These short fiction and prose pieces display the variety of Twain's imaginative invention, his diverse talents, and his extraordinary emotional range. Twain was a master of virtually every prose genre; in fables and stories, speeches and essays, he skilfully adapted, extended or satirized literary conventions, guided only by his unruly imagination. From the comic wit that sparkles in maxims from 'Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar,' to the parodic perfection of 'An Awful - Terrible Medieval Romance,' to the satirical delights of The Innocents Abroad and Roughing It; from the warm nostalgia of 'Early Days' to the bitter, brooding tone of 'The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg' to the anti-imperial vehemence of 'To the Person Sitting in the Darkness' and the poignant grief expressed in 'Death of Jean', Twain emerges in this volume in many guises, all touched by genius.
Samuel Clemens still stuns in whatever form he chooses--the fable, the essay, the speech, sketch, or one-liner ("The very ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice."). This fine collection features several hilarious pieces, including a story in the early, lighter section by "Grandfather Twain"--about "a bad little boy, whose name was Jim--though, if you will notice, you will find that bad little boys are nearly always called James in your Sunday-school books.... He didn't have a sick mother either--a sick mother who was pious and had the consumption, and would be glad to lie down in the grave and be at rest, but for the strong love she bore her boy ..." In his later years, though parody and bleak humor abound, Twain extended his range from animal rights to anti-imperialism, from bitterness to despair. "To the Person Sitting in Darkness" remains a powerful, immediate indictment of America's colonial annexation of the Philippines. His suggested flag for the province? Just the usual one, "with the white stripes painted black and the stars replaced by the skull and cross-bones."