The Adventures Of Mark Twain Offers Kids Nightmares And Literature

The zeppelin’s magical door can also physically transport the characters into Twain stories which also exist as floors on the fantastical craft. Tom, Huck, and Becky are a little flustered by the technology and find themselves stepping into “The Mysterious Stranger,” a fragmented novel that Twain never completed (there are differently assembled versions of the story made after Twain’s death). The story is about a handsome teenage boy named Satan who visits a small Austrian village in the late 16th century and proceeds to predict the death and downfall of three children he has befriended. Satan takes the children on a tour of the world where they witness horror after horror, witch burnings and murders and death. The story ends with Satan explaining that “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! “

In “The Adventures of Mark Twain,” Tom, Huck, and Becky stumble out onto a floating island in the middle of a vast black void, and are greeted by a headless soldier, Satan, holding a mask where his face would be. It is able to build a sandcastle, and the children are encouraged to add people to the diorama. Satan then gives the children’s sculptures life. When the sculptures begin bickering and fighting, Satan gets annoyed and murders them all. The sculptures wail in agony before dying and sliding back into apertures in the ground. “People are of no value,” Satan says. “We could make more sometime. If we need them.” Satan’s face becomes a death head, and the children flee in abject fear. “Life itself is only a vision,” Satan continues alone. “A dream. Nothing exists, save empty space and you. And you are but a thought.”

This is an anvil of nihilism to drop on an audience of children, and can even leave adults feeling hollowed out. Twain was not the warm, fireside grandfather of legend, but a complex author with dark thoughts and a tendency toward sadness. Will Vinton’s “Mysterious Stanger” captures Twain’s hopelessness in an intense nightmare sequence that no child will walk away from unmarked. Lovers of dark literature will often buzz around Edgar Allan Poe or Shirley Jackson or Franz Kafka or Charles Baudelaire, but they would do well to check out some Mark Twain.

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