The original Connecticut Yankee (#SFWApro)

Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is a tough book to slog through.
Twain’s writing this book with a message (no sending it Western Union here): monarchy is bad, aristocracy is bad, slavery is bad, the Catholic Church is the biggest bad. He hammers this message home in repeated lectures to the reader, over and over, to the point of tedium. It made the book close to unreadable.
That said, here’s the plot (though a lot of you probably know it already): Hank Morgan, foreman at a gun-making factory (though he brags he can build anything made out of metal) tells a stranger he meets touring English castles that he’s seen these monuments in their prime, 1300 years earlier. To prove it, he presents a manuscript of his trip, which the stranger (who narrates the intro) realizes is indeed centuries old.
The manuscript tells how Hank gets hit on the head, wakes up in Arthurian England (Twain has the right century for Arthur, assuming he existed [I’d like to think he did] but presents him as a Malory-ian medieval knight rather than a Celtic warlord), gets captured by Sir Kay and sentenced to burn. He remembers the date of the next solar eclipse in this era and uses it to bluff Camelot by proving he’s a powerful wizard who can turn off the sun (a trick countless characters would pull over the next century and a half of fiction). In return for turning it back on, he becomes “Sir Boss,” the prime minister of England. He sets to work transforming the country with both modern technology and modern education: His goal is to build up an educated mass of common folk so when he overthrows church and state for a modern democracy, he’ll have the nation’s support.
In between all that, Sir Boss goes on a quest with the Lady Alisande (initially thinking she’s a ninny, he eventually falls for her and marries her), wins a joust with lasso and gun (I’d thought the lasso, which shows up in several films, was a post-Twain touch), destroys Merlin’s magic tower, and takes Arthur on an incognito tour to see the kingdom from ground zero (they’re sold into slavery, then almost hung, before the Round Table arrives on bicycles to save them). Finally while he’s away in Europe with Alisande and their baby, the fall of Camelot takes place (as in Malory, though the trigger for it all is Lancelot crushing Mordred and Agravaine on the stock market) and the Church steps in. Everything Hank built gets destroyed, an army of 30,000 knights rises against him and his remaining allies, but bombs, Gatling guns and an electric fence wipe them all out in a grim and bloody climax (it’s a pretty good guess at how tech was going to transform war).
In the aftermath, Clarence (Hank’s page and sidekick) carries the wounded boss to a cave where a kindly old woman treats him with herbs. Only it turns out it’s Merlin, who curses Sir Boss to sleep until his own time (Twain blithely ignores that he’s treated Merlin as an utter fraud the whole book). Finishing the manuscript, the stranger goes in to Hank in time to see him die, calling for his wife and child. The end.
Some thoughts on the book in the next post.

2 Comments

Filed under Now and Then We Time Travel, Reading

2 responses to “The original Connecticut Yankee (#SFWApro)

  1. Pingback: Thoughts on Twain’s Yankee (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: Reading Material (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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