Virtual Voices

Prodigal sons

Marvin Olasky's America

HANNIBAL, Mo.---The advent of railroads and bridges put most ferries out of business, but the Middle Mississippi River Valley offers six ferries, two of which travelers can cross free of charge. We took one of those two, the Kampsville Ferry, across the Illinois River---another pleasure made possible by taking back roads. Great fun.

Then we bridged across the Mississippi and arrived in Hannibal, which gets more business than any other town I know out of a native son who hated it. The list is long: Mark Twain Riverboat, Becky Thatcher Restaurant, Mark Twain Fried Chicken, the Planters Barn Theater starring "Mark Twain Himself." That last marketing twitch is amusing because Mark Twain had no Himself---he was an invented character remarkably unlike his creator.

In college I wrote my senior thesis on Samuel Clemens and learned that he was an increasingly bitter atheist who adopted the humorous, avuncular "Mark Twain" persona. These days---I'm continuing to explore the usefulness of the Prodigal Son parable in explaining our cultural patterns---I might say that Clemens was a driven, judgmental elder brother who reinvented himself as a fun-loving younger brother.

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One Hannibal sales pitch: "Here stood the board fence which Tom Sawyer persuaded his gang to pay him for the privilege of whitewashing. Tom sat by and saw that it was well done." The description confuses fiction and reality---Tom and the fence were a made-up character and plot element---but the story contain more truth that the anti-bourgeois Clemens intended.

The truth: It's often not the objective nature of the work itself that brings more or less job satisfaction, but the attitude a person brings to it.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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