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The Mysterious Stranger

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  8,068 ratings  ·  630 reviews
Paperback, 121 pages
Published September 1st 1995 by Prometheus Books (first published 1916)
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Average rating 4.13  · 
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 ·  8,068 ratings  ·  630 reviews

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Bill Kerwin
Mar 31, 2016 rated it liked it

The Mysterious Stranger is not a success. Twain never published it, and with good reason, for his approach to his title character in particular and the whole project in general is tonally ambivalent, philosophically inconsistent, and thematically scattered. Add to this the fact that the setting of the fifteenth century Austrian village is poorly realized and the ending is at best inconclusive, and you aren't left with much to praise--except for Twain's satiric observations, of course..

I believe
S.A. Alenthony
Feb 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
A number of Mark Twain’s lesser-known stories remain virtually unheard of - not because they aren’t good – but because they’d offend too many people.

His short novel The Mysterious Stranger, published posthumously in 1916, certainly qualifies in this regard. It’s not going to be on any of the official reading lists of the various public schools named after him. And it’s an absolutely hilarious and caustic little paperback that you need to get familiar with.

This book will be of interest to anyone
Brian Yahn
Aug 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
In the first act, Mark Twain introduces a mysterious stranger to town, and the way he does it is twisty and thrilling and, well... Mysterious. And then there's the antagonist, the evil Astrologer, who lives in the crumbling tower on the outskirts of town and has a man imprisoned for the sake of stealing money. To bring justice, Twain pits the stranger, with the help of a few young boys, against the Astrologer.

It's a really fun setup, but in the second act, the stranger takes the boys across the
Manuel Antão
Dec 09, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 1981
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

Youthful Frolicking: "The Mysterious Stranger" by Mark Twain

(Original Review, 1981-04-17)

“The Mysterious Stranger” by Mark Twain which presented a very bleak and troubling vision of humanity. It had some Huck Finn style youthful frolicking too but this was swamped by that sense that human history and the consequences of moral decision making are a horrible dream that the narrator may be able to escape from but we cannot. I was expectin
Aug 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classic
This is said to be Mark Twain's least known work - and the last he had ever written. Reading the book, I finally understood why it never became as popular as the stories of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyers. This is a book of a silent yet profound contemplation of humanity. It is a comedy of sorts, and the object of the author's humor is the grotesque bigotry, self-importance, and logic of man. Twain portrays humanity here at its worst. It begins with a boy's encounter with an angel and ends with his bi ...more
Free download available at Project Gutenberg.

Page 57:
Monarchies, aristocracies, and religions are all based upon that large defect in your race - the individual's distrust of his neighbor, and his desire, for safety's or comfort's sake, to stand well in his neighbor's eye. These institutions will always remain, and always flourish, and always oppress you, affront you, and degrade you, because you always be and remain slaves of minorities.

Page 63:
"What an ass you are!" he said. "Are you so unobse
Jan 28, 2013 rated it liked it
This review will contain spoilers.


The Mysterious Stranger is a short novella, in which Mark Twain, (it would seem), embodies his hatred of Christianity, condemnation of mankind, and ultimate nihilism. The story takes place in a remote village in late 16th century Austria; the village of Eseldorf, which is situated in a valley surrounded by wooded precipices and cliffs, overlooked by a castle laying on one. The inhabitants of Eseldorf are simpletons; largely ignorant of the world beyond their
Feb 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I swear Bulgakov got a hold of this and picked the best parts for transmogrification into The Master & Margarita. A gigantic parade of corpses, a talking cat (Mary Margaret Florence Baker G. Nightingale), and the appearance of a banjo-playing minstrel (who in my mind looks just like Koroviev, but African American...) in the narrator's medieval Austrian print-shop. In a disused castle. So much weirder, creepier, more moving, and existentially fraught than Letters From the Earth, but with all the ...more
Mike Sheehan
Jul 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
To me, I think problems can only begin to be solved once they're recognized as such; this could work on a societal level too. And so it genuinely saddens me that one-hundred years after Mark Twain's railing against human nature and its major institutions (government and religion), practically nothing has changed, because the things he speaks of truly are a part of human nature, as it seems. The most damning one of all is Satan's speaking of the nature of war, a conversation which could've taken ...more
Erin the Avid Reader ⚜BFF's with the Cheshire Cat⚜
This was probably one of the best books I think I have read in a long time. I was NOT expecting this from the guy who wrote Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer.

Holy cow.

Well, I guess a guy who wrote mostly Southern novels and is considered one the best humorists in history can't always be funny. Still, I was not expecting this from Mark Twain.

In some versions of the novel, the "mysterious stranger" is either known as No. 44 or Satan. Yes, Satan. Except he's not really Satan but is instead Satan's nephew.
Sep 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Michael by: who knows...maybe the Devil
This is a great little book. I agree with Twain's opinions to a large degree, but I cannot agree completely. I think Twain became an Atheist....I am not. I am not a believer but I still hope for a God that mankind cannot comprehend nor describe.

A very important and still timely idea expressed in this book is that humans are a lower order of animal than the wild beast because of his Moral Sense. Twain said that 95% of people are like sheep and cattle that stupidly follow the herd and are led by t
Kathryn in FL
I read this more than 35 years ago in High School. I read it along with other short stories by Mark Twain for a senior term paper analyzing his writings and influences. Mr. Twain who was known more for his wry, comedic pokes at the culture of his time steps away from humor to evaluate the circumstances of death.

This story was written later in Twain's life after his wife had died. It is a bit bitter. However, I found his story captivating even in my teens. It is apparent that the anger he had tow
Wayne Barrett

"I know your race. It is made up of sheep. It is governed by minorities, seldom or never by majorities. It suppresses its feelings and its beliefs and follows the handful that makes the most noise.”
― Mark Twain, The Mysterious Stranger

Satan, the young nephew of the fallen Satan pays a visit to a few of the human race. A humorous if not indicting novella addressing the immorality of man and the futility of his existence. For a short piece, there are some powerful thoughts penned by Mr. Twain who
Sep 27, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
This was an odd book. Most of the book was the Mysterious Stranger story, which was about a teenage boy who meets an angel called Satan. It takes place in 1590 Austria and they're in the middle of witch burnings where no one feels safe or can trust their neighbor. Satan can do magic and Theodore and his friends are greatly amused. Things turn dark when Satan starts helping their neighbors, but they end up in terrible situations or dead instead. The ending is so odd, but Twain died before it was ...more
D.M. Kenyon
Nov 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literary-fiction
It may seem nonsensical that I would rate my favorite book with only four out of five stars. The reason for this is because, the 1916 edition of Mark Twain's Mysterious Stranger is not entirely original to Twain. Twain died in 1910 with several versions of a manuscript for the Mysterious Stranger incomplete. The versions vary considerably in setting and in story line, although they arguably seek to make the same point.

The popular version of this story was completed by his editor and, therefore,
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
Twain's last book and his most skeptical and pessimistic. I won't give away the twist at the end but it is speculative and metaphysical and the book of a man who has seen too much.
Feb 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jim Thomas
Oct 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2014
I recently read about a few of Twain's lesser known works and this was one he wrote late in life and he is not just cynical but probably bitter when he wrote this. I thought his humor was at it's peak and Twain has always been hard on man and religion but he really gives you a double barreled literary blast with this short novel.

If you are religious and easily offended, stay away but I found Satan and his young wowed friends an absolute delight. Satan has never been described better. It's not su
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 14, 2014 rated it liked it
I read this book about 10 years ago and I think I should read it once again! But I can remember the fact that this book contained material against all my beliefs, however, I had enjoyed the view and the kind of fiction the author had used back then!
Every Christmas, American television shows It's A Wonderful Life at least once. For many people, the movie is the Christmas must watch. (Note, not for me. That's Rudolph or Nestor the Long Eared Donkey or the Muppet Christmas Carol or Sim's Christmas Carol). In some ways, Life is the American Christmas Carol. It heavily colors views about angels too.

So, if you like It's A Wonderful Life, you shouldn't read this work.

This Kindle edition includes the title short novel as well as three short storie
Susan Bybee
Apr 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
As Mark Twain got older, his always-present BS detector grew keener and keener. By the time he began work on The Mysterious Stranger, his view of the human race -- especially clergy -- was quite bitter. The title character turns out to be Satan, who travels in time to a small village in Austria during the 1590s, and charms a trio of three young boys. Superstition and ignorance run rampant in this village. Things are so backward and hopeless that Satan's presence actually makes things better. At ...more
David Raz
I wish I could say otherwise, but this book, mostly attributed to Mark Twain, is not a good book at all. There is very little plot and nothing of characters. The book is just the author's hate to the church (and the human kind in general) repeated over and over. The only good thing I can say about it is that it is short. I'm hesitating between one star and two, but looking back at books which got two stars from me, this is much worse, so one star it is.
Edit: The Wikipedia article about this book
Sep 04, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I set aside my four other books "to be read" because I became so engrossed in this one. I usually don't read a book in 4 days but it was short and interesting. I thought it was clever, timeless, a book for all times, a message for yesterday, today and tomorrow; offering insights into humanity, thought provoking. If only my reviews were as good as the books.....
May 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Humans. So smug and righteous in their religion and morality. So ridiculous and cruel in reality. It’s enough to make you weep - or laugh.
Jun 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The last two pages....they really got me.
Edgarr Alien Pooh
Mar 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics
We are all familiar with Twain’s major works like Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer but this book is Twain in an almost unrecognisable guise. Far from the banks of the great Mississippi River this tale takes place in Austria. One of the last pieces of writing that he finished, it was published posthumously.
What appears to be a cleverly written snipe at standard religions, a mysterious man appears in town and performs trickery and magic, helping out some of the locals while befriending a group of three bo
Feb 22, 2018 added it
Doesn't seem like a rating would be appropriate for this piece. It's been meddled with, is unfinished, and is only one version of what Twain had been working on.

I do wish he'd lived to finish this. The background story and setting do have some significance, but they don't offer much more value than their functioning as signals for the context of Satan's philosophy (Faust–not just Goethe's work, but the legend itself; Schiller's Die Räuber; Hegel/Nietzsche).

I also wish I had a more recent underst
Sam Strong
Jul 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
For those of you who view Mark Twain as a humorist, "The Mysterious Stranger" can come as quite the surprise. Written later in life, this book demonstrates Twain's lack of faith in the human race by presenting a character named Satan. He claims not to be the one Satan we all think of; instead, he says that he is "the" Satan's nephew. But that doesn't stop him from winning the friendship of three boys, including protagonist Theodor. Satan showers them with gifts and shows them miracles, then proc ...more
Jul 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
Thought provoking. Eye opening. Depressing. True!

In these days of commercial jet-liners being shot out of the sky by shoulder fired missiles, a large scale ground offensive mounting in Gaza, wars simmering and spiraling around the globe, it makes one wonder about the state of humanity, much as Twain did, more than a century ago.

Are humans essentially good, or are we truly closer to barbarians... of much lesser status than animals, self-obsessed, mean, brutal and out for ourselves at all costs? B
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Around the Year i...: The Mysterious Stranger, by Mark Twain 1 15 Sep 06, 2016 09:41AM  

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Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist. He is noted for his novels Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), called "the Great American Novel", and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876).

Twain grew up in Hannibal, Missouri, which would later provide the setting for Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. He apprenticed with a printer. He also work

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“There has never been a just [war], never an honorable one--on the part of the instigator of the war. I can see a million years ahead, and this rule will never change in so many as half a dozen instances. The loud little handful--as usual--will shout for the war. The pulpit will--warily and cautiously--object--at first; the great, big, dull bulk of the nation will rub its sleepy eyes and try to make out why there should be a war, and will say, earnestly and indignantly, 'It is unjust and dishonorable, and there is no necessity for it.' Then the handful will shout louder. A few fair men on the other side will argue and reason against the war with speech and pen, and at first will have a hearing and be applauded; but it will not last long; those others will outshout them, and presently the anti-war audiences will thin out and lose popularity. Before long you will see this curious thing: the speakers stoned from the platform, and free speech strangled by hordes of furious men who in their secret hearts are still at one with those stoned speakers--as earlier--but do not dare say so. And now the whole nation--pulpit and all--will take up the war-cry, and shout itself hoarse, and mob any honest man who ventures to open his mouth; and presently such mouths will cease to open. Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception.” 118 likes
“You are not you--you have no body, no blood, no bones, you are but a thought. I myself have no existence; I am but a dream--your dream, a creature of your imagination. In a moment you will have realized this, then you will banish me from your visions and I shall dissolve into the nothingness out of which you made me

In a little while you will be alone in shoreless space, to wander its limitless solitudes without friend or comrade forever—for you will remain a thought, the only existent thought, and by your nature inextinguishable, indestructible. But I, your poor servant, have revealed you to yourself and set you free. Dream other dreams, and better!

Strange! that you should not have suspected years ago—centuries, ages, eons, ago!—for you have existed, companionless, through all the eternities.

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 made them prize their bitter life, yet stingily cut it short; who gave his angels eternal happiness unearned, yet required his other children to earn it; who gave his angels painless lives, yet cursed his other children with biting miseries and maladies of mind and body; 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; who created man without invitation, then tries to shuffle the responsibility for man's acts upon man, instead of honorably placing it where it belongs, upon himself; and finally, with altogether divine obtuseness, invites a poor, abused slave to worship him!

You perceive, now, that these things are all impossible except in a dream. You perceive that they are pure and puerile insanities, the silly creations of an imagination that is not conscious of its freaks—in a word, that they are a dream, and you the maker of it. The dream-marks are all present; you should have recognized them earlier.

"It is true, that which I have revealed to you; 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!”
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