A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (Pocket Classic)

ISBN: 0883017261
ISBN 13: 9780883017265
By: Mark Twain

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About this book

Hank Morgan, a 19th century Hartfordian, awakens to find himself inexplicably transported to Arthurian England in 528. The story begins in a 1st person narrative in Warwick Castle, where a man details his recollection of a tale told him by a stranger who's personified as a Knight thru his language & familiarity with armor. After a brief tale of Launcelot slaying two giants in 3rd-person narrative, Hank Morgan enters &, given whiskey, is persuaded to tell his story. Described thru 1st-person narrative as a man familiar with firearms & machinery, he'd become a superintendent in firearms manufacture. He describes the beginning of his tale by illustrating details of a disagreement with subordinates, where he sustained a head injury caused by a man named Hercules. Passing out, he describes waking up beneath an oak in rural Camelot where a Knight catches him trespassing, & after establishing rapport, leads him to the castle. Hank is ridiculed for his appearance & sentenced to burn at the stake. Luckily, this coincides with the 528 solar eclipse, which he'd learned about in his own time. Recalling this, he convinces everyone of his power by making it seem he causes the eclipse at the moment he's to be burned. He's liberated, given the position of principal royal minister & treated with awe. Celebrity brings him a title: "The Boss." Hank learns about medieval practices & superstitions. He outdoes fake sorcerers & miracle-working clergy. Merlin becomes jealous. Despite being a court officer, Hank's willing to go among the people to promote new economic policies as well as democratic & modern principles. Arthur chooses to join him on an excursion during which he exposes himself to smallpox in order to help a peasant. Despite this noble act, he's unwilling to abandon medieval ways. He eventually causes the arrest of the incognito Hank & himself by being unable to act like a commoner. Hank & a group of bicycle-riding knights rescue them. Hank industrializes the country behind the back of the ruling class. He creates schools which teach modern ideas & English, removing new generations from medieval concepts. He constructs factories producing modern tools & weapons. He marries. They have a daughter. While vacationing with them in France, he learns Arthur has died fighting his nephew Mordred. Hank establishes a republic, declares himself ruler & the people revolt. Merlin finally uses a spell to put him asleep to return to his own time.

Reader's Thoughts

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.

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.

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.

Jennifer (aka EM)

Ok, so Mark Twain. This is the only one I've read, once way back when and just now. MT/SLC - he's not really part of the curriculum or general literary zeitgeist in Canada. So I don't really know much about him or about that Huckleberry boy and the other one, Tom. I'm likely talking out of my hat when I say, if you liked them you've just got to like this one. Although maybe this is more directly scathing and satirical? Connecticut Yankee is an eviscerating take-down of the entire British social structure, y'know, the one that the U.S. revolted (or as Twain would say "revoluted") against. On top of that, it's a castigation of the RC Church and its role in the oppressions of, at the time he was writing, the past 1800+ years. And most of all, it's an abolitionist tale. Call 'em serfs, call 'em slaves (as Twain does), same difference. This is a plea for egalitarianism and humanism.At the same time, "The Boss" - as the prototypical late-19th century entrepreneur and manufacturing baron -- is flawed and gently mocked for his belief that capitalism and technology will win the day. I don't know how much mockery would have been recognized at the time of publication, but from 100+ years later, we can clearly see the hand of a clear-eyed and prescient satirist at work in the immense and disproportional carnage wreaked by the improved technology of warfare, the raping and pillaging of natural resources and resulting destruction of the environment of the Industrial Age, the rabid commercialism that leads to the trading of one type of slavery for another.Twain does not give two hoots for historical accuracy here, nor for any of the conventions by which literary time travel is supposed to "work." He doesn't care if this makes any logical sense, and to make sure we understand that, he picks, first of all, the already fictional 6th-Century King Arthur and his Knights as the time to travel back to. He then thinks nothing of weaving in references to King Henry VIII and the Tower of London and a bunch of other anachronistic details that defy the historical record and the laws of physics. That is part of the delight of this book - it's a romp.His brush is so broad he takes the piss of everyone and everything on that little island of Britain from about 500 to 1850 A.D.This perhaps goes without saying, because no satire is fully effective without it, but his righteous anger is not just expressed through ridiculousness and absurdity -- there are scenes here that are heartbreaking and tragic, and Twain skilfully reins in his pen to paint these with the pathos (albeit romanticized and sentimentalized) they require to keep our eyes focused on the fact that there are real people who suffer at the hands of others and institutions who enslave them.Powerful reading (and a bit of a brain-twist, coming right after Wolf Hall, which I'm off to review in just a moment.

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.

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.

Chana

Sheesh, wrote a whole review, was about to hit save when the computer quit and I lost it! Here we go again:Our main character is a Connecticut Yankee who is cracked over the head with a crowbar in 1879 and wakes in England year 528. He is quickly taken prisoner and brought to King Arthur's Court and sentenced to death. Our "Hank" is a an American however; quick-witted, educated and optimistic. He remembers that an eclipse is due to take place shortly and manages not only to save himself, but to secure a position of second in command to the King.What I loved about this book is Mark Twain's use of the language, juxtaposing the archaic with the modern to a very amusing result, and often playing with the language with run on sentences that become nonsensical and using rhyme in clever ways to make his reader laugh. It reminded me at times of Mrs. Murphy's Chowder (bedslats, Democrats, floating all around!)I also love what I see as Mark Twain's quintessential American-ness. I often felt great waves of nostalgia and patriotism while reading this-- while I was also annoyed by what I perceived as the American superiority that permeates it. Our Hank is busy building factories, reducing the worth of coinage to save the government money, blowing things up, and finding fault with the realm (not too hard to do, that one).The book is very political in nature, even as it jokes along in rhyme and fantasy. Mark Twain has written a rambling, ruminating rant against slavery, oppression, injustice, monarchy, nobility and The Catholic Church while promoting education, science, a government for the people by the people, and religious faith and practice that is neither a monopoly nor a dictate.

Book Concierge

Audio book performed by William DefrisHank Morgan is an engineer and machinist in 1879 Connecticut. After a blow to the head that knocks him unconscious, he awakens beneath a tree and discovers he has been transported back some thirteen centuries to King Arthur’s England, A.D. 528. This is the story of his adventures and misadventures in that bygone era.Satire is not my favorite genre, but I enjoyed parts of this satire immensely. Twain gave us images that made me laugh aloud – e.g. the knights in armor playing baseball or riding bicycles. There were also images that depicted the hard life of that time and place – e.g. the condition of prisoners, the ignorance and poverty of the peasants. Some images were particularly distressing (war and slavery). Twain also included scenes of great tenderness and compassion – e.g. the smallpox hut, or family life. Twain has our hero using his intelligence and expertise to amaze and convince the populace (including King Arthur and the knights of the round table) of his powers and superiority. But as he continues to make “improvements” (mostly for his benefit), he slowly but surely destroys the civilization he found. Imagine introducing telephones, electricity, Gatling guns, soap, and then the concept of a democratic republic into the 6th century. No wonder they thought him a powerful magician/wizard. I wondered for a while what exactly Twain’s purpose was, but as I read further it seems clear to me that he was commenting on the current political and social situations of late 19th century America. He has Hank campaign against poverty, the prevailing class system and slavery. And campaign for better wages, improved supply and demand, and literacy for a broader populace. I was somewhat disappointed in the ending. It seemed abrupt, as if Twain had run out of ideas. Still, I can clearly see how this has stood the test of time.William Defris does a fine job of the audio book. I loved his voices for Hank, Clarence and Sandy.

John

My initial attempt to read this book as a kid turned me off to Mark Twain for the next twenty years or so. Revisiting it now, I can certainly see why. Despite the fact that Disney keeps on adapting it into tepid kiddie fare (UNIDENTIFIED FLYING ODDBALL, A KID IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT, A KNIGHT IN CAMELOT, BLACK KNIGHT), the actual book is anything but. A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT may start out seeming like MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, but Twain quickly veers into much darker, more serious territory--and even ends the story with a massacre that makes the opening scenes of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN look tame in comparison.One problem I have with A CONNECTICUT YANKEE is the time travel element. Or, rather, lack thereof. Twain doesn't even try to explain it. Our hero simply gets whapped over the head with a crowbar and, voila!, awakens in the Middle Ages. Even Disney came up with something more clever than that...The biggest problem with A CONNECTICUT YANKEE is its wild inconsistency at every turn. At first, the book seems to celebrate America as being symbolic of the pinnacles of modern progress, especially in terms of science and reason. Then, when themes of slavery and oppression are introduced, it feels as though Twain is questioning just how far we've really come, and whether humans are even capable of forging their own destinies in the first place. Or is a person's morality merely the by-product of his upbringing? Eventually, the book seems to critique American arrogance and imperialism, as the hero uses reason and scientific knowledge to perpetuate mass violence in order to achieve his well-intentioned social revolution. One thing is for certain: Twain really, really hated slavery.Unfortunately, despite Twain's legendary status as a humorist, A CONNECTICUT YANKEE is very dry reading. Even at its best, the humor is only mildly amusing, never funny. Mostly, the book serves as a platform by which Twain can air his general disgust for the entire human race. The whole novel is too silly to take seriously, and too serious to accept as comedy. It's harder to classify than a duck-billed platypus. Is it a good novel? Yes. Is it a great work of classic literature? Er...not really.

Franklin Peach

I Read A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain to my kids (7-9). Having never read this classic before I expected it to be a little bit more 'kid oriented' than it was. There were many times when my 7 and 9 year-olds struggled to make it through the book.Yankee had so many facets to it that it is hard to pin down. At times it is laugh out loud funny, or highly ironic and other times the humor is quite dark. At still other times it is down right preachy, especially against Medieval Monarchy and the Catholic church. (be sure to be aware of this, I had to overcome some of Twain's biases against the Catholic Church) Sometimes it goes into great detail about topics that 7 and 9 year olds really would not care less about, There was a whole chapter of our Hero explaining about inflation and the value of money. Several times I had to get out the dictionary myself because I could not explain what the author was saying to my children without it.Kids will surprise you though. My 7 year-old, had about had it with Yankee, and although I wanted to push through the book, I am convinced that reading needs to be something they want to do. So I asked her if she wanted to finish the book, or to move on to our next one. I expected her to say "Let's read a different book, dad" and I was fully prepared to do it. However, she instead declared her intent to stick it out and we sat down to read the next chapter which was very engrossing and humorous to her and her brother, I knew we would be able to finish it after that.I am very glad we did finish it and I know my kids are too. We really enjoyed watching 'The Boss' (i.e. The Yankee) and King Author roam about the country incognito and how the King reacts to being sold into slavery, and their amazing and improbable rescue. The ending has absolutely stunning climax pitting 6th century England against the marvels of the The Boss' nineteenth century inventions. that I would have never guessed and my son loved it.As we read the book, it was interesting to see how easy a time The Boss had in the 6th Century and I made it a point several times to ask the children why they thought that was. The answer comes dripping out of the pages: the Boss can THINK, no one else there can. This type of sentiment about the people of 6th century England was a constant theme, like this quote in which The Boss refers to the Knights of the Round Table: There did not seem to be brains enough in the entire nursery, so to speak, to bait a fish-hook with; but you didn't seem to mind that, after a little, because you soon saw that brains were not needed in a society like that, and indeed would have marred it, hindered it, spoiled its symmetry -- perhaps rendered its existence impossible.I would highly recommend this book for those 9 and up (although you might be safer at 11) who are studying history, government or sociology or just want a good read. There is a wealth of commentary in Yankee on each subject and it would be a fun way to explore ideas about each and about human nature itself.

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.

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.

Ken Elser

Although a bit of a mish-mash of ideas and stories and not particularly coherent in its structure, A Connecticut Yankee is surely an intriguing social commentary about the limits of progress and a strong condemnation of human nature. Twain uses his fantastical tale of a 19th century New Englander become right-hand man to King Arthur in the 6th century to illustrate his cynacism at the idea of true human progress and civilization, showing it to be ultimately self-defeating and as cruel as the midevil world that he imagines. In Twain's conception, a human being can never overcome their inborn superstitions and prejudices, despite any apparent progress in this vein. A critical review contained in my copy finds fault with the fact that Twain simply observes these failures of human nature laughingly, deriding while offering no solution. The real height of arrogance, however, would surely be to offer the platidudes that any such "solution" would have to represent. In the end, Twain does what he does best: He holds a mirror up to society and our own natures, that we might nod (and perhaps chuckle in a spasm of morbid humor) at the terms of our own sentence.

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.

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.

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