Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court review

This was my first experience with Mark Twain. Through what's probably egregious neglect as a reader, I've never read Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn, and so his style was new to me. It was, to say the least, interesting.

It took me a while to get into A Connecticut Yankee, I think because the story picked up more toward the end. There isn't too much in the way of plot events, problems to overcome, hidden mysteries that become revealed. Rather, our narrator simply tells us things as they come, or advises us of things he set in motion earlier.

Hank Morgan, a factory supervisor from 1890s Connecticut, is suddenly transported to Arthurian England. In a few years, he goes from being a prisoner to be executed to chief minister of the land. He explains this convoluted process as if it's the most natural thing in the world, a plan put into motion through sheer American know-how and ingenuity. It gives you a feel for the man, and that was part of my problem with it -- I couldn't quite tell if I liked Hank Morgan or hated him. I always have a hard time getting through a book if I don't like the protagonist, but in the end he proved to be interesting, entertaining, and very sharp.

There's satire aplenty, and themes of freedom and independence. But it's dark. Twain's wit is through Morgan directed mercilessly against an era we're not used to looking at with such spite. I have a deep fondness for stories of knights and castles and such things; maybe the story was written for people like me, to slap us out of such sentimental nonsense into what, after some thought, appears to be much more like reality. Of course it would be a huge pain to go galloping across the country in full plate armor. And the nobles probably were that terrible to the common people in those days. But then, we're given an image like a knight with a sandwichboard sign advertising ovens, or soap, or a newfangled sewing machine, and we have to laugh.

Whether you like this book or not is really going to depend on what kind of book you usually enjoy. If you do like somewhat older-fashioned books, if you do like satire, if you can handle a fair amount of descriptive noodling before getting down to the meat and bones of the plot -- have at it. From A Connecticut Yankee alone, I can definitely say Twain is a must for any serious reader.

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