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Mark Twains final work dictated by Ouija board?

Title page of Jap Herron

Title page of Jap Herron

It’s 1917 and there is a deal of controversy about a new book called Jap Herron. Why the controversy? The publishers claimed that the book was written by Mark Twain, dictated through a series of sessions with a Ouija board.  The book can be read in its entirety through the publicdomainreview.org site. This was weird in a number of ways. Twain was one to poke fun at such things. In 1866 he wrote an account of attending a seance in the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise.

Twain’s family was not happy about the book. His daughter Clara sued to halt publication. The woman who published the work, Emily Grant Hutchings, was not interested in a court battle, so she agreed to halt distribution and most copies were destroyed. It is a blessing of the technical world that we can have access to it at all. I hate when any kind of creation is completely destroyed.

While Twain was the most famous, he was not the only author said to reach across the veil and type their works through a planchette. In 1913, a 17th-century woman named Patience Worth, who said she was killed in an Indian raid, began to communicate with Pearl Curran. Shortly after the first sessions, Patience began to dictate poetry, novels, and plays. The link between Pearl and Patience became so strong that they were eventually able to abandon the board and the words just came into Pearl’s mind so she could speak them outright. (Dictating one letter at a time must be grueling!)

The site patienceworth.org contains a large collection of her poems. Her books Hope Trueblood and The Sorry Tale are available to read online. There is also a contemporary book, Patience Worth : a psychic mystery by Casper Yost, that gives you an idea of how this was seen at the time.

Jane Roberts began communicating in 1963 with an entity that identified itself as Seth. Over time they accumulated a good deal of information that was published as The Seth Material. I also found some interesting video on YouTube of Roberts talking about her encounters with Seth. All of this work seems more geared to spiritual teaching rather than literature.

Recently, the band The Mars Volta claimed their album The Bedlam in Goliath was inspired by a Ouija board. This NPR review lets you hear some of the album and considers the Ouija claim. There is also a YouTube video of an interview with Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (WARNING: CONTAINS SOME ADULT LANGUAGE) where he talks about the more troubling aspects of that experience.

If we consider talking boards to be gateways to other worlds and other beings why wouldn’t they want to express themselves? It seems like a great way to keep in touch with one’s public. Of course, who gets the royalties?

If you are in the Austin, Texas area, I will be participating in a special event presented by the Austin Horror Society centered around talking boards. It’s at Sherlock’s pub on Tuesday, October 13th and it’s free! See more on the Facebook event.

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