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More About Mark Twain’s

The War Prayer

For more treats and resources, visit Aaron Shepard at www.aaronshep.com.

Introduction copyright © 2003 Aaron Shepard. All rights reserved.

Here is additional background info for my reader’s theater script of Twain’s story.—Aaron

Mark Twain was certainly not the only great American humorist to square off at war fever. Another was James Branch Cabell, a writer of fantasy and allegory who is said to have been the favorite author of Twain himself in his later years. The following passage on the “War Roof” could easily have come from Twain but is instead from Cabell’s best-known book, Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice, 1919. In this scene, Jurgen converses with Saint Peter before leaving Heaven by a side door.

* * *

“One thing I did not understand, sir: and that was when you spoke just now of the War Roof.”

“It is a stone roof, made of the two tablets handed down at Sinai, which God fits over Earth whenever men go to war. For He is merciful: and many of us here remember that once upon a time we were men and women. So when men go to war, God screens the sight of what they do, because He wishes to be merciful to us.”

“That must prevent, however, the ascent of all prayers that are made in war‑time.”

“Why, but, of course, that is the roof’s secondary purpose,” replied St. Peter. “What else would you expect when the Master’s teachings are being flouted? Rumors get through, though, somehow, and horribly preposterous rumors. For instance, I have actually heard that in war‑time, prayers are put up to the Lord God to back His favorites and take part in the murdering. Not,” said the good Saint, in haste, “that I would believe even a Christian bishop to be capable of such blasphemy: I merely want to show you, Jurgen, what wild stories get about.”

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