Always tell the Truth. Another recycled Welty column from . . .

. . . my first farewell to readers of Not Eudora in 2006. I’ll be writing another such column for next week’s Duluth Reader.

“. . . Always tell the truth like Mark Twain did.

“Twain, who was not always right, is nonetheless the most celebrated truth teller in American literature. Not just any author can, a hundred years after committing his words to paper, make a high school junior burst out laughing during study hall and earn the dirty look of his school’s most feared teacher. After this happened to me it’s no wonder that I’ve been a Twain fan for life.

“Culled from his voluminous writings are more witty and wise aphorisms than you can shake a dead cat at. I’ve contemplated two of them in particular for years. The first is undeniably true: “Always tell the truth. This will gratify most people and astonish the rest.” I have tried to follow this advice for years as it echoes another great moralist, Jesus of Nazareth, who said the same thing somewhat less flippantly: “the truth will set you free.”

“And like Jesus who used the shorthand fiction of parables to tell his truths so too did Twain use fiction to tell the truth. Those who doubted that black slaves were the equal of their white masters would certainly have been chagrined at the depiction of Miss Watson’s slave, Jim, risking his life to gather up the family that his kind masters had sold away from him. The readers who were annoyed with Twain’s depiction of Jim’s nobility were just like the Pharisees who could not see holiness in the much despised and heretical “good Samaritan.”

“But then there is this contradiction from Twain: “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

“I’ll let the people who live in black and white and who war with the dangers of “relativism” wrestle with this advice but I adore it. Our best truth tellers often lie with their fiction to tell truths that ten truckloads of Fox News couldn’t convey

“I wrote a while back that I was taking another giant of the nineteenth century, Abe Lincoln, with me to an unexpected place. Let me add that I’m also planning to take Twain with me to the same destination. And here’s a little sample: I’m going to win this race for Congress.”