Twain and The Eclipse

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

By Mark Twain

Published 1889

Read September 2016

Since we’ve just (Aug 2017) experienced a dramatic eclipse of the sun by the moon, I thought it was time to write a brief post about Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”.  Please enjoy the image provided by a friend which shows the eclipse as we saw it locally with the help of leaves to cast multiple images of it on a deck surface.

When my book club decided to read this book, I was frankly not really looking forward to the experience.  I was familiar with the premise (although I realized not the whole story) and immediately recalled the eclipse segment from the Warner Brother’s “A Connecticut Rabbit in King Arthur’s Court”.  Why was this “a classic” and why were we reading it?

However, to my delight, I enjoyed listening to this book so much I listened again immediately after finishing it the first time.   The part with which I was familiar—Hank, a Connecticut Yankee in Twain’s time of the 1880’s, wakes up after a nap to find himself on the outskirts of Camelot.  He avoids being hanged as an intruder by conjuring up an eclipse of the sun (having remembered the date/time of a conveniently timed eclipse) and, after being proclaimed “The Boss” by the King, sets out to modernize Camelot with various technologies from the future.   An aspect I learned from listening— Twain totally skewers the romantic notion of Camelot and associated chivalry in a wonderfully ironic manner.  It’s well worth listening to this book as the language used by the Camelot dwellers is fabulously done and extremely entertaining when read aloud.  Hank’s wonder at the craziness of dress and customs is also quite amusing.  A favorite scene of mine recounts Hank’s incredulity that knights leave for a quest taking no food with them.  (But of course, there are no pockets in the armor that could hold even a sandwich and he even has to carry his smoking tobacco in his helmet.)  Also, a fair number of critters can get into the armor when you sleep on the ground and it’s not so easy to get them to leave….

A second aspect I learned from listening was the inability of Hank to really move the people into a more modern way of thinking and being—it would take literally centuries to get past some really awful practices (including prisoners in the dudgeon passing on to the new owner and no one remembering why they were even imprisoned).   Twain clearly had no love for the Catholic Church and shows its ability to block progress when they shut Hank down through The Interdict and associated crusade against Hank and his 54 brave soldiers.

I now fully advocate that this book is definitely “a classic”.  It remains relevant when read over a hundred years after its publication.  It is extremely humorous in a biting kind of way.   Very importantly, regardless of the age, it reminds us that technology alone is insufficient for mankind’s forward movement towards a truly just and harmonious civilization.

In this book, the eclipse enabled Hank to take a leadership role in trying to move the people of Camelot forward.   Fortunately the eclipse we experienced yesterday helped bring together the people of the US for at least a short time.  Wouldn’t it be great the eclipse can mark a new time of cooperation that can last more than a short 2 minutes?…..



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