Tuesday, March 9, 2010
In search of Mark Twain
In Alabama, a boy of eleven is assigned an independent study project on Mark Twain. Something in the writer's work, perhaps the attachment Twain retained to his own boyhood, kindles the young man's interest. He especially admires "The War Prayer", Twain's frank and frightening indictment of those who invoke God as their patron as they go about destroying his creation.
Interest grows to passion, and the boy trails the great man on the internet. There he finds a picture that clicks with his understanding of the sardonic yet sympathetic writer. The boy becomes obsessed with the picture, but there is problem. It's a small file with low quality that cannot be easily enlarged. There is no name attached to the image. The boy and his mother scour the internet, and somehow, some way, track the image down to an obscure cartoonist in Alaska. A cartoonist whose love of Mark Twain was inspired by "The War Prayer", which he purchased through Scholastic Books when he was a boy of about the same age as the eleven-year-old in Alabama. Somewhere in Hell, the ghost of Samuel Clemens is smiling.