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The Mysterious Stranger

From Academic Kids

The Mysterious Stranger is an unfinished work written by the American author Mark Twain that was worked on periodically from roughly 1890 up until his death in 1910. The body of work is a serious social commentary by Twain addressing his ideas of the Moral Sense and the "damned human race." A "complete" version was published posthumously in 1916 by Twain's biographer Albert Bigelow Paine under the name "The Mysterious Stranger, A Romance," but this version is under scrutiny concerning the extent of editing performed on Twain's manuscripts by Paine. The published version is a novella, and may be easily read in a day.

Twain actually wrote multiple versions of this story, each unfinished and each involving the character of Satan. The first substantial version is commonly referred to as "The Chronicle of Young Satan" and tells of the adventures of Satan, the sinless nephew of the real Satan, in an Austrian village in the Middle Ages. The story ends abruptly in the middle of a scene involving Satan entertaining a prince in India, suggesting Twain abandoned this piece before he finished writing it.

The second substantial version Twain attempted to write is known as "Schoolhouse Hill" which involves the familiar characters of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer and their adventures with Satan, referred to in this version as "No. 44," and is set in America. "Schoolhouse Hill" is the shortest of the three versions.

The third version, called "No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger," returns to Middle Age Austria and tells of No. 44's mysterious appearance at the door of a print shop and his use of heavenly powers to expose the futility of mankind's existence. This version also introduces an idea Twain was toying with at the end of his life involving a duality of the "self," one being the "Waking Self" and the other being the "Dream Self." Twain explores these ideas through the use of "Duplicates," copies of the print shop workers made by No. 44. This version contains an actual ending, however the version is not considered as complete as Twain would have intended.

The edition published in 1916 is composed mainly of a heavily edited "Chronicle of Young Satan" with a slightly altered version of the ending from "No. 44" tacked on. Paine, who had sole possession of Twain's unfinished work after Twain's death and kept them private, searched through Twain's manuscripts and found the proper intended ending for "The Mysterious Stranger." After Paine's death in 1937, Bernard DeVoto became possessor of Twain's manuscripts and released them to the public. Critics studied the original copies of the story and found that the ending Paine chose for "The Mysterious Stranger" referred to the characters from different versions of the story (e.g. No. 44 instead of Satan) and that the original names had been crossed out and written over in Paine's handwriting.

The book version that was published nonetheless maintains Twain's vicious attack on the hypocrisy of organized religion that is the subject of much of Twain's later writings. He views religion as a (questionably) "moral" order to protect wealth, power, and oppression.

Summary of Paine's Version

A few boys are living happy sheltered lives in a remote Austrian village in 1590 named Eseldorf (meaning "Ass-town" in German), and one day, a handsome young man named Satan (of the same angel family, but not the real Satan, he tells them) appears, and does several magical feats. Mayhem ensues — witch trials, burnings, hangings, deaths, mass hysteria, and redistribution of wealth. Satan vanishes with a brief explanation:

"You perceive, now, that these things are all impossible except in a dream. You perceive that they are pure and puerile insanities, the silly creations of an imagination that is not conscious of its freaks - in a word, that they are a dream, and you the maker of it. The dream-marks are all present; you should have recognized them earlier.
"It is true, that which I have revealed to you; there is no God, no universe, no human race, no earthly life, no heaven, no hell. It is all a dream - a grotesque and foolish dream. Nothing exists but you. And you are but a thought - a vagrant thought, a useless thought, a homeless thought, wandering forlorn among the empty eternities!"

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