The Genius of Mark Twain.
November 30, 2011 Leave a comment
A friend of mine asked today, “Brief about Mark Twain and that’ll kinda give an insight about him to those who haven’t read him”. And I thought why not! And if I were to do it, what would be a better place than Internet. So here it is. In this post/essay, I’m not going to talk about Twain the American superstar, or Twain the greatest humorist. I am only going to talk about the influence he’s had on us, even 101 years after he bid adieu to us. So what is it about Mark Twain really? I’m no pundit to do an accurate meta-physical dissection on, The Twain Realism. However, I’m going to talk about what Twain managed to do uniquely that others couldn’t.
1. What is so fascinating about Mark Twain really?
Most people take up to reading when they are around 10 and to serious reading, when they are 14-ish. And to a young boy, the fascinating things in life are the alignment of stars in the sky, the dark caves in a far away land, the river ripples and some magic realism (usually). And this is where Twain gets a nod convincingly head and shoulders above his contemporaries. He was the first of his kind, the writing style so relaxed, the characters you could relate to and incidents with a touch of magic realism and happy endings honey-coated with wit and sarcasm which is good enough to have a 14 year old hooked to it.
2. So Twain’s just that? A humorist and genial chronicler of childhood?
It is unfortunate that most people who have read Twain or claim to have, talk about his humour and how his writings shaped their childhood and stop at that. No doubt, his fame rests on the nostalgic boyhood stories about the river, and the humour. What most people inevitably miss out or choose to ignore is the near-nihilism in his later works, the dark side of his humour. But apparently, it has never been eye catchy to anyone partly due to the fact that, we have always had writers in abundance to talk about sedate stuff without any vernacular language. So would you be remembering Twain if it wasn’t for his humour? If you liked his Joan of Arc, then you would, otherwise not.
3. Fine he was funny. But we have had so many other funny writers, so what is the big deal about Twain’s humour?
The simplicity of it and the subtle pokes at the world around him. Quote – “Jim Smiley, in his most famous story (“The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”), jolts you with his incongruity, his willingness to gamble about anything, even the death of the Parson’s wife. With Huck Finn, there’s all the hypocrisy he sees along the river“. His humour has transcended eras, simply because he talked about the world around him and applied the concept of magic realism to set things alright at the end, instead of neatly having things coiffed for the protagonist from the beginning.
4. So the style of his writing?
I am going to quote Earnest Hemingway here, “All American Literature comes from Mark Twain”. He was the Walt Whitman of prose. And what is eye catchy for a 21st century reader in Mark Twain is that you can read(“hear”) how people spoke in his day, since he sort of writes dialogue phonetically. (I’m thinking Huckleberry Finn). Our language today is so different, and its just plain interesting to see the change. And isn’t it fun to be living in another generation? All of us would have wanted to do so, at some point or other in our life. And Twain through his works, just manages to do that.
5. So what? There are so many other heroes, starting from the Alexander and the Romeo for the purists to Spiderman and Superman for the young age readers, no?
Well, there are. But to me personally, the most fascinating thing about being a hero is being normal. You want your hero to be like you and do greater and awesomer things making you feel, “Aah, I could’ve done exactly the same if I was him”. And that’s precisely what sets apart Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn or for that matter, Herge’s Tintin or Peter Parker (not Spiderman) from the rest. They are just like us, only more intellectual. And that’s just good enough for you to be wanting to be like ‘em. They never cease to inspire you and push you a notch further, because they never let go off their most powerful weapon, ‘common sense’. And of course, the joy of living and experiencing life.
6. What did Mark Twain teach me anyway?
Mark twain taught me my sense of what it means to be a friend, the value of courage, and to expect common sense from others is to exhibit a lack oneself.
And on Samuel Langhorne Clemens’s 176th today, lets all relive all the moments again. I sign off with one my most favourite lines ever written, “The elastic heart of youth cannot be compressed into one constrained shape long at a time“. Mark Twain, FTW!