Beautiful!! That is the only word I have for it- for Mark Twain’s “The Mysterious Stranger”. I’d suggest u read the book because it’s not a long book, nor a boring one, so even if you are a poor reader, you can try it. I know it’s supposedly a classic, but effectively, it is only something like a fairy tale.
I’ve read classics before and they are usually quite boring. Even when they try to be interesting, they are such a pain to read. It is as if the author wanted to strain you to your maximum before you finished the book. And here is one, that is very very simple. Childish, in fact. And yet in its childish simplicity, it talks about some of the most serious issues in this world. Issues that shall probably remain unresolved till the end of the human race. Yes, it talks about the human race, about ‘our childish fantasies’, as Twain calls them, and about our frailties and about how stupid we can get (especially with respect to religion)!! (It is quite a weird coincidence that I happened to read this book on Christmas day!!)
Anyway, I was surprised at the intellect of Twain in comparison with the best of authors of his time. When people were still writing about society, love and marriage, here was a man who wrote about why we exist (or whether we exist at all!). And his great talent lies in the fact that he makes the book so delightfully interesting! Every minute that I was reading, I was eager to know the end, even though there was not much of a mystery! In fact, the element of magic made the book quite implausible, and I knew anything could happen anyway. And yet, I was wondering whether it shall have a good ending or not, whether the hero shall be happy in the end etc etc.
Oh, of course, as usual I forgot to tell you the story- it is a tale of three boys, (one of them, the narrator) and how they meet a mysterious stranger- who claims to be an angel, and even performs a great many actions that normal men cannot. They story goes on to tell you whether he is an angel or not and whether he could do any good to the boy or did he bring about further ill luck?!
But as part of this seemingly simple plot, Twain raises some beautiful questions that are very profoundly philosophical. It would probably take me days to discuss each of them, so we’ll keep that for the future, but I’ll just mention them here.
• How important are we in the universe? Is our lifespan too short for us to be of any real significance??
• Why do men always follow the majority, even when it’s against their own interest?
• What, in effect, have we achieved through civilization? Have we progressed at all?
• Who exactly is God?
Actually Twain talks about the insignificance of human life in comparison to that of angels’- a part that almost made me discredit him for his irrationality. Only in the end does he let you realize that he had only been sarcastic and he is as scornful of superstition as you and I!!
Then there is the beautiful statement “There is no other (life)!!” All rationality can tell us that we must be bothered only about our life on earth, which is such a struggle in itself! But how many people do we see, who talk of a life after death and how to pave way for a good one there??!! Isn’t there enough left for us to do to better this world for this life? Why would we want to waste our time thinking about another?? Or even worse, fearing it?
Anyway, the best part of the book, as I found it, was the angel’s speech against God. I can’t say I’ve read a more direct and beautiful argument against the more common portrayal of god!
“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 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;”
He prompts us to ask- Isn’t such a god another figment of our imagination?? How can such a God be “God” at all???
Maybe, our definition of God is wrong; maybe we are not even sure what kind of God we should have??!! The point is not that. It is not even whether God exists or not. Only that, as believers of God, shouldn’t we able to answer these questions? If we were right shouldn’t we be able to find some reason for God’s actions? And explain the sorrows of the world??
I am reminded of the dialogue from the movie ‘Dasavatharam’, “If God wanted to prevent catastrophes why should he invent clever remedies; why couldn’t he just stop us from thinking these horrible inventions for mass destruction??”
They are serious questions, and we may not find the answers for years to come. But it might be useful for us to remember them, and try to find answers as we continue to live!!
(P.S.:- Yes, I missed the most important thing he said in the book- that all life is a dream! I don’t think it is.. but that is an even more abstract topic to talk about, so maybe, some other time!!!)
(P.S. as added on 21.1.2009:- Most of the statements about God are made on the basis of 'Genesis' in the Bible. It makes a good read, honestly, and would probably enlighten you a great deal about Christianity! Of course, the Hindu religion's portrayal of God is quite different, and in fact, there are numerous opposing theories within the religion itself; so we cannot really analyse it from Twain's statements! But yes, there are overlaps, and maybe we can send some time pondering over them!)