A couple of people have had trouble with the link, so
here is the text of my essay. A couple of
disclaimers: 1)Just trust me that my original essay
was much more poignant, funny, and original before the
newspaper editors started hacking it to microscopic
bits; and 2)The editors are the ones who added the
"The" to the title of Huck! Had I made that mistake,
my claim on Twain would be dubious... 3)Originally I
mentioned TWAIN-L (which I've subscribed to for many
years now), giving you folks specific, special
permission to use Twain quotations and visit Twain's
old homes; and 4)My preferred title was "My Mark
Twain," which would be better for reasons most of you
Twain is mine; find your own author
by Scott Dalrymple
[originally appeared in The Wichita Eagle, 1/18/02]
I watched Ken Burns' documentary "Mark Twain" this
week on public television, and I couldn't be grumpier.
Not that the subject of Twain makes me grumpy -- quite
the opposite. I own shelves full of Twain-related
books, and whenever I move I always unpack them first
-- the truest sign of which books you love most.
The quality of the documentary was fine. The program
included notable Twain scholars with an excellent
command of the facts, and some real insights into the
To understand why I was grumpy, you must know that I
recently had a similar response upon visiting Twain's
childhood home: Hannibal, Mo.
The tiny house where young Sam Clemens lived is now a
tiny museum, supplemented by a couple of associated,
emergency- backup museums nearby. Twain's image is
everywhere: on road signs, in shop windows and in
tourism brochures. For a few bucks, you can buy Mark
Twain playing cards, Mark Twain thimbles and Mark
Twain hooded sweat shirts.
As I shuttled through the many Twain venues in
Hannibal, I was overwhelmed by a powerful feeling.
The feeling wasn't one of wonder, or respect, or even
interest. It wasn't a sense of awe while touching some
of the same things Twain himself touched, or while
walking the same paths he walked.
It also wasn't disgust at the commercialization of
Twain. Twain never minded using his own name to make a
buck, and I suspect he would get a charge out of
seeing Mark Twain Mobile Home Sales.
What, then, was this unshakable feeling? Jealousy.
Truth be told, I secretly resent the other people who
flock to Hannibal and other Twain shrines each year,
and I bristle whenever Twain appears on television.
Why? I'm sorry to break this to the rest of the world,
but Twain's books were written, quite specifically,
Twain is clearly speaking directly to me, and to no
one else. We never met, of course. Yet somehow, across
the years, we share an unmistakable personal
There are scenes in "The Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn" that affect me more than anyone else could
possibly be affected, and jokes in "A Connecticut
Yankee in King Arthur's Court" that no one else could
possibly get. Twain knows me, and I him.
Understanding this, you can see why I get jealous when
others act as if they, too, have some sort of deep,
personal bond with my favorite author. Would you like
millions of complete strangers professing a deep,
personal bond with your spouse or your grandfather?
So forget the notion that literature is meant to be
shared, to bring us all closer together, to save the
world, blah blah blah. Twain is mine.
Go find your own author.
Dalrymple of Andover is chairman of the business
administration department at Southwestern College in
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