Time Travel and Mark Twain

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.

mark twain
I even went out and bought my own copy of this book – the Dover Edition.

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.

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23 thoughts on “Time Travel and Mark Twain

  1. Thanks for a hilarious review! It seems like a ridiculous premise for a book (although I didn’t realise how long people had been writing about time travel for) and I have to confess that I tend to avoid satirical books in the fear that they’ll go over my head. I don’t think I’d like Hank much either, it sounds like he’d wind me up in the same way that Gulliver did with his preachy my-world-is-so-much-better-than-yours attitude. It’s always nice to get through a book like this though so you can do some righteous complaining 😉

    1. 🙂 I’m glad you liked it. I hadn’t realized just how long people had been writing about time travel either. I think Hank and Gulliver are pretty similar- Hank definitely had the my-world-is-better-than-yours thing going on. But yes, I rejoiced when I finished this book! (It was kind of like…Tiffany is free!!!! Now I may start reading my more contemporary titles…I’ve been feeling the need for an epic fantasy lately.)

  2. HahaHA! I can accept the time-travel, the miraculous knowledge of eclipses, even the 25,000 men beaten by 52 boys – but my credulity snaps at the idea of Englishmen playing baseball!!!

    A beautiful rip, worthy of the Master himself! 😆

  3. 😆 Haha! An excellent review, Miss Tiffany, definitely worthy of the little wait.

    By the way, I think you read it very fast. You see, the professor had a tough time reading P&P quickly just because I don’t read fast at all. I’m rather slow. So I think your time was just fine.

    What can I say? A great in-depth review, for sure. Personally, I found the novel’s end a bit weak…I wanted more answers. And I wasn’t happy with electric fence thingy–if I recall correctly.

    Morgan scared the professor too. Especially when she cocked her head like a bird–I think Twain said.

    Now, don’t laugh, but the professor’s favorite character was actually…Merlin. I felt a bit bad for the old chap. Couldn’t stand Sandy…

    Really enjoyed this. Thanks for reading and posting.

    Now, what Twain should the professor give you next?

    1. Thank you! It was a bit of struggle for me, since I am normally a fast reader. True, classics just as this one take a little bit longer just because of the structure of the sentences and the language, but this took me longer than usual.

      Actually, now that you say it, I did find the end a little wanting – like he left too many unanswered questions – but my joy from at last reaching the end of the novel overpowered my curiosity in this instance. I did find it more than a bit unbelievable that a series of electric fences defeated an army of 25,000…

      That does sound right – as I read it, I was thinking Morgan would make an excellent member of Chaos.

      I wouldn’t laugh! I actually considered adding him to my list of liked characters – I did feel a bit bad for him, what with Hank rudely undermining everything he did. Sandy was utterly ridiculous (and I liked how annoyed Hank got at first around her, and since I didn’t like Hank, I thought it was a deserved fate for him to be saddled with her.)

      🙂 I’m glad you liked it. You’re welcome!

      The professor should only assign another Twain novel if he is willing to read another Austen. 😉

      1. A perfect member for sure!

        Seriously? You wouldn’t wish that horror on the poor, frightened professor, would you? Be a gentleman and read another Twain because you know it’s good for you.

      2. What is this horror you speak of? I know no such thing associated with reading Austen. Ah you know, I’m not a gentleman. I’m a lady. And ladies prefer Austen. 😉

  4. Sadly, I’ve seen this story in the form of a Transformer’s episode from the old series from 1986. Starscream and a few Decepticons and the tank Autobot whose name I can’t remember right now got transported back and Starscream used gun powder as weapons to take over the place. Thanks for that episode Mark Twain.

    And by the way, you are really good reviewer of books. I wouldn’t know where to start when it came to that.

    1. Oh lord. Just another example of Mark Twain ruining things.

      Thank you. It all comes from practice, and reading an astronomical amount of books. And having lots of opinions about them and handy writing skills. 😉

      1. I know. How could Twain ruin Transformers like that! It wasn’t my favorite episode either.

        I guess if I read more, I would be better at writing. I wish I was a reader…

      2. *shakes head* Well, now you know where that atrocity came from.

        It is true. Reading does improve your writing. But more writing also improves your writing, and you do work at that. I find your posts pretty entertaining as they are now…

      3. I know, but I am utterly failing at my book right now. I just wish I could get that going better so I could start making some money off my writing. But I do enjoy writing for the fun of it too.

      4. Hey, I know the feeling. I have the first draft written of my book, but it desperately needs revised. Now if I could just stop procrastinating…
        It would be awesome to make some money from writing, since it’s something I mostly do for fun.

      5. Maybe if we could just get someone to do the second draft for us it would make being an author so much easier. We need to hire some minnions to do that work for us.

      6. Haha maybe. But then I am cursed with the disease of being a perfectionist, and whenever given the chance to do something for have someone else help, I almost always do it myself because of the saying” if you want something done right…do it yourself!” Basically, I’m doomed.

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