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The Mysterious Stranger

The Mysterious Stranger is a novel attempted by the American author Mark Twain. He worked on it intermittently from 1897 through 1908. Twain wrote multiple versions of the story; each involves a supernatural character called "Satan" or "No. 44". All the versions remained unfinished (with the debatable exception of the last one, No. 44, the Mysterious Stranger).

The Mysterious Stranger
Frontispiece of 1st edition "Eseldorf was a paradise for us boys"
AuthorMark Twain
IllustratorN. C. Wyeth
CountryUnited States
PublisherHarper & Brothers
Publication date
1916,[1] posthumously
Media typePrint
Pages176 pp



The three stories differ in length: The Chronicle of Young Satan has about 55,000 words, Schoolhouse Hill 15,300 words and No. 44, the Mysterious Stranger 65,000 words.[2]

"St. Petersburg Fragment"Edit

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.[3] Twain then revised this version, removing references to St. Petersburg, and used the text for The Chronicle of Young Satan.[4]

The Chronicle of Young SatanEdit

The first substantial version is entitled The Chronicle of Young Satan (also referred to as "Eseldorf" version) 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.[5] "Eseldorf" is German for "assville" or "donkeytown".[3]

Schoolhouse HillEdit

The second substantial text Twain attempted to write is known as Schoolhouse Hill (or "Hannibal") version. 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". Twain began writing it in November 1898 and, like the "St. Petersburg Fragment", set it in the fictional town of St. Petersburg.[3]

No. 44, the Mysterious StrangerEdit

The third text, 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).[3] 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 text still has many flaws and it is debatable whether it can be considered finished.[6] Twain wrote this version between 1902 and 1908.[3]

Paine-Duneka text of 1916Edit

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, claimed that he had searched through Twain's manuscripts and had found the proper intended ending for The Mysterious Stranger. After Paine's death in 1937, Bernard DeVoto became the 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.[7]

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 Mysterious Stranger. 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.[3] The book version that was published nonetheless maintains Twain's criticisms of what he believed to be the hypocrisy of conventional religion.[8][9]

According to editor W. M. Gibson, Paine's volume was a literary fraud that went undetected for more than forty years.[10] Nevertheless, Gibson also admits that "the cut, cobbled-together, partially falsified text has the power to move and to satisfy esthetically despite its flaws."[11]


In 1590, three boys, Theodor, Seppi, and Nikolaus, live relatively happy simple lives in a remote Austrian village called Eseldorf (German for "Assville" or "Donkeytown"). The story is narrated by Theodor, the village organist's son. Other local characters include Father Peter, his niece Marget, and the astrologer.

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 whose name he shares. 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.

In the village and in other places around the world where Satan transports them magically, the boys witness religious fanaticism, witch trials, burnings, hangings, deaths and mass hysteria. Finally, Satan vanishes with a brief explanation: "[T]here 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!"

University of California Press editionsEdit

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.[12] The University of California Press also released a final version of No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger in a popular edition in 1982.[3]


Film versionsEdit

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 directed by Peter H. Hunt. The role of 44 was played by Lance Kerwin, and August was played by Chris Makepeace.[13]

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, displaying 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 - much to the horror of the kids, with Huck Finn uttering "You murdered them!" 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 (although he claims he "can do no wrong" since he does not understand the word's meaning). 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 1989, a film adaptation of this book was shot in the Soviet Union by Igor Maslennikov and released under the title Filipp Traum (Philipp Traum is the name Satan comes to use amongst humans; Traum being the German word for dream).


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.[8][9]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Facsimile of the original 1st edition.
  2. ^ John S. Tuckey (1963). Mark Twain and Little Satan : The Writing of The Mysterious Stranger. West Lafayette: Purdue University Studies.|page=9
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Barbara Schmidt. "Special Feature: Mark Twain & the Significance of the Number 44 (A Review of the Scholars' Theories)". Retrieved June 11, 2013.
  4. ^ Mark Twain. The Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts (Kindle Locations 76-77). Edited by William M. Gibson. Kindle Edition.
  5. ^ Mark Twain. The Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts (Kindle Locations 81-85). Edited by William M. Gibson. Kindle Edition.
  6. ^ William M. Gibson: "All these developments take place in something like a dramatic vacuum" ... "Still 'diffusive' and disjointed." Mark Twain. The Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts (Kindle Locations 143-147). Edited by William M. Gibson. Kindle Edition.
  7. ^ Mark Twain. The Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts (Kindle Locations 57-58). Edited by William M. Gibson. Kindle Edition.
  8. ^ a b Lea, Richard (22 May 2014). "Infidelio: Richard Dawkins makes operatic debut". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 November 2016.
  9. ^ a b Lea, Richard (23 May 2014). "Dawkins debuts in secularism — the opera". The Guardian. p. 10.
  10. ^ Mark Twain. The Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts (Kindle Locations 38-39). Edited by William M. Gibson. Kindle Edition.
  11. ^ Mark Twain. The Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts (Kindle Locations 390-391). Edited by William M. Gibson. Kindle Edition.
  12. ^ Mark Twain (2005). The Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts. University of California Press.
  13. ^ "The Mysterious Stranger". 11 October 1982. Retrieved 16 December 2017.

External linksEdit

Paine-Duneka text

No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger

The Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts

Secondary sources