The Stolen White Elephant by Mark Twain
From the father of American literature, four sparkling comic tales of extraordinary animals and parables subverted.
I love Twain. The man’s mind is an utter marvel; so unique and subversive it’s almost difficult to believe such genius could be held within a single mind. And yet, here we are.
This addition to the Little Black Classics range is comprised of four of Twain’s short stories. The titular title, The Stolen White Elephant, was by far my favourite. It tells the story of a government worker who has been tasked with delivering a peacemaking gift to the queen, in the form of a live elephant from Asia. As is to be expected with Twain, madness ensues and the elephant goes missing. The situation flies into disarray as the police are dispatched all over the country to track down the gargantuan beast, and wild sums of money are offered for its capture. Twain’s wit and sarcasm here are beautifully pointed, and utterly hilarious. Such bumbling! Such confused and yet understandable rationalisations! Such deception! I loved it.
We are then treated to two polar opposite tales, one of The Bad Little Boy Who Didn’t Come to Grief and one of The Good Little Boy Who Did Not Prosper. One inherently bad boy who consistently escapes retribution for his misdeeds, and one deeply good boy who gets himself into such trouble simply for being good. Twain makes fun of stories where the opposites are true - where good comes to good, and vice versa. It’s simply not the case in our world, and Twain reminds us of this with each of these bleak little stories.
I felt the final story, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calavera Country, was a poor choice by Penguin. It lacked the same mirth of impact as the previous three, and featured such an ambiguous and vague ending that its positioning as the final story in the collection felt a bit off. Although still an enjoyable and funny tale, it would have worked better being placed at the beginning here, or even added to a separate Twain collection of similar short stories.
Oh, if Little Black Classics had chosen to feature prose, and only prose, I’d be such a happy wee lassie.