The Adventures of Mark Twain, released in the UK as Comet Quest, is a 1985 stop motion animated film directed by Will Vinton (best known for “The California Raisins” animation). After many years in television syndication, it was released on DVD in January 2006. The film features a series of vignettes extracted from several of Mark Twain‘s works, built around a plot that features Twain’s attempts to keep his “appointment” with Halley’s Comet. The concept was inspired by a famous quote by the author:
- “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year (1910), and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.'”
Included are sketches taken from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Mysterious Stranger, The Damned Human Race, Injun Joe (briefly), The Diary of Adam and Eve (Letters from the Earth), Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven and a rendering of Twain’s first story, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.
A scene from the movie is often posted on the internet, sometimes without attribution as to where it came from. The scene is present on the DVD release, and shows the children meeting Satan (taken from The Mysterious Stranger)
Twain actually wrote multiple versions of this story, each unfinished and each involving the character of Satan. The first substantial version is commonly referred to as The Chronicle of Young Satan and tells of the adventures of Satan, the sinless nephew of the more familiar Satan, in an Austrian village in the Middle Ages. The story ends abruptly in the middle of a scene involving Satan entertaining a prince in India, suggesting Twain abandoned this piece before he finished writing it.
The second substantial version Twain attempted to write is known as Schoolhouse Hill which involves the familiar characters of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer and their adventures with Satan, referred to in this version as “No. 44, New Series 864962”, and is set in America. Schoolhouse Hill is the shortest of the three versions.
The third version, called No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger, returns to Medieval Austria and tells of No. 44’s mysterious appearance at the door of a print shop and his use of heavenly powers to expose the futility of mankind’s existence. This version also introduces an idea Twain was toying with at the end of his life involving a duality of the “self”, one being the “Waking Self” and the other being the “Dream Self”. Twain explores these ideas through the use of “Duplicates”, copies of the print shop workers made by No. 44. This version contains an actual ending, however the version is not considered as complete as Twain would have intended.