Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Illusion of the Mysterious Stranger

[I’ve reread a number of books on my makeshift bookshelf which I discovered are related to the philosophical movement I am quite interest with today. Although this story which I am to talk about is pretty much a work of fiction, it nevertheless gave me a chance to connect a previous entry and that philosophical movement with what the story is talking about.]

The first things that come into my mind when Mark Twain is mentioned are of course the adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. I could still remember when I used to dig in that thick Tom Sawyer book in our elementary school library and was really having a hard time reading it because of the unfamiliar English words.
It was only during my sophomore year in college when I sort of “rediscovered” Twain. Armed with a substantial amount of money thanks to a scholarship, I made my debut to the Manila International Book Fair (achoo!) and bought a ‘box set’ of Twain. In there I found one of the stories that surpassed my awe of Tom Sawyer’s adventures.

The story is entitled The Mysterious Stranger, a narration of a certain man recalling his boyhood in a town in the middle of (sleeping) Austria, Eseldorf. He was particular in relaying the events concerning the visit of a certain youthful stranger by the name of Satan – an angel from heaven.

The story proceeded with describing the remarkable things that Satan could do, even to the point of changing the lives of the people of Eseldorf – shortening their lives or suffering, relieving them of heavyheartedness, among other. For the whole stretch of the story the narrator, Theodor, was able to follow the workings of this attractive angel.

In the end Satan finally bade good bye to Theodor as he has to attend to some other work in another corner of the universe (take note, not world but universe). It was at these last pages of the story that Satan sort of revealed to Theodor that all of the things that he has experienced, seen, or heard are but only illusions. He himself and even Theodor are but illusions. I could only imagine the swift change in the feelings of the innocent Theodor from that “vague, dim, but blessed and hopeful feeling”* to the “great hope that was struggling”* in him.

Whether or not Twain derived the parting words of Satan from his own beliefs, it does not really matter; although I have a growing suspicion that it was, since the story is described as “a monument to the misanthropy and pessimism of his later years”* and “Twain’s grim views of God, man and the universe”*.

The point is that I don’t find it surprising to know that there are people who believe in divine providence, as if it is as common as the clouds I see outside my window each morning. But I found it really electrifying (believe me, that adjective is not enough to describe what I felt) to read the very things I’ve thought already, as if we were of the same mind. Now don’t take this as if I could have written Mysterious Stranger myself. I am concerned with the gist of the story – that pessimism in the seeming orderly world which have been inculcated to me (I would avoid using the word “us” here).

I find it more meaningful to take note of that dream-like character of our existence – a race which conceived of a god from whom emanates rays of questions and contradictions instead of light and wisdom – rather than accept them as they are. I gain a greater sense of freedom and knowledge of myself in trying to ask about the things about the life, the world in which I found myself…and I become much more human.//

“Strange, indeed, that you should not have suspected that your universe and its contents were only dreams, visions, fiction! Strange, because they are so frankly and hysterically insane – like all dreams; a 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 created man without invitation, then tries to shuffle the responsibility for man’s acts upon man, instead of honorable placing it where it belongs, upon himself; and finally, with altogether divine obtuseness, invites this poor, abused slave to worship him!...”

*Twain, Mark (Samuel Langhorne Clemens). The Mysterious Stranger and Other Stories – Unabridged. New York: Dover Publications, 1992.
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