A New England man from the late 1800s suddenly finds himself in 6th century England, during the time of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table. Quickly nicknamed “The Boss” and made second in command in Arthur’s kingdom because of his advanced knowledge, he sets out on a years-long quest to create a modern society in the midst of feudal England. Ultimately, he succeeds in modernizing Camelot and destroying feudalism with technology such as telephones, telegraphs, newspapers, firearms, etc., but ends up regretting that England’s simplicity was destroyed along with it.
What I Liked
I love Mark Twain’s sense of humor. His dry wit is timed perfectly throughout this book. The main character is sardonic, clearly believing himself to be superior to Camelot’s inhabitants in every way. His interactions with Merlin are especially funny to me. I also liked the journey that the main character goes on throughout the book – the developmental journey, I mean. By the end of the book, he has succeeded in destroying feudalism and modernizing 6th century England, but he has also found love, had a baby, and come to understand and appreciate (and ultimately long for) the simplicity and slower pace of that time. It almost becomes a cautionary tale, with Twain warning his readers to appreciate the little, simple things and not get caught up in “humanity’s progress.” A prescient message for our time, to be sure.
What I Didn’t Like
Much of the book, especially early on, feels more like a collection of unrelated, or only slightly related, anecdotes about the main character’s time in Camelot. I think maybe this was what Mark Twain was going for, since so many of the collections of legends about King Arthur and his Knights follow the same format. Still, though, it made the first half of the book or so a little tedious to get through. Also, the 6th century characters use some 6th century language, so I was probably a third of the way through the book before I got all that figured out.
The Bottom Line
+3 Cannarfs (what’s a cannarf?) From the Twain that I had to read in high school, I knew to expect a well-told story infused with healthy doses of dry wit humor. I also knew to expect, not necessarily a moral, but at least a message. And I thought the overall message of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court was a great one – enjoy the simple things; technology does not always make things better. Such a great message for our time! It’s amazing to me how the great authors seem to craft stories that are interesting, important, and relevant in any age. Even though I went into A Connecticut Yankee with fairly high expectations, it exceeded them, earning +3 Cannarfs.