A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

ISBN: 159818587X
ISBN 13: 9781598185874
By: Mark Twain Amy Sterling Casil

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Adventure Classic Currently Reading Fantasy Favorites Historical Fiction Humor Literature Time Travel To Read

About this book

Hank Morgan, a 19th century American, is sent back in time to 6th century England and opens up a debate on free will versus determinism and the monarchy versus democracy, as well as urging the reader to consider the consequences of technology gone mad.

Reader's Thoughts

Steven Benesi

What do I think? Well, I have a malleable top ten books I've ever read list, but there are two stalwarts that will never be shaken from it; A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is one of these. Brilliant in its satire, cutting in its humor, in my opinion this is Clemens at his finest. I've read that it wasn't received well in its time, but for the days we all live in now it is a master work. It's amazing how much can change, yet how everything stays the same. Clemens take on the era of King Arthur and the failings of society echo the world we live in now. The parallels that Clemens draws between the Dark Ages and his era echo similarities in our own modern era. This is both hilarious and frightening as it proves that ignorance, fear, propaganda, media-hype, war, and the people that would take advantage of these things don't seem to be going anywhere no matter the strides that humanity takes. Read it lightly and it's an adventure story with amazing wit and prose; delve deeply into it and it yields much much more,and, as always, Clemens word play and puns satisfy even the most snobby of readers. Recommended to anyone and everyone. Put down what you're reading now and pick this up, and please talk to me about it when you're done.

Kara

Most people think they know this story - but they don't - they just know the fish-out-of-water story that is just the surface of this book; this is really a story of about the biggest problems Mark Twain observed in his time period, including slavery, abuses of political power, unchecked factory growth, child labor, and frightening new war technology. The final battle scene eerily predicts World War One. While the book has many funny moments, it's really a somber, reflective, sad story.

Benjamin

I don't know if anything will ever beat--for emotional intensity and moral education--Huck Finn's "All right, then, I'll go to Hell" (when he recognizes that Jim is as human as he is, and that he can either ignore that fact and get along in life, or be ejected from the world and hold on to that truth). Connecticut Yankee has no such moral clarity, which is both its promise and its curse.The moral obscurity of Connecticut Yankee comes out to trouble the reader anytime the reader begins to get comfortable with the frame here. I mean, a satirical critique is only understandable from a particular frame; that is, while critiquing some topic (say, Catholic superstition), Twain is privileging some other approach to the world (say, scientific progress), either implicitly or explicitly.But Twain's satire here shifts over the course of the novel, until the reader may not have any dry place to stand in this sea of bitterness: when the novel starts, Hank Morgan may seem crafty and capable, a perfect trickster hero--Bugs Bunny, but with expertise in mechanics instead of cross-dressing. (It occurs to me now that there has to be a Bugs Bunny in King Arthur's Court version, and lo and behold.) And Morgan takes some hearteningly democratic and modern standpoints throughout the novel: he's for the small people; he recognizes the social pressures that substitute meaningless signs for actual economic progress (his chapter "6th Century Political Economy" might as well be called "What's the Matter with Camelot?" after Thomas Frank's book on Kansas); he seems capable of inventing all sorts of labor-saving devices; and he keeps a certain cool detachment that often prevents him from taking himself too seriously.And, then, in the blink of an eye, he can kill a knight for telling a bad joke, organize the pulverization of the countryside, and talk about how he's spreading American-style democracy whether the people want it or no (and, well, you can't make an omelet without a few casualties). If you could read this book in 2000 and miss the satire on Morgan's rah-rah imperialism, it's harder to ignore post-"Operation Iraqi Freedom." (There's actually an entire article I read that makes the Morgan-Bush connection; it's slightly harder to imagine an article making the Bugs Bunny-Bush connection, if only because Bugs's wars are all defensive in fact.) While we might be horrified by the unchecked power wielded by Morgan le Fay, we also recognize King Arthur's heroism; as much as we recognize our historical gains in this novel (we have bicycles and voting!), we also recognize our historical losses by the end.(One of my favorite ways that this uncertain position--both of gain and loss simultaneously--comes out in this novel is the use of language: Twain not only gives us this eerily pitch-perfect Arthurianisms, and the super-slangy Yankeeisms of Morgan, but he shows what happens when they collide; our first clue that Alisande might be more than just a damsel in distress is probably when she appreciates Morgan's idiom "hang out": Then she said musingly, and softly, turning the words daintily over her tongue: "Hang they out -- hang they out -- where hang -- where do they hang out; eh, right so; where do they hang out. Of a truth the phrase hath a fair and winsome grace, and is prettily worded withal. I will repeat it anon and anon in mine idlesse, whereby I may peradventure learn it. Where do they hang out. Even so! already it falleth trippingly from my tongue...")Lastly, as has been noted, some of this moral uncertainty has a lot to do with Twain's biography; for one thing, during the writing of this novel, he sunk a lot of money into the Paige Compositor, a type-setting machine that failed to work. So much for technology!Note: One thing to note is that the moral uncertainty that troubles the reader of the text finds no purchase in Dan Beard's illustrations, which are very clear about their populist politics.

Andrew

Mark Twain is my favorite American author, easily. The wit and sarcasm he uses is right up my alley, and his tales are easy to digest. A Conneticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is so good. I'd put it right up there with Huckleberry Finn, maybe even higher, since it doesn't slow down like Huck Finn. The conceit is that a 19th-century Connecticut factory manager bumps his head and winds up in King Arthur's time. The Boss, as he comes to be called, hates monarchy and the authoritarian barbarism he encounters, the sheer ignorance, and the unwillingness (or inability) of the people to change their backward ways. He despises chivalry and the stupidity of this world he inhabits, so he undertakes to take over early Britain using science and the people's own superstition. If you haven't read the book stop reading now. SPOILER ALERT!What's so beautiful about this book is that it obviously undercuts the Arthurian customs, but if you read closely, also takes it's whacks at 19th-century capitalist imperialists. Henry constantly refers to the people as animals or Indians, and his attempts to "civilize" these people all eventually fail. He criticizes the royalty for their wanton cruelty and violence, then proceeds to slaughter the whole of the royal class. He speaks of the poor indoctrination of these people, starts his own plan of indoctrination, yet can't escape the fact that his own indoctrination fails all but a few. He criticizes the state Church, then says that in his perfect state a man can be "any kind of Christian he wants to be." Mark Twain was too cynical to have done this unintentionally, although I admit that this is a reading that is outside the context of the time during which it was written. Twain's Uber-mensch becomes as much of an animalistic, cold-blooded killer as the very people he criticizes. The social commentary here is clear to me, that the machine of modern imperialism is just as brutal, maybe moreso for its efficiency, as the ancient ways from which we claim to be so far removed.

Ruth Hinckley

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is a train wreck of a novel that, if written today, would never have seen print. While notable for its innovation during its time and its hundred thousand imitators, the narrative is rambling, one-sided and frustrating.The book begins well enough, with a nineteenth century factory boss being transported into the past, where his knowledge of obscure trivia and "modern" science saves his life and earns him a position as a wizard. King Arthur and his court are described as "innocent savages", which the main character (whose name is mentioned not more than twice in the book) starts out trying to civilize. The nobility, of course, are resistant to these changes, and so our protagonist sets about to undermine and unseat them.From here it rumbles along with little in the way of character development, and 19th century technology developed whole cloth by a secret society of educated peasants. The narrative is interspersed with lengthy excerpts out of even more antiquated volumes - whose point or purpose is largely left unexplained - and lengthy jaunts into the countryside where every character who shows a bit of spirit is recruited into the secret technology schools, all under the nose of the oblivious king.There is very little which actually poses a challenge to our hero, which makes the reader yearn for something to backfire on him. Eventually it does - through no fault of his own, of course - but the lessons he and Arthur learn in this episode are squandered as the ending is rushed to a conclusion, with the downfall of our hero orchestrated by the previously impotent but much-maligned Established Church.At the end, there are questions left unanswered and foreshadowed promises left unfulfilled, with logical jumps and temporal leaps which confuse and frustrate. It almost seems to change voice in the middle, and more than once. Even as a satire it fails to satisfy, and a comedy it is most certainly not. To anyone wishing to familiarize themselves with the story, I recommend choosing one of its many imitators and enjoying yourself for an hour or a day with it. Your time will be better spent.

Prem

This story starts off with a man, unamed at the time but given a title later on, The Boss. Who enters a museum with a book in arm, who spoke of the old days and ages of King Arthur. The Boss was an American in the state of Connecticut. his trade was in the grest arms factory there, he could make anything from guns to explosives. He was head superintendent with more than a thousand men under him. But because they were hard men there was always quarrels with the men and one fight to many he was knocked out. The Boss then woke up in the middle of no where next to a tree. A knight spots him and takes him back to King Arthur's courtyard, all while The Boss keeps questioning the peasants where he is and his sanity. Eventually he accepts the fact that he is in the 6th century when he used the eclipse as a magic trick to avoid being burned at the stake. Immediately after that he was second to the king, even above the mighty Merlin. The Boss goes about on many adventures from blowing up Merlins Tower to Killing Ogres and rescuing princessess to fixing the Holy Fountain. While doing all of this he had met a boy Clarence who had helped him earlier in The Bosses first appearance. The Boss took him in as an apprentice and taught hin everything that he had ever know. While the king and The Boss were on their adventures Clarance was making great strides in technological advancement. They had created secret tap lines, phone lines, and schools. At one point of the Kings and The Bosses adventure they were captured and slaves about to be hanged. But before that The Boss had escaped and sent a telegram to Clarence for help and to send 500 knights. As the king was about to be hung the troops arrived on Bicycles earlier than anticipated. After that The Boss was very influential and decided to bring out his secrets and let everyone know. He ended getting married to Sandy, the girl who escorted him to the Ogres Castle to save the princessess. The Boss returns to Camelot to hear that the King is dead from the queens betrayal and that the Church was coming after The Boss. So they set up electric fences and mines to keep the knights out. All was successful. they had killed 25, 000 knights and when it was over The Boss insisted to seeking any survivors. Caught off gaurd he was stabbed and was in a acoma state. The rest of the manuscript is written by Clarence. A woman who turned out to be Merlin put a spell over The Boss saying he will sleep for 13 centuries. So they buried The Boss very far in the cave and they attempted to escape. And that was the end of the story.I thought this story was very good. it was a fun read for me. the story actually has some hidden elements in it, that represent Mark Twains political views. The story had me actually thinking of the logic involved in the story and I can confirm its very mind twisting. There is a Magical element that was proven false in the beggining but is the only thing that saves The Boss. Overall I enjoyed this twisted story. and I would recommend this book to anyone who would like an introduction into Mark Twains works.

Rob

I was disappointed in this book, mainly because I feel Twain ruined what could have been a fine book with his unwieldy, savage cynicism. It's clear to me that he goes into this tale with an axe to grind, and the harsh marks of his attack with that implement are everywhere. I am a great admirer of Twain, but in this his shows the same ire I see in Letters from the Earth. I understand the 'why' of that in Letters: Twain feels the practices he derides have done harm to mankind, which Twain wishes to 'awaken'. It is the satire of the Malcontent, as harsh and shrill as anything Swift writes towards the end of Gulliver's Travels. But has the Arthurian cycle been guilty of a similar offense, that it should be treated in this manner? So far as I can tell, Twain never makes that clear. I understand his shrillness in Letters, just as I do in Swift. But here, I do not.

Rebecca

Samuel Longhorne Clemens may have chosen a more succinct name but it didn't make him any less verbose!At times, this book was brilliant, but surely it could have been condensed by half (of course it could, and don't call me Shirley!). I nearly gave it up half way through. Though I'm glad I continued (and didn't miss out on Merlin's weather predictions mishaps or The Knights of the Round Table baseball team), I don't think I could recommend this book to just anyone, but this poorly acted condensed Lego version will suffice for those with enough interest but lacking in patience. (If you can sit through the clip, you might be able to endure the book.)One quote that will stay with me:"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 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; the one is earthly, the other divine."

Julie

I was too young when I read this...5th grade. Did not get the nuances as much as I might have if I read it later. I was forced to read this and it still makes me cringe when I hear the title.Get over it, right? Someday maybe.

Dean

Mark Twain at his cynical amusing best. A nineteen century guy get knocked on the head and is transported back to medieval England. The story is basically how he exploits the local population using his knowledge of future technology, tries to establish democracy over feudalism, pokes fun at religion and modernization in general. The most amusing thing is how Twain is describing nineteenth century technology as superior to fifth century technology, which it is, but from a twentieth century perspective, it’s all so primitive.

Stela

I have to say I browsed the final chapters - even if I understand the message, the book seemed to me longish and somehow boring, too long for a parody, anyway, and too many themes not so developed at all - politics, society, even linguistics and I didn't like the choice of the historical period, why King Arthur, anyway? Maybe because his figure is half historical half mythological and therefore you can put him in (almost) any historical context you want, but he is also a symbol and I wish he remained like thatMaybe I'll re-read it sometime in the future but I'm not so sure.

Sarah

A book about going to a backwards place, dominated by an ignorant faith and blowing a lot of stuff up in the name of freedom. If you can be non-cynical enough, you might be able to find sympathy for our American freedom-fighters in Iraq by reading of Hank's well-meaning attempt at a socio-political overhaul. I won't tell you how it ends, but your world won't be too rocked. This book is really amazing to read from our contemporary perspective. Here's a cusp-industrial mind writing on the dark ages. It's sort of like we get to time-travel twice. Somehow though, Twain manages to seem more than ahead of the dark ages, more than ahead of his own time, he seems ahead of our time. His book, as it sees Arthurian England ratchet awkwardly up to the 19th Century brings to light the same issues we are dealing with today. The benefits versus the costs of technology, the tenaciousness of class lines and the ignorance produced by religious faith. It's very much worth the time today to read a great American's thinking on these issues and be reminded that though ideals are necessary for advancement, they must put humanity first or be made monstrous.Also, look out for some very, very dry humor. I know I didn't pick up all of it, but what I did was a treat. Finally, I recommend getting an edition that includes the original illustrations - they're beautiful and funny.

The other John

I checked this one out of the English library here on campus. I think I may be the only one here ever to appreciate this copy, as it's full, unabridged 19th Century writing, with many allusions to Malory's L'Morte d'Arthur, which your average Chinese student will probably not have read. Still you never know who might come along. I, at least, enjoyed it immensely, despite the fact that it's a tad nihilistic. It's the tale of one Hank Morgan, a superintendent in a gun factory in 19th Century Connecticut. He gets conked on the head one day and awakens in 6th Century England--the realm of King Arthur. Through his advanced scientific knowledge, Hank is able to discredit Merlin the magician and set himself up as advisor to the King. His adventures and attempts to reform the society are quite amusing. It's a sarcastic romp, in the acerbic Mark Twain style. There's also a dark undercurrent to the tale, however, which makes it like laughing in the face of death. So while I liked the book, I don't think I could ever love it like I do some of the more upbeat retellings of the Arthurian legends.

Suzanne Vrieze

My favorite passage of the book:I urged that kings were dangerous. He said, then have cats. He was sure that a royal family of cats would answer every purpose. They would be as useful as any other royal family, they would know as much, they would have the same virtues and the same treacheries, the same disposition to get up shindies with other royal cats, they would be laughably vain and absurd and never know it, they would be wholly inexpensive, finally, they would have as sound a divine right as any other royal house. ... The worship of royalty being founded in unreason, these graceful and harmless cats would easily become as sacred as any other royalties, and indeed more so, because it would presently be noticed that they hanged nobody, beheaded nobody, imprisoned nobody, inflicted no cruelties or injustices of any sort, and so must be worthy of a deeper love and reverence than the customary human king, and would certainly get it.

Georgiana 1792

L'americano delle barzelletteDelusissima da questo Twain pedante e saccente, che pretende di arrivare nel VI secolo e di fare tutto a modo suo, non solo, ma di piegare tutti al suo modo di vedere le cose... come se non dovessero passare 12 secoli di civilizzazione! Ma non si rende conto che è lui che deve adeguarsi (e cercare di non farsi scoprire) allo stile di vita dell'epoca? Io francamente, sarà che sono Italiana, ma credo che ad essere trasportati in un secolo remoto si sarebbe molto più vicini a Troisi e Benigni in Non ci resta che piangere, per quanto istruiti si possa essere. Mancherebbero le tecnologie e, per qunto si possa essere dei Superman, non si potrebbe innovare tutto come invece fa il nostro Capo... Addirittura, pur non essendo un astronomo, conosce le date delle eclissi totali di Sole spaccando il secondo! (Mi sono riproposta di chiederlo a una mia amica Astronoma! Vorrei proprio sapere se lei le conosce... ma i Calendari all'epoca funzionavano come da noi? Sì, sì!...)E fra parentesi anche storicamente sta messo maluccio... la ricostruzione riguardo a vestiti, armi e anche all'istituzione della Chiesa (che è uno dei principali bersagli dello scrittore) è piuttosto approssimativa. Se fosse stato scritto ai giorni nostri, un qualunque editor di basso calibro gli avrebbe confutato ogni paragrafo! Ma naturalmente lo scopo di Twain è quello di paragonare la Grande Democrazia Americana, che da poco si era liberata dai colonizzatori inglesi, con una prima forma democratica proprio dell'odiata Madrepatria: la Tavola Rotonda di Re Artù. Vuole dimostrare che essa è solo un mito e ne fa vedere tutti i lati negativi... Come se all'epoca non fosse già un grande passo in avanti!Poi lui è il più intelligente, il più istruito, il più dritto, il più bravo... (Ti piace vincere facile, eh?!)Insomma, L'Americano delle barzellette!!!

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