Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Mysterious Stranger

My latest Librivox "read" is Mark Twain's The Mysterious Stranger. Theodore, the young narrator, lives in a small village in Austria in the 16th century. One afternoon while playing in the woods with a few friends, he meets an attractive young man named Satan (nephew of that Satan—angels have family trees too, apparently), who pulls exotic fruits from his pocket, renders himself invisible, makes little men out of clay and animates them, conjures money out of thin air, and performs lots of other tricks for the boys' amusement. In several conversations over the following months, Satan takes pains to tell Theodore and his friends that humanity, to him and his fellow "angels," is as cosmically significant as fleas on an elephant's back. (If that's so, you'd expect he wouldn't bother associating with these base humans at all, but it's all for the sake of the story, right?) His arrival sparks accusations of theft and witchcraft that leave the claustrophobic community in chaos.

Anyway, the following passage totally creeped me out:
"There has never been a just one, never an honorable one--on the part of the instigator of the war. I can see a million years ahead, and this rule will never change in so many as half a dozen instances. The loud little handful--as usual--will shout for the war. The pulpit will--warily and cautiously--object--at first; the great, big, dull bulk of the nation will rub its sleepy eyes and try to make out why there should be a war, and will say, earnestly and indignantly, 'It is unjust and dishonorable, and there is no necessity for it.' Then the handful will shout louder. A few fair men on the other side will argue and reason against the war with speech and pen, and at first will have a hearing and be applauded; but it will not last long; those others will outshout them, and presently the anti-war audiences will thin out and lose popularity. Before long you will see this curious thing: the speakers stoned from the platform, and free speech strangled by hordes of furious men who in their secret hearts are still at one with those stoned speakers--as earlier--but do not dare to say so. And now the whole nation--pulpit and all--will take up the war-cry, and shout itself hoarse, and mob any honest man who ventures to open his mouth; and presently such mouths will cease to open. Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception."
A great writer is often a great prophet as well, no?

1 comment:

Kate said...

I'm sorry did you say that was Mark Twain or a critic of the Bush administration...creepy.