a highly unstructured classroom environment based on German teaching methods, and you see a book buried away in a file cabinet that looks interesting... well, I liked Steinbeck. I read "To a God Unknown" and then voraciously read everything else of his, too. I loved his vision of California... too bad that it has since been covered over with asphault and touristy seafood restaurants.
One very interesting tidbit that seems somehow quite fitting is that well before Steinbeck became famous, he met a young, unemployed, nearly 30 year old scholar/athlete named Joseph Campbell. Both of them influenced each other... Steinbeck would read the unfinished manuscript for "To a God Unknown" to Campbell during evenings after dinner, sitting in front of the fire.
Also worth noting is that Joseph Campbell reportedly had some wild parties, went off to Alaska with Campbell's friend Ed Ricketts, the poet/philosopher/marine biologist/drunkard who became the basis for the character Doc from "Cannery Row".
Campbell, handsome athlete that he was, also seems to have had a relationship with Steinbeck's wife that apparently caused the friendship between Steinbeck and Campbell to end quite abruptly. It also goes a long way to explain why the two didn't talk much about each other later on and why Campbell left Pacific Grove and moved back East shortly afterwards.
"John has a fine, deep, living quality about his work which ought to ring a bell, I think -- if his work is ever discovered." - from a letter of Joseph Campbell
"Well Joe, if you want to start experiencing life, the first thing you've got to do is - Get Drunk!" - Ed Ricketts' words of advice to a young Joseph Campbell
Y'know?! I'm sure there's a novel/play/screenplay here. The question is, how would you get to the truth of the matter? I'm not sure you could, really. I suspect something happened that Campbell was ashamed of and which Steinbeck resented... he was a lonely, restless, yet sensitive man and no doubt felt betrayed. Still, I suspect it wouldn't be too hard to create a story that rings true.
It's Yule... shortest day of the year. Given the hubbub of the holidays, a short day sounds promising, actually.