Over a month ago, the dear Professor VJ Duke and I made a deal. He would read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (arguably one of the best books ever written) if I read Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. I even agreed to write a review afterwards. Knowing the professor’s dislike of Austen, and my dislike of Twain, we thought it was a fair trade.
I, however, am heartily ashamed at how long it took me to read this book. I’m afraid I kept procrastinating because of my distaste for the Austen-hating man that is Mark Twain.
But finally, after a whole month and half -I swear, it never takes me that long to read a book – I have finished it. So without further ado, I present my review of Mark Twain’s satiric novel, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.
The story is about an ordinary but ambitious man, Hank Morgan, a supervisor in a Connecticut gun factory, who is sent back in time to Britain in 528 after being hit in the head and knocked unconscious. Why and how he goes from late 1800s America to Middle Ages Britain is beyond me, and apparently beyond Mr. Twain as well, since he never explains it. (Well, I suppose there was that dream Twain had about being a knight that partially inspired this novel, but that still doesn’t explain how a knock on the head sends a man not only back in time, but also to another country). Of course, perhaps this was all a dream (albeit a detailed and extremely long one) and there was no time travel involved. But that would only serve to make this more boring. So we’re going to ignore this idea.
Hanks finds himself in immediate trouble – captured by knights and taken to King Arthur’s court where he is sentenced to death. But conveniently, since as you know, all supervisors of gun factories are so well-versed in history they remember days of past eclipses of the sun, Hank is able to use an eclipse of the sun to fool King Arthur and his people that he is a powerful wizard, more powerful than even Merlin, who can (of course) do nothing against the eclipse.
Hank then sets himself up as The Boss (an inventive title if I ever heard one) and starts to slowly and somewhat subtly reform the country to reflect America as it was in Hank’s time (since of course, that wouldn’t mess up history at all).
“I was born modest; not all over, but in spots.”
Yeah. Extremely tiny spots. Hank is so far from modest it is laughable. He carefully sets up all his “miracles” so as to happen in the showiest manner possible. I am convinced Mark Twain must have been a magnificent liar, for how else could he come up with a character that spews so much tripe? Hank, for all his talk of republics and equality seems to think highly of himself – I would guess he thinks himself way above the uneducated masses and the selfish nobility of the Middle Ages. He is constantly marveling at the people’s ignorance and condescends to “make their lives better” by imposing his intelligence on them. I found it rather rude at times.
His supposedly superior intelligence, however, doesn’t always do him any good. He and the King are caught and sold as slaves while traveling incognito, and even when he escapes, he is caught again and almost hanged – they are only narrowly saved by Lancelot and the knights.
I thought the story got better as I got closer to the end (perhaps because I knew I was almost to the end). Hank had England quite advanced with a telegraph, electric lights, factories, schools, newspapers and even baseball. Things seemed to be going alright, until suddenly Arthur was killed and The Church made its move. Almost overnight all of Hank’s progress was snuffed out and the people turned against him, and he was separated from his wife Sandy and their daughter, Hello-Central. All that remained was him, Clarence and 52 young English boys, educated in one of Hank’s schools. They made their last stand in one of Merlin’s caves, and with Hank’s advanced technology, destroyed an army of 25,000 men.
Even that wasn’t enough to save him however, since he was stabbed by one of the wounded men of the decimated army of England and later treated by Merlin in disguise. Merlin got his revenge on Hank (who had humiliated him and made Merlin obsolete) by casting a spell on him to make him sleep for 1300 years. Amazingly, although all of Merlin’s other spells in the book had failed, this one he got right. Hank awakes back in his own century long enough to babble incoherently and then die, leaving behind his diary of his time in the Middle Ages, the only record of his time travel.
All in all it was an interesting read, though it didn’t increase my love for Mark Twain by much. I didn’t like Hank, though there were other characters I became fond of while reading the novel:
- Clarence – he was resourceful and fairly intelligent, despite having grown up in the time of suspicion and limited science. He was a good friend to Hank. Plus, he had the brilliant idea to replace the royal family with cats – he goes on for nearly an entire page about this idea, and I thought it was highly amusing.
- Morgan le Fay – she was only in the story for a couple chapters, but I found her satisfyingly blood thirsty. One minute she was all charm and grace and beauty, the next she was stabbing a serving boy for stumbling into her and before you could really take in what had just happened, she was back to smiles and laughter. Bit of a scary woman if you ask me.
- Sandy – she came to Hank as a sort of prize, and would not leave him until he was defeated by another knight. After being with him so long Hank thought she would be considered compromised, he married her. I liked Sandy, even though she would drone on and on for pages about knights defeating other knights and their sad histories; she certainly came in handy at times for Hank. Their marriage was a happy one, which made me happy.
- King Arthur – I think I may have a predisposition to like him, despite his faults. Though he was guilty of believing in the established system of the time (mainly the divine rights of the nobility in comparison to the zero rights of the peasants), I thought he was a pleasant enough character and was sad to hear of his death.
There were also some good quotes hidden throughout the book. But my favorite by far was this one:
“People talk about beautiful friendships between two persons of the same sex. What is the best of that sort, as compared with the friendship of a man and wife, where the best impulses and highest ideals of both are the same? There is no place for comparison between the two friendships; one is earthly, the other divine.”
Well said, Mr. Twain.
With that I wrap this up, and place Mr. Twain’s book back on my shelf. I also send a shout out to Mr. Hank Morgan, aka The Boss, on this National Boss Day. I didn’t like him much, but I’ll still send him a little appreciation.