No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger

Mark Twain

This was Twain’s last book and, in terms of prose, was his best; yet, it remains relatively unknown. Set in an imaginary village in 1490, in medieval Austria, Twain crafted an intriguing psychic adventure, The Mysterious Stranger (TMS), full of phantasmagoric effects, which had a profound message: The only reality may be thought!

Therein, a penniless printer’s apprentice, with the curious name of “44”, reveals his supernatural powers – and suggests the hidden possibilities of the human mind. Twain implies that the Mysterious Stranger may be all of us, if we can tap the potential of the human mind. Twain lived in Lucerne, Switzerland, while he wrote this novel, his last, which was published posthumously in 1915, a poor interpretation of his manuscripts with liberal additions by his then biographer. The current book was redone in 1969 and has been extensively republished from the 1980’s to the present. The plot occurs in ancient, “moldering” castle, with hundreds of rooms, many unoccupied (possibly suggesting the millions of unused cells in the human mind), all cobwebbed and unkempt. Therein, the plot evolves from a print shop in 1490 (just 48 years after Guttenberg invented the printing press). Twain, himself, had apprenticed in a print shop.

TMS is written in a markedly different style than that for which Twain is known, from Tom Sawyer, Huckelberry Finn and such. His prose in TMS is clearly better, and, in many ways, more enjoyable to read. His theme is intellectually challenging and well beyond its time. In ways, he seems to be saying that all that is real is the unseen, the immaterial, or possibly only thought itself. He cites Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910), and Christian Science, which Eddy introduced in the late 1800’s. Interestingly, Edgar Allan Poe said much the same: “Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream?” Einstein tip toed around this concept. Stephen Hawking, in A Brief History of Time, implied it more forcefully: At the core, the atom seems empty, and it is the component of all matter. So, Twain used TMS to urge the world to consider these possibilities. He believed that the human mind was vastly underutilized and offered the key to reality.

Among the last words in the book, his lead character said, “There is no God, no universe, no human race, no earthly life, no heaven, no hell. It is all a Dream…Nothing exists but thought…”