A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

Monday, June 23, 2014

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.”

So only a few pages in I remembered a movie I used to watch when I was really little. It shared the same title as this book, which it’s obviously based on, but starred Keshia Knight Pulliam (Rudy from The Cosby Show) as the main character. It was a made for TV movie in 1989 that we must have recorded and watched all the time. Anyone else remember this?  

Originally posted at The Project Gutenburg Project.


Anonymous said...

Interesting - I've always assumed this was a light comedy as well.
I don't remember watching the movie you mentioned, but I remember it being on. I do remember watching a remake of Pollyanna with Keshia and Phylicia Rashād.

Anonymous said...

I do remember the movie. I enjoyed it so much as a child. The book I read a few years ago. I too was surprised by its dark themes.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

abibliophilesstyle - I LOVED that version of Pollyanna! I watched it so many times.

exploringclassics - It's funny the assumptions we can sometimes make about a book without ever reading it.

Belle Wong said...

I read this a long time ago, back when I was a kid. I don't really remember it much - think it might be time for a reread. I don't remember the movie - the one that does come to mind is Whoopi Goldberg's A Knight in Camelot.

Anonymous said...

Ooh, thanks for posting this! I've never read the actual novel and am only familiar through the "Classics Illustrated" comic version which I read and re-read many times when I was a youngster. I do remember it being a little 'darker' than most people would think, but now that I'm older I think revisiting this work would be time well spent.

Bybee said...

I just got this for my Kindle. Must read.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Belle Wong - Ha, I never saw that one!

bibliophilica - I was really surprised by the deeper message. Tricky Twain slipping some life lessons in there.

Susan Bybee - Enjoy!

Anonymous said...

I was just doing a search for Yankee Doodle Dandy on Netflix and it brought up the movie you mentioned - it's available on Netflix Streaming. :)

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

abibliophilesstyle - No way! I'm going to have to watch it again!