Read The Coming of Jap Herron, the Novel Mark Twain “Wrote” Through a Ouija Board After His Death (1917)

“You’re mov­ing it!” “No I’m not; you’re mov­ing it!” Thus spake the excit­ed­ly anx­ious pre­teen voic­es of an-ear­ly 1990s Park­er Broth­ers Oui­ja board com­mer­cial I must have seen a hun­dred times in child­hood. Though by then such devices had scant import out­side the realm of  sleep­over par­ties, peo­ple took them more seri­ous­ly in the ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, espe­cial­ly around the time of the First World War. While some must, alas, have regard­ed them as func­tion­al chan­nels to the great beyond, oth­ers saw in them the poten­tial to gin up major pub­lish­ing events. Here we have one of the most curi­ous, 1917’s small-town Mis­souri bil­dungsro­man The Com­ing of Jap Her­ron, alleged­ly writ­ten Mark Twain, at that point sev­en years dead. A mis­placed man­u­script the execu­tors of Twain’s estate found amid his papers, per­haps? Noth­ing of the sort: he began writ­ing the book in 1915, as a dis­em­bod­ied spir­it, through a Oui­ja board. So claimed, at least, one Emi­ly Grant Hutch­ings, who brought Jap Her­ron to pub­li­ca­tion, pre­sent­ing her­self as a mere scribe tak­ing dic­ta­tion from the deceased icon of Amer­i­can lit­er­ary humor.

She’d even had some con­tact, albeit through the mail, with the liv­ing one: “In their exchange of let­ters he had giv­en her advice and, inter­est­ing­ly, also marked one of her let­ters with the words: ‘Idiot! Must pre­serve.’ ” That price­less find comes from The Pub­lic Domain Review’s post on Jap Her­ron, where you can read the short book in full, a much eas­i­er option than strug­gling to find a copy that sur­vived the ceas­ing of pub­li­ca­tion and sub­se­quent pulp­ing ordered by Twain’s daugh­ter. (You can also access it by click­ing on the image above.)  And how does this “final work,” whether com­posed as a pas­tiche or para­nor­mal­ly, hold up? “The humor impress­es as a fee­ble attempt at imi­ta­tion,” said a con­tem­po­rary New York Times review, “and while there is now and then a strong sure touch of pathos or a swift and true rev­e­la­tion of human nature, the ‘sob stuff’ that oozes through many of the scenes, and the over­drawn emo­tions are too much for creduli­ty. If this is the best that ‘Mark Twain’ can do by reach­ing across the bar­ri­er, the army of admir­ers that his works have won for him will all hope that he will here­after respect that bound­ary.”

via The Pub­lic Domain Review

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Mark Twain Plays With Elec­tric­i­ty in Niko­la Tesla’s Lab (Pho­to, 1894)

Mark Twain Wrote the First Book Ever Writ­ten With a Type­writer

Mark Twain Shirt­less in 1883 Pho­to

Find Major Works by Twain in our Col­lec­tion of Free eBooks and Free Audio Books

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, aes­thet­ics, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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