[PW] Quote: "If there is a God, he is a malign thug" attributed to Mark Twain (probably incorrectly)

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com
Thu Jun 9 11:32:30 PDT 2016

I have been asked to investigate a statement attributed to Mark Twain.
Here is one version: "If there is a God, he is a malign thug".
Information on this topic would be welcome.

The prominent SF writer Harlan Ellison popularized the linkage of Mark
Twain to the "malign thug" deity formulation. The Wombats list has
some very knowledgeable science fiction enthusiasts, and this message
contains two requests about statements written by Ellison in "Paingod
and Other Delusions" (1975 revised edition) and the July 1977 issue of
"The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction". If you have access to
these publications then your help is being requested.

The phrase "malign thug" does not appear on the important
TwainQuotes.com website edited by list member Barbara Schmidt. Also,
it is not listed in the compilation "Mark Twain at Your Fingertips".
In addition, it is not listed in the Wikiquote webpages
(public-facing/discussion) for Mark Twain.

The earliest pertinent evidence I was able to locate appeared in a
1966 biography of Twain. The author, Justin Kaplan, was presenting his
summary analysis of an episode in Twain's life (with his wife Olivia
Langdon Clemens (Livy)). Kaplan was not presenting a quotation from
Twain when he used the expression "some sort of malign thug".

[ref] 1966, Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain: A Biography by Justin Kaplan,
Chapter 16: "Never quite sane in the night", Quote Page 338, Simon and
Schuster, New York. (Verified on paper)[/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
He had long ago undermined Livy's religious faith, another thing he
could claim guilt for. Now, when she looked for comfort in orthodox
notions of a just or purposeful deity, he told her that the universe
was governed by some sort of malign thug. He raged on and on, but when
his storm subsided he stroked her hair and said softly, "Don't mind
anything I say, Livy. Whatever happens, you know I love you." And then
he took his daughters for a walk by the Thames and told them how vile
the human race was.
[End excerpt]

Currently, I hypothesize that the modern direct quotation was derived
from this passage. The conversion of a paraphrase or summary into a
direct statement is a known mechanism for the creation of

"The Glass Teat" by Ellison contained a pertinent passage that was
dated October 4, 1968. The text below is from a 2014 edition. It would
be nice to have scans from an earlier edition:

Year: 2014
Title: The Glass Teat
Author: Harlan Ellison
Series: The Harlan Ellison Collection
Date on Section: October 4, 1968
Unnumbered Page
Publisher: Open Road Media, New York
Database: Google Books Preview

[Begin excerpt]
Mark Twain it was, when once asked why such awful things went on in
the world, who confided with sincerity to the woman who had inquired,
that it was because the Universe is run by god and god (so saith
Clemens) "Is a malign thug."
]End excerpt]

The 1972 collection "Again, Dangerous Visions" included an
introduction written by Ellison that attributed "malign thug" to

Year: 1972
Title: Again, Dangerous Visions: 46 Original Stories,
Editor: Harlan Ellison
Section: Introduction by Harlan Ellison to Bernard Wolfe's Monitored
Dreams and Strategic Cremations,
Start Page 308, Quote Page 308,
Publisher: Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York
(Verified on paper in 1972 edition)

[Begin excerpt]
I wanted Wolfe in Dangerous Visions and it just didn't work out. But
when I knew there would be a second volume, I assaulted his privacy
and badgered and cajoled, and stole these two remarkable stories—"The
Bisquit Position" and "The Girl With Rapid Eye-Movements"—away from
Playboy and other flush periodicals that pay Wolfe three grand per
story, and they are here because they were so ordained for publication
by a Gracious God who takes time off from being (as Mark Twain called
him) "a malign thug" every once in a million years.
[End excerpt]

The collection "Paingod and Other Delusions" by Ellison was revised in
1975, and a new introduction was added at that time, I believe. I
would like to get scans of the revised introduction in the 1975
edition. The text below is from a 2014 edition. Sometimes
modifications are made in later editions, so I would like to get
information directly from the 1975 edition if possible. Ellison used
quotation marks for this version:

Year: 2014 (1965; revised in 1975)
Title: Paingod and other delusions.
Author: Harlan Ellison
Publisher: Open Road Media, New York
Unnumbered Page
(Introduction to short story Paingod)
Database: Google Books Preview

[Begin excerpt]
Mark Twain said, "If one truly believes there is an all-powerful
Deity, and one looks around at the condition of the universe, one is
led inescapably to the conclusion that God is a malign thug." That's
the quote that caused me to write "The Deathbird.” It's a puzzle I
cannot reason out.
[End excerpt]

The words below are from a 2014 edition of a collection of Ellison's
writings. Apparently, the text originally appeared in the July 1977
issue "The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction". If you have that
issue it would be great to have scans of the quotation and the table
of contents showing the date and publisher.

[ref] 2014, Sleepless Nights in the Procrustean Bed by Harlan Ellison,
Section: You Don't Know Me, I Don't Know You, (This essay appeared as
the Introduction to the "Harlan Ellison Issue" dated July 1977 of "The
Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction"), Unnumbered Page, Open Road
Media, New York. (Google Books Preview)[/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
When I rewrote the Book of Genesis from the viewpoint of the Snake, in
"The Deathbird," in 1973, and suggested (as had dear sweet old Mark
Twain) that if you really thought the universe was ruled by God, and
you looked around at the state of the universe, you would be forced to
the conclusion that God is a malign thug, all those good and tolerant
Children of God and assorted other weirdos cancelled their
subscriptions by the drove.
[End excerpt]


More information about the Project-Wombat-Open mailing list