Friday, October 22, 2010

Mark Twain, Esther, and Fiona

An autobiography of Mark Twain releases on November 15. Have you heard about it? The first of three volumes will stock store shelves on that day. Unfortunately, there will be no book signing. Samuel Clemens writing under the pseudonym of Mark Twain penned his autobiography before his death. However, in his will he said that it could not be released until 100 years after death date.

Mr. Twain self published some early chapters from his proclaimed autobiography in the years 1906-1907. Since his death some editors have assembled those chapters or portions presenting them as part of Twain’s story, but the first edition of the entire manuscript releases this November, published by the University of California Press. Rather than following a true autobiography format, the three volumes contain more anecdotes, ruminations, and personal family stories.

Whether the first volume contains his preface, “From the Grave” is yet to be seen. He is said to have requested that the autobiography not be published for 100 years because it gave him the freedom to speak his “whole frank mind.” In his last few years, what must it have been like for Samuel Clemens to think that his witticisms, stories, and life might still impact people in another century?

I’m not sure that a hundred year old document would be my choosing. Too many last minute thoughts or happenings on this earth might affect my views. But in a few weeks, the acclaimed Mark Twain will speak not from the grave, but from a delayed release of thoughts while he was alive.

Today’s column is the last installment concerning Queen Esther. I’m impressed by the stories that God wanted to keep intact to impact generations not only 100 years later but thousands of years later. In 2006, Esther’s story made its way from the Bible pages to film. “One Night with the King,” the story of Hadassah (Esther’s Jewish name), released in 2006 starring Tiffany Dupont, Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif.

While the screenplay is romanticized, the history and setting are close to the biblical account. When I watched the movie, the Citadel of Susa intrigued, with its 60 foot walls and huge mote. Esther’s character and devotion to God are well depicted. If you rent it, be aware that there are a few artistic intrusions on the biblical account, especially the appearance of the Star of David in a piece of jewelry (Historians tell us that the Star of David came into use in the Middle Ages).

But, I highly recommend the movie. This is what I suggest: read the book of Esther then watch the movie. You will be entertained but also taken back to the drama that unfolded in the Persian Empire.

A later impact of Esther’s story is seen in the Feast of Purim, celebrated near the end of February or first of March by Jews worldwide when they gather to remember the defeat of a plot to exterminate Jews. Some celebrations abroad rival Mardi Gras, while others focus more on the public reading of the entire book of Esther. They celebrate with noisemakers and “blot out the name” of the evil Haman when his name is read.

Jewish folklore says that Esther had become so ill and scared from being removed from her home that she had turned a ghastly, ugly green color and God worked a miracle and King Xerxes thought her beautiful anyway. When I discovered that legend, all that came to mind was Shrek and Princess Fiona.

The story of Esther and her God-instilled courage begs to be shared with children. Her story reflects the psalmist’s words, “When I called you answered me; you made me bold and stouthearted” (Psalm 138:3). Parents, share Esther’s story and bake the triangular fruit filled cookies called “hamentaschen,” literally Haman’s pockets representing a three cornered hat (recipe found online). Read a short portion of the book of Esther that repeats the name Mordecai and Haman, and allow children cheering and booing for good Mordecai and evil Haman respectively. Chapter five, verses 9-14 work well and explains God’s principle of reaping what we sow.

Aside from Mark Twain’s soon to be released last words and the story of Esther, which still reaches millions each year, what sort of shelf life and legacy do each of us have? Will your story impact in 50, 75, or 100 years? My prayer is God’s story will reverberate in future generations to a greater degree because we remain faithful in the here and now.

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