Culture Clash at Camelot

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, by Mark Twain – While Huckleberry Finn is undoubtedly a literary classic, I’m not sure why I had to read it twice in school when I probably would have enjoyed this one more. Come on, it has time travel! How cool is that? Not that the method of time travel is all that interesting; Hank Morgan is hit on the head and ends up in Arthurian Britain in the year 528. He manages to convince the superstitious population that he is a wizard, and finagles his way into becoming King Arthur’s chief minister, or “The Boss” as he prefers to be called. In this position, he sets about introducing nineteenth-century civilization and technology into the medieval world. Hank explains that he’s able to create all these devices, including bicycles and telephones, due to experience at a factory, but it’s really not particularly realistic. I’m reminded of Douglas Adams’ Mostly Harmless, in which Arthur Dent crash-lands on a primitive planet, but the only real technological advance he’s able to recreate is the sandwich. Still, I’m willing to let it go, because it works for the story Twain is telling. Most of the background for the Arthurian court comes from Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, which is even directly quoted on occasion. The narrative touches on a variety of subjects, from wage inequality to slavery to religion. We don’t always know whether Hank is Twain’s mouthpiece or an unreliable narrator, but he often comes across as the former. Most of the famous characters from Arthurian lore appear, and Arthur’s death at the hands of Mordred figures into the plot. Merlin serves as a foil for Hank, and while his magic is presented as simple trickery, he seems to demonstrate some genuine power at the end. Hank is shown as somewhat hypocritical, as he aims to bring down superstition, but also uses it to further his own goals. For instance, he uses his knowledge of a solar eclipse to convince the court of his power, an idea that derived from Christopher Columbus using a lunar eclipse for a similar purpose. This has been referenced many times since then. I remember a Darkwing Duck episode in which Darkwing tries to do the same thing after going back in time, only to find that Launchpad had gotten the date wrong, so he has to stall the people for an entire day. Anyway, the book is definitely a worthwhile read, both funny and thought-provoking.

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1 Response to Culture Clash at Camelot

  1. Pingback: Knight Time Is the Right Time | VoVatia

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