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Jap Herron: A Novel Mark Twain Wrote After His Death

Mark twain died in 1910. Seven years later he wrote his last novel, Jap Herron—so claims St. Louis journalist and author Emily Grant Hutchings.

Mrs. Hutchings claimed that Mark Twain, who had been dead for seven years, came to her from beyond the graves and dictated to her the book, as well as two short stories, through an Ouija Board—an apparatus that can be allegedly used to communicate with the dead—and with the assistance of a spirit medium, Mrs. Lola V. Hays.

Ouija Board

An Ouija Board. Photo credit: Fer Gregory/Shutterstock.com

For those who are not familiar with the Ouija Board, it’s a toy consisting of a flat board with the entire English alphabet and numbers 0 through 9 marked on it, as well as the words “yes” and “no” in the uppermost corners and “goodbye” at the bottom. The board is accompanied by a small teardrop-shaped piece of wood or plastic called a “planchette”. The idea is that two or more people would sit around the board, place their finger tips on the planchette and ask questions to the spirit of a dead person. With enough focus and dedication, it is said that one can call the spirit and get him (or her) to move the planchette from letter to letter, spelling out the answers.

The Ouija Board is hogwash, of course, but there are many believers and Mrs. Hutchings thought that it might be possible to fool the public into believing that the spirit of the great American humorist actually communicated with her. In the lengthy introduction of the book, Mrs. Hutchings describes the book's mystical origins, how she was invited to a regular meeting of a small psychical research society and how Mark Twain spoke directly to her addressing her as “the Hannibal girl”—Mrs. Hutchings being born in Hannibal, Missouri.

Jap Herron

The novel’s extraordinary origin attracted some fame, even earning a review on The New York Times. It was a scathing review with a hint of mockery.

The ouija board seems to have come to stay as a competitor of the typewriter in the production of fiction. For this is the third novel in the last few months that has claimed the authorship of some dead and gone being who, unwilling to give up human activities, has appeared to find in the ouija board a material means of expression,” The New York Times wrote in 1917.

The humor impresses as a feeble attempt at imitation and, while there is now and then a strong sure touch of pathos or a swift and true revelation of human nature, the "sob stuff" that oozes through many of the scenes, and the overdrawn emotions are too much for credulity,” the Times article added. “If this is the best that "Mark Twain" can do by reaching across the barrier, the army of admirers that his works have won for him will all hope that he will hereafter respect that boundary.”

A year after the book hit the market, Mark Twain's daughter Clara Clemens went to court to put an end to Hutchings profiting from Twain’s name. Hutchings was asked to provide proof that the book was indeed written by the ghost of Twain, which put Hutchings in a bind. If Hutchings stuck to the story that the words came directly from Twain's spirit, she would be infringing on the rights of Mark Twain’s legal publisher, Harper & Brothers, who had to rights to publish all works by the author. Hutchings would also have to give up the ownership of the book as the Twain estate, which owns all things written by Twain, would also own this book. But if Hutchings changed her story, she would be confessing to fraud.

Eventually, Hutchings and her publisher did the right thing and pulled the book from the shelves. Paper copies of the book are rare today, but the digital copy of the book is readily available online.

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