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Book Notes

Mark Twain
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1899)

from Vanamonde #683, 685 (2006)

Memorable is the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court scene in which the Yankee and the King, traveling incognito, visit a poor hut whose dwellers prove ridden with pox (chapter xxix). Mark Twain gives the Yankee, with whom we believe he sympathizes, a lot of harsh things to say about "those transparent swindles, transmissible nobility and kingship" (end of ch. xxviii). This king has been dull, thoughtless, it is vital he have some high good in him. Here he says, "Of a truth I shall remain -- and likewise help.... it were shame that a king should know fear, and shame that belted knight should withhold his hand where be such as need succor"; he is as good as his word. "This," says the Yankee, "was challenging death in the open field unarmed ... no admiring world in silks and cloth-of-gold to gaze and applaud.... He was great now; sublimely great."

A Connecticut Yankee (1899) was among the S-F Classics that Due North (Westercon LVIII; Calgary, 2005) held discussions of (see my Westercon Notebook, File 770 146; I led this one; of course we began with Is it s-f? Why?). By Twain's own greatness the book is saved again and again where it could have been intolerably preachy, all the more needed for me since I incline to agree with the sermon. [Van 683]

It is strange that Merlin seems to succeed at spelling him asleep, with such strength as sustains for centuries, and after we've sternly seen the sorcerer a sham. I once thought Twain was sly to show Merlin's subsequent shock: perhaps a sign to us that the force sending Morgan into the past had simply dissipated, like the Zeta-Beam for DC Comics' Adam Strange; but signaling so would be a sad jest for this author, and when I re-studied the start, I also found that force somewhat suspect. Nor is it clear why, at the end, Morgan suddenly slumps in sickness -- except that pacing requires it. Alas, the framing-story is not strong. I still say the whole is superb, not just for spectacle, nor insight, but for skill. [Van 685]