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I must first of all confess that, since reading Huck Finn as a kid, this is the only Twain I've read. I must also confess that the nearest comparison I can give for this book is the writings of William Burroughs!
In his last years Twain several times approached the idea of a story about a mysterious "satanic" figure who appears to a small community and brings about an anti-religious revelation. This book contains his three attempts, thankfully free of the posthumous bowdlerisation that marred its previous publication.
The middle section is most like "classic" Twain, a semi-comic episode set in the familiar time and territory of Tom Sawyer. The "bookends", however, are set in a vaguely medieval middle-Europe and have a somewhat Gothic atmosphere. The first section is the most scathing, while the last is more like a dream.
The effect of these three substantial fragments being presented together is a remarkable insight into the creative processes of an extraordinarily imaginative mind. This breaking beyond narrative and into the writer's consciousness is the reason I draw the comparison with Burroughs. The result was never meant to be published as is, but nonetheless it is a challenging and haunting work, which provides a unique insight into the writer's mind.
I didn't even know there were more versions of this, my favorite Twain story. He's witty and acerbic and irreligious, just like everyone's notion of MT. The other versions are presented in evolutionary form and I'm assuming that most of these were found by scholars later on. The Gute site has the "official" version. Try these for a slightly different take.
An enlightening collection of Twain's Mysterious Stranger writings. Flipping back and forth between the many manifestations of Little Satan/44 we start to understand Twain's messiah in the full breadth of his darkness and frivolity. The addition of Twain's notes and plans for the manuscripts provide a fun insight into the rabbit trails of the author's mind.
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Mark Twain was a tragic figure, I have discovered. Mysterious Stranger (the story) was written during his "dark" period they say; anti-God, and anti-a lot, it seems. M.S. is an interesting and even captivating tale which gets more and more "Hary Potteresque" as it moves along to a surprising ending. Twain did not actually finish this manuscript but the California issue is probably the best you'll find. Never did think Twain was very funny and now I know why; after seeing a bio of him on TV, he had a hard life and deserves some pity. Did you know he smoked 40 cigars a day?! That's not in the book, however, but was in the bio. Then later in life, much too late, he cut down to 4 cigars a day. As I say, a tragic figure. Read his bio before you read the book and you will appreciate the story much more and will begin to read between the lines where some stuff is found.
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