Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Mark Twain. 1889. 258 pages. [Source: Bought]

It was in Warwick Castle that I came across the curious stranger whom I am going to talk about. He attracted me by three things: his candid simplicity, his marvelous familiarity with ancient armor, and the restfulness of his company—for he did all the talking.

Did I enjoy reading Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court? Yes!!!! Very, very much!

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is a story within a story. The narrator meets a talkative stranger, the stranger begins to relate a strange-but-true story--so we're told--and finally, the stranger hands the narrator an old manuscript to finish the tale. Most of the book except for the beginning and ending frames, IS the manuscript written by the talkative stranger.

Here is how that manuscript begins:
I am an American. I was born and reared in Hartford, in the State of Connecticut--anyway, just over the river, in the country. So I am a Yankee of the Yankees--and practical; yes, and nearly barren of sentiment, I suppose--or poetry, in other words.
Readers learn that this Yankee was mysteriously transported BACK in time to the days of King Arthur's Court. This manuscript is his story of those events: the people he met, the dangers he faced, the near-misses and close-calls of his adventures, the friendships he formed, and the nearly successful, progressive experiments he conducted. For this time-traveler, THE BOSS, as he came to be called, had lofty goals once he realized where he was and the unique opportunity he had to shape or reshape society. These goals, for example, included introducing technology and establishing education for all.

The book is quite entertaining and at times very amusing!!! There is some action to be sure, but, it is a comedy through and through.

Some of my favorite quotes:
The mere knowledge of a fact is pale; but when you come to realize your fact, it takes on color.
The only right way to classify the majestic ages of some of those jokes was by geologic periods. But that neat idea hit the boy in a blank place, for geology hadn't been invented yet. However, I made a note of the remark, and calculated to educate the commonwealth up to it if I pulled through. It is no use to throw a good thing away merely because the market isn't ripe yet.
Inherited ideas are a curious thing, and interesting to observe and examine. I had mine, the king and his people had theirs. In both cases they flowed in ruts worn deep by time and habit, and the man who should have proposed to divert them by reason and argument would have had a long contract on his hands. 
Spiritual wants and instincts are as various in the human family as are physical appetites, complexions, and features, and a man is only at his best, morally, when he is equipped with the religious garment whose color and shape and size most nicely accommodate themselves to the spiritual complexion, angularities, and stature of the individual who wears it. 
There never was such a country for wandering liars; and they were of both sexes. Hardly a month went by without one of these tramps arriving; and generally loaded with a tale about some princess or other wanting help to get her out of some far-away castle where she was held in captivity by a lawless scoundrel, usually a giant. Now you would think that the first thing the king would do after listening to such a novelette from an entire stranger, would be to ask for credentials—yes, and a pointer or two as to locality of castle, best route to it, and so on. But nobody ever thought of so simple and common-sense a thing at that. No, everybody swallowed these people's lies whole, and never asked a question of any sort or about anything. Well, one day when I was not around, one of these people came along—it was a she one, this time—and told a tale of the usual pattern. Her mistress was a captive in a vast and gloomy castle, along with forty-four other young and beautiful girls, pretty much all of them princesses; they had been languishing in that cruel captivity for twenty-six years; the masters of the castle were three stupendous brothers, each with four arms and one eye—the eye in the center of the forehead, and as big as a fruit. 
Would you believe it? The king and the whole Round Table were in raptures over this preposterous opportunity for adventure. Every knight of the Table jumped for the chance, and begged for it; but to their vexation and chagrin the king conferred it upon me, who had not asked for it at all.
Indeed, I said I was glad. And in a way it was true; I was as glad as a person is when he is scalped.
There, there, never mind, don't explain, I hate explanations; they fog a thing up so that you can't tell anything about it.
But that is the way we are made: we don't reason, where we feel; we just feel.
Take a jackass, for instance: a jackass has that kind of strength, and puts it to a useful purpose, and is valuable to this world because he is a jackass; but a nobleman is not valuable because he is a jackass. It is a mixture that is always ineffectual, and should never have been attempted in the first place. 
You can't reason with your heart; it has its own laws, and thumps about things which the intellect scorns.
Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising. 
They are common defects of my own, and one mustn't criticise other people on grounds where he can't stand perpendicular himself. 
Words realize nothing, vivify nothing to you, unless you have suffered in your own person the thing which the words try to describe.
Clarence was with me as concerned the revolution, but in a modified way. His idea was a republic, without privileged orders, but with a hereditary royal family at the head of it instead of an elective chief magistrate. He believed that no nation that had ever known the joy of worshiping a royal family could ever be robbed of it and not fade away and die of melancholy. I urged that kings were dangerous. He said, then have cats. He was sure that a royal family of cats would answer every purpose. They would be as useful as any other royal family, they would know as much, they would have the same virtues and the same treacheries, the same disposition to get up shindies with other royal cats, they would be laughably vain and absurd and never know it, they would be wholly inexpensive; finally, they would have as sound a divine right as any other royal house, and "Tom VII, or Tom XI, or Tom XIV by the grace of God King," would sound as well as it would when applied to the ordinary royal tomcat with tights on. "And as a rule," said he, in his neat modern English, "the character of these cats would be considerably above the character of the average king, and this would be an immense moral advantage to the nation, for the reason that a nation always models its morals after its monarch's. The worship of royalty being founded in unreason, these graceful and harmless cats would easily become as sacred as any other royalties, and indeed more so, because it would presently be noticed that they hanged nobody, beheaded nobody, imprisoned nobody, inflicted no cruelties or injustices of any sort, and so must be worthy of a deeper love and reverence than the customary human king, and would certainly get it. The eyes of the whole harried world would soon be fixed upon this humane and gentle system, and royal butchers would presently begin to disappear; their subjects would fill the vacancies with catlings from our own royal house; we should become a factory; we should supply the thrones of the world; within forty years all Europe would be governed by cats, and we should furnish the cats. The reign of universal peace would begin then, to end no more forever.... Me-e-e-yow-ow-ow-ow—fzt!—wow!" Hang him, I supposed he was in earnest, and was beginning to be persuaded by him, until he exploded that cat-howl and startled me almost out of my clothes. But he never could be in earnest. He didn't know what it was. He had pictured a distinct and perfectly rational and feasible improvement upon constitutional monarchy, but he was too feather-headed to know it, or care anything about it, either.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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