A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is the most unique telling of the Arthurian legend that I have encountered. In its own time as a time traveling story, it must have been unusual. Today, it’s even more so, because its hero, who imagines himself so modern, is as old-fashioned to us as the chivalry is to him. I am enjoying the glimpse into Twain’s time even as I wonder at the way he envisions the people of Camelot.
Hank Morgan carries within himself the most amazing hypocrisy, and he is utterly unaware of it. He lambasts the people of Arthur’s time as animals, and simpletons, as the most foolish, easily duped morons, then revels in his god-like powers of gunpowder, electricity, and modern scientific knowledge to fool them. He can spend pages denouncing the monarchy, then turn around and discuss his own absolute power with the glee of a kid given the candy store. He bemoans the state of the commoner, as an abomination to the healthy air a free man must breath; then bemoans the lack in middle ages England of tobacco, sugar, tea, and coffee, which were all the direct products of slavery. His blindness to his own ignorance and arrogance makes it hard to sympathize with him and makes me wonder if this is how Europe developed the idea of “The Ugly American” that’s spoken of so often in film. Were all the white semi-successful men in Twain’s time this self-satisfied and obnoxious?
I very much enjoyed the brash young independence of the book, even if Hank is not my cup of tea. His off-the-cuff remarks about unions, and patent offices, and how a nation must have a newspaper if it is to get anywhere at all gives me a look into what was valued in my country when she was yet newly minted.
All in all, I enjoy the satire of the book and the unintentional old-fashioned nature of it. I do hope Sagramor smacks Hank a good one though, as soon as he is done with the “Grailing”.