Mark Twain Publishes "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court"
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is an 1889 novel by American humorist and writer Mark Twain.
Some early editions are entitled A Yankee at the Court of King Arthur.
The novel explains the tale of Hank Morgan, a 19th-century resident of Hartford, Connecticut who awakens to find himself inexplicably transported back in time to early medieval Britain at the time of the legendary King Arthur.
The story begins first person narrative in Warwick Castle, where a man details his recollection of a tale told to by a "curious stranger" who is personified as a knight through his simple language and familiarity with ancient armor.
After a brief tale of Sir Launcelot of Camelot and his role in slaying two giants from the third-person narrative, a man named Hank Morgan enters and, after being given whiskey by the narrator, he is persuaded to reveal more of his story. Described through first-person narrative as a man familiar with the firearms and machinery trade, Hank is a man who had reached the level of superintendent due to his proficiency in firearms manufacturing, with two thousand subordinates. He describes the beginning of his tale by illustrating details of a disagreement with his subordinates, where he sustained a head injury from a "crusher" to the head caused by a man named "Hercules" using a crowbar. After passing out from the blow, Hank describes waking up underneath an oak tree in a rural area of Camelot where a Knight questions him for trespassing upon his land, and after establishing rapport, leads him towards Camelot castle. Upon recognizing that he has time-traveled to the sixth century, Hank realizes that he is the de facto smartest person on Earth and with his knowledge he should soon be running things.
Hank is ridiculed at King Arthur's court for his strange appearance and dress, and sentenced by King Arthur's court (and particularly by the magician Merlin) to burn at the stake. By a miraculous stroke of luck, the date of the burning coincides with a historical solar eclipse in the year 528, which Hank had learned about in his own time.
Recalling this fact, Hank uses it to convince the King and commoners that he possesses great power, by making it seem that he causes the eclipse of the sun at the moment when he is about to be burned at the stake, and he claims that he has the power to permanently blot out the sun. Following this act, he is liberated and given the position of principal minister to the King, and treated by all with utmost fear and awe. His celebrity brings him to be known by a new title, elected by the people: "The Boss." Hank is seen as not as a man, but a being of strange and mysterious powers. However, he proclaims that his only income will be taken as a percentage of any increase in the kingdom's gross domestic product that he succeeds in creating for the state as Arthur's chief minister, which King Arthur sees as fair.
After being made "the Boss", Hank learns about medieval practices and superstitions. With his superior knowledge, he is able to outdo the fake sorcerers and miracle-working church officials. At one point, soon after the eclipse, people began gathering, hoping to see Hank perform another miracle. Merlin, jealous of Hank having replaced him both as the king's principal adviser and as the most powerful sorcerer of the realm, begins spreading rumors that Hank is a fake and cannot supply another miracle. Hank secretly manufactures gunpowder and a lightning rod, plants explosive charges in Merlin's tower, then places the lightning rod at the top and runs a wire to the explosive charges. He then announces (during a period when storms are frequent) that he will soon call down fire from heaven and destroy Merlin's tower, then challenges Merlin to use his sorcery to prevent it. Of course, Merlin's 'incantations' fail utterly to prevent lightning striking the rod, triggering the explosive charges and leveling the tower, further diminishing Merlin's reputation.
Another major "Miracle" of the book occurs when a sacred fountain stops flowing. While Merlin mutters magical-sounding gibberish, and the monks pray for the return of the waters, Hank simply inspects the fountain, finds a leak, and repairs it. When his 'magic' fails to restore the fountain, Merlin announces that the name of a certain demon had to be properly pronounced to let the waters flow, but to say the demon's name caused death. Hank, to seem more impressive, agrees with Merlin about the demon and the dangers in pronouncing its name, but states that though it would be dangerous, it was not impossible to pronounce the demon's name and live. Knowing the value of showmanship, Hank gathers a crowd when he begins his 'incantations', and uses fireworks (Roman candles, etc.) while enchanting to simulate the hellfire of the demon he is banishing. At the end of several long German language phrases, he says "BGWJJILLIGKKK", which is simply a load of gibberish, but Merlin agrees with Hank that this is the name of the demon. Merlin grows more and more jealous of Hank's influence, and the constant demonstrations that Hank is a more powerful sorcerer than he is.
Hank Morgan, in his position as King's Minister, uses his authority and his modern knowledge to industrialize the country behind the back of the rest of the ruling class. His assistant is Clarence, a young boy he meets at court, whom he educates and gradually lets in on most of his secrets, and eventually comes to rely on heavily. Hank sets up secret schools, which teach modern ideas and modern English, thereby removing the new generation from medieval concepts, and secretly constructs hidden factories, which produced modern tools and weapons. He carefully selects the individuals he allows to enter his factories and schools, seeking to select only the most promising and least indoctrinated in medieval ideas, favoring selection of the young and malleable whenever possible.
Despite being a high officer in court, Hank goes among the people to promote new economic policies based on capitalism and modern, democratic principles—and simply learn about his subjects and what it is like to be one of them. At one point, he travels as a knight-errant with a young wandering girl named Sandy, who has a story about an adventure and the need for a knight to rescue her royal family. Although skeptical, he goes because he is expected to wander as a knight and build a reputation as an adventurer and hero.
On a later excursion, King Arthur joins Hank. Arthur exposes himself to smallpox to help a peasant family. Despite this noble act, Arthur is unwilling to change his medieval thinking. When they witness a group of peasants that escaped imprisonment for a crime they did not commit, he insists that he and Hank report the youths. He reasons that it's the lord's right as a noble to imprison them, even without just reason. Arthur eventually causes the arrest of the incognito Hank and himself because he is unable to stop acting like a nobleman. A noble enslaves them, since they can't prove themselves freemen, and several interesting events happen. At one point, Hank causes a fight and all the slaves are sentenced to hang, and Hank plots their rescue by a group of bicycle-riding knights.
Hank has married Sandy at this point, and they have a baby. While asleep and dreaming, Hank says, "Hello-Central," (a reference to calling a 19th century telephone operator) and Sandy believes that the mystic phrase is a good name for the baby, and names it accordingly.
The Catholic Church sends servants to trick Hank into going overseas, leaving the kingdom in the hands of less intelligent people. Eventually, King Arthur finds out that Guinevere is cheating on him with Sir Lancelot. A war soon breaks out, with much bloodshed on all sides.
The church then publishes "The Interdict" which causes all people to break away from Hank and revolt. Hank meets with Clarence, one of his long friends of the time period, who informs him of the war thus far. As time goes on, Clarence gathers 52 young cadets, from ages 14–17, who are to fight against all of England. A belt with dynamite is placed under the sand. Inside of the belt are twelve electrical wires, and in the center is a raised platform with 13 Gatling guns. The cadets say they don't want to face 'All of England' but Hank encourages them by saying they will only have to fight the 30,000 knights. The cadets laugh at the small amount, and easily win the battle due to the electric wire, Gatling guns, and dynamite. However, all the dead bodies create a disease, and trap all of them inside. Hank goes out to see if he can help any of the knights, and is stabbed on the side by a survivor. While not a serious wound, he is bedridden. During this time, Merlin sneaks into the lair disguised as a woman, and starts thrashing about his arms. He then laughs and says that all the people there will die, except for Hank who will sleep for thirteen centuries. He then laughs deliriously and lays a hand on an electrical wire and dies, the laugh frozen on his face.
A Connecticut Yankee is Mark Twain's most ambitious work, a tour de force with a science-fiction plot told in the racy slang of a Hartford workingman, sparkling with literary hijinks as well as social and political satire. Mark Twain characterized his novel as "one vast sardonic laugh at the trivialities, the servilities of our poor human race." The Yankee, suddenly transported from his native nineteenth-century America to the sleepy sixth-century Britain of King Arthur and the Round Table, vows brashly to "boss the whole country inside of three weeks." And so he does. Emerging as "The Boss," he embarks on an ambitious plan to modernize Camelot—with unexpected results.
Daniel Carter Beard illustrated the first edition of Yankee in 1889, and Mark Twain praised his work as "better than the book—which is a good deal for me to say, I reckon." This Mark Twain Library edition reprints the text based on the author's manuscript, all 221 of Beard's illustrations, and the notes from the California scholarly edition.
Twain publishes A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Critics slam the book.