The Mysterious Stranger

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The Mysterious Stranger
Frontispiece of 1st edition "Eseldorf was a paradise for us boys"
Author Mark Twain
Illustrator N. C. Wyeth
Country United States
Language English
Publisher Harper & Brothers
Publication date
1916,[1] posthumously
Media type Print
Pages 176 pp

The Mysterious Stranger is the final novel attempted by the American author Mark Twain. He worked on it periodically from 1897 through 1908. The body of work is a serious social commentary by Twain addressing his ideas of the Moral Sense and the "damned human race".[citation needed]

Twain wrote multiple versions of the story; each is unfinished and involves a supernatural character called "Satan" or "No. 44".

"St. Petersburg Fragment"

Twain wrote the "St. Petersburg Fragment" in September 1897. It was set in the fictional town of St. Petersburg, a name Twain often used for Hannibal, Missouri.[2]

The Chronicle of Young Satan

The first substantial version is entitled The Chronicle of Young Satan and relates the adventures of Satan, the sinless nephew of the biblical Satan, in Eseldorf, an Austrian village in the year 1702. Twain wrote this version between November 1897 and September 1900. "Eseldorf" is German for "assville" or "donkeytown".[2]

Schoolhouse Hill

The second substantial version Twain attempted to write is known as Schoolhouse Hill. It is set in the US and involves the familiar characters Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer and their adventures with Satan, referred to in this version as "No. 44, New Series 864962". Schoolhouse Hill is the shortest of the three versions.[citation needed] Twain began writing it in November 1898 and, like the "St. Petersburg Fragment", set it in the fictional town of St. Petersburg.[2]

No. 44, the Mysterious Stranger: Being an Ancient Tale Found in a Jug and Freely Translated from the Jug

The third version, called No. 44, the Mysterious Stranger: Being an Ancient Tale Found in a Jug and Freely Translated from the Jug, also known as the "Print Shop" version, returns to Austria, this time in the year 1490 (not long after the invention of printing).[2] It 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", composed of the "Waking Self" and 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.[citation needed] Twain wrote this version between 1902 and 1908.[2]

1916 publication compiled by Paine

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. Albert Bigelow Paine, who had sole possession of Twain's unfinished works 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. Beginning in the 1960s, 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 the original names had been crossed out and written over in Paine's handwriting.[citation needed] In 1963, scholars led by researcher John S. Tuckey carefully examined Twain's papers and manuscripts and discovered that Paine had not only tampered with and patched together three previously unfinished manuscripts, but had with assistance from Frederick Duneka added passages not written by Twain in order to complete the The Mysterious Stranger. Paine's volume was a literary fraud that went undetected for more than forty years. In addition to omitting a quarter of the original text, Paine's version invents the character of an astrologer who is made responsible for the villainies of Father Adolf.[2]

The book version that was published nonetheless maintains Twain's criticisms of what he believed to be the hypocrisy of organized religion that is the subject of much of Twain's later writings.[citation needed]

Summary of Paine's version

In 1590, a few boys are living happy sheltered lives in a remote Austrian village called Eseldorf. (Esel means "donkey" in German and can refer to a stupid or ignorant person, and "dorf" means village, so in essence it is a village of stupid people.)

The story is narrated by one of the boys—Theodor, the village organist's son—in a first-person narrative. One day, a handsome teenage boy named Satan appears in the village. He explains that he is an angel and the nephew of the fallen angel Satan. Young Satan performs several magical feats. He claims to be able to foresee the future and informs the group of unfortunate events that will soon befall those they care about. The boys don't believe Satan's claims until one of his predictions comes true. Satan proceeds to describe further tragedies that will befall their friends. The boys beg Satan to intercede. Satan agrees, but operates under the technical definition of mercy. For instance, instead of a lingering death due to illness, Satan simply causes one of Theodor's friends to die immediately.

Mayhem ensues — witch trials, burnings, hangings, deaths and mass hysteria. Satan vanishes with a brief explanation:

You are not you—you have no body, no blood, no bones, you are but a thought. I myself have no existence; I am but a dream—your dream, a creature of your imagination. In a moment you will have realized this, then you will banish me from your visions and I shall dissolve into the nothingness out of which you made me.

In a little while you will be alone in shoreless space, to wander its limitless solitudes without friend or comrade forever—for you will remain a thought, the only existent thought, and by your nature inextinguishable, indestructible. But I, your poor servant, have revealed you to yourself and set you free. Dream other dreams, and better!

Strange! that you should not have suspected years ago—centuries, ages, eons, ago!—for you have existed, companionless, through all the eternities.

Strange, indeed, that you should not have suspected that your universe and its contents were only dreams, visions, fiction! Strange, because they are so frankly and hysterically insane—like all dreams: a God who could make good children as easily as bad, yet preferred to make bad ones; who could have made every one of them happy, yet never made a single happy one; who made them prize their bitter life, yet stingily cut it short; who gave his angels eternal happiness unearned, yet required his other children to earn it; who gave his angels painless lives, yet cursed his other children with biting miseries and maladies of mind and body; who mouths justice and invented hell—mouths mercy and invented hell—mouths Golden Rules, and forgiveness multiplied by seventy times seven, and invented hell; who mouths morals to other people and has none himself; who frowns upon crimes, yet commits them all; who created man without invitation, then tries to shuffle the responsibility for man's acts upon man, instead of honorably placing it where it belongs, upon himself; and finally, with altogether divine obtuseness, invites a poor, abused slave to worship him!

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!

Characters in The Mysterious Stranger

  • Theodor, the protagonist
  • Satan, an angel named after his uncle, the fallen Satan.
  • Seppi, a friend of Theodor's and Nikolaus'. One of the boys to whom Satan reveals his true self.
  • Nikolaus, a friend of Theodor's and Seppi's.

Other central characters include Father Peter, his niece Marget, and the Astrologer.

University of California Press editions

In 1969, the University of California Press published, as part of The Mark Twain Papers Series, a scholarly edition of all three unaltered manuscripts, edited by William M. Gibson and titled Mark Twain's Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts; it was republished in 2005.[citation needed]. (The University of California Press released a final version of No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger in a popular edition in 1982.[2]) According to the "Mark Twain Project" editors of this series, No. 44, the Mysterious Stranger is the definitive version of the text; it comes as close as possible to what Twain would have published had he lived to do so.

The number 44

Researchers have put forth multiple theories for Twain's use of the number 44. Additionally, Twain's working notes for the various versions of the story (included in Mark Twain's Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts), indicate that he considered other numbers before settling upon 44. For example, he first considered using the name "404" for the Schoolhouse Hill version and later changed it to "94". He also wrote,"I am No. 45 in New Series 986,000,000", and in the final manuscript for No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger, Twain wrote:[2]

"What is your name?"

The boy answered quietly, "Number 44, New Series 864,962."

Everybody's eyes came open in a stare. Of course. The master thought perhaps he hadn't heard aright; so he asked again, and the boy answered the same as before, "Number 44, New Series 864,962."

"What a hell of a name!" ejaculated Hans Katzenyammer, piously.

NB. Katzenjammer is German for cat's wail, depression, hangover.

Film versions

In 1982, a film version of No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger was shot by The Great Amwell Company and shown in the United States on PBS, and later on HBO. The role of 44 was played by Lance Kerwin, and August was played by Chris Makepeace.[3]

In 1985, a scene from The Chronicle of Young Satan was adapted in the claymation film The Adventures of Mark Twain, wherein Satan invites Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and Becky Thatcher to his company, showcasing his powers to manifest things at will. He invites them to construct small clay people, which he brings to life and places in a small kingdom. Satan expresses curiosity and eventually spite toward their creations when the clay people display infighting and inflict cruelty on one another. He causes plagues and natural disasters to destroy the small community, buries the ruins with an earthquake, and causes wild vegetation to engulf the spot where the clay people once lived, demonstrating the futility and insignificance of mankind. The scene also quotes Satan's last line from the book. In this version, Satan appears playful and friendly when he constructs the small kingdom, slowly revealing himself as cruel and hateful as he destroys it. He appears as a robed, headless figure with a mask where his head would be. As his true nature is revealed, the mask gradually changes from a pleasant appearance to a grinning skull.

In 1991, a film adaptation of this book was shot in the Soviet Union by Igor Maslennikov and released under the title Filip Traum (Philipp Traum is the name Satan comes to use amongst humans; Traum being the German word for dream). This film was shown in the cinemas only once in 1991; until 2007, when a remastered DVD-version was released, the general public mostly did not know anything about this film.[citation needed]

The acid Western film, Stranger, an adaption by Carnie Films written directed and produced by Tom Lee Rutter, is due out in 2016. The Stranger is played by Gypsy Lee Pistolero, Caine by Dale Sheppard and Loomweather by Gary Shail (Quadrophenia, Shock Treatment).


Kevin Malone's opera Mysterious 44 is inspired by the work. The première, performed by Manchester Opera Project with a narrated introduction and conclusion by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, was at the residence of the Hallé Orchestra at St Peter's Church, Ancoats, Manchester, on 24 May 2014.[4]

See also


  1. Facsimile of the original 1st edition.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 Barbara Schmidt. "Special Feature: Mark Twain & the Significance of the Number 44 (A Review of the Scholars' Theories)". Retrieved June 11, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Lea, Richard (23 May 2014). "Dawkins debuts in secularism — the opera". The Guardian. p. 10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links and references