Thursday, May 29, 2014

Review: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

Original Publication Date: 1889

Genre: Fiction

Topics: Time Travel, Monarchies

Review by: Melissa at Avid Reader's Musings

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
by Mark Twain

Twain has a wicked sense of humor, but his novels on social commentary tend to be even more powerful than his playful ones. My assumption was that this book would fall into the comedy category. Based on film versions and the general premise, it sounded like an entertaining, light novel. While there were some very funny parts, this is a much darker book than I was expecting. It’s both an adventure and a cautionary tale. There are also so many wonderful lines, zingers that I know I can always expect from Twain.

The plot tells the story of a man who is hit in the head and wakes up 1300 years earlier in 528 AD. It’s the Dark Ages and King Arthur is on the throne. He has no way of getting home, so instead he tries to build a life in England and becomes one of King Arthur’s knights. The dark tone of the book seeps into almost every scene. Even when our narrator is using gunpowder to pretend to have magic, there’s always a chance that he will be killed for sorcery. 

In one section our time traveling hero is touring the countryside with King Arthur, who is disguised as a peasant. They come upon a home where a family of four is dying of a disease plaguing the area. They care for them, but it’s much too late to save them from their grim fate. In their dying moments they learn that this family’s misfortune, perpetuated by the local manor lord, left them destitute and desperate. The King is being forced to see the problems in his kingdom firsthand and it’s not a pleasurable experience. 

BOTTOM LINE: There are jousts and hangings, betrayals and jealousy; all the great elements of an adventure novel. I was surprised by how much depth I found and the bittersweet ending will stick with me. 

“The mere knowledge of a fact is pale; but when you come to realize your fact, it takes on color. It is all the difference between hearing of a man being stabbed to the heart, and seeing it done.”

“Inherited ideas are a curious thing, and interesting to observe and examine."

“Intellectual "work" is misnamed; it is a pleasure, a dissipation, and is its own highest reward. The poorest paid architect, engineer, general, author, sculptor, painter, lecturer, advocate, legislator, actor, preacher, singer is constructively in heaven when he is at work; and as for the musician with the fiddle-bow in his hand who sits in the midst of a great orchestra with the ebbing and flowing tides of divine sound washing over him—why, certainly, he is at work, if you wish to call it that, but lord, it's a sarcasm just the same.”

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