So, the first thing that surprised me about this collection of short stories is that there are apparently several versions that go by the same name. (There are also several versions Twain wrote of the one story, “The Mysterious Stranger,” but that’s a separate issue.) You see, I have a book called The Mysterious Stranger and Other Stories by Mark Twain. While at the library, I found the same title, same author, on audiobook. Same thing, right?
There are nine stories in my book. I think there are six stories on the audiobook, or somewhere around there. And not all of them are the same. The good news is, of the nine in my book, there are still six that I don’t know! …but I’m still curious as to how this came about.
Anyhow. The stories themselves are a diverse lot. The funniest, to me, was the one about “Adam’s Diary” and “Eve’s Diary,” an account of the interactions of the first humans that mainly pokes fun at the talkativeness of women. “The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg” is an interesting tale of how greed destroys the integrity of an “incorruptible” town. And “The Mysterious Stranger” itself is just… bizarre.
In the latter, an “angel” named Satan (the nephew of the famous one; this one is supposedly unfallen) meets a group of boys in 1590s Austria and makes all sorts of strange, supernatural things happen (he messes with people’s lives, basically) – usually ending in the misfortune or death of some member of the town. For example, he makes a huge sum of money appear in a poor man’s wallet, which gets the man sent to jail for stealing, and the town suspects his daughter of witchcraft.
Another instance of this is when Satan promises the boys that Father Peter (the poor man mentioned above) will be happy for the rest of his life, which he accomplishes by driving him mad. Father Peter believes he is king, and he’s supremely happy. When the boys complain, Satan says, “Are you so unobservant as to not realize that sanity and happiness are an impossible combination? No sane man can be happy, for to him, life is real, and he sees what a fearful thing it is. Only the mad can be happy, and not many of those.” And such is his reasoning.
My theory is that this was actually the fallen (devil) Satan, because the boys clearly realize that he lies to other people throughout the story, so it’d be plenty easy for him to lie to them about who he was. Either that, or Twain had some whackjob theology (angelology?). Or, Option 3, he was just writing a weird story.
A couple things that amused me in other stories:
- I know this is just an antiquated way of talking about women’s wardrobe/makeup/hair, but it never ceases to amuse me: “There were some tolerably expensive toilets there, and in several cases, the ladies who wore them had the look of being unfamiliar with that kind of clothes.”
- From Adam’s diary, when he’s trying to hide from Eve (because she talks so much) but she finds him anyway and brings him apples (I believe, from the forbidden tree – but I don’t quite remember): “I was obligated to eat them [apples], I was so hungry. It was against my principles, but I find that principles have no real force except when one is well-fed.”
Anyway, it was an interesting listen, but I learned that short stories are not the best for audio books. I tended to forget what story I was in the middle of before the next time I got in the car. One continuous story is definitely preferred.
On the bright side, I have more Twain to read!