Book Review: Y is for Yankee

In contrast to the three months it took me to force myself to complete Anna Karenina, only four days passed before I finished Mark Twain’s classic A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court — and it only took that long because I forced myself to repeatedly put it down so that I wouldn’t finish it overnight!

This work is obviously pure fantasy; check your disbelief at the door. The basic premise is that a 19th-century tradesman is mysteriously transported to and left in the time of King Arthur, eventually using his vast intellect and overwhelming experience to propel himself to the upper ranks of the court and to influence all human life in England. Having never read the short novel before, I was surprised at how much vital knowledge the gun-maker brought back with him from Connecticut through the 13 centuries: the exact times of solar eclipses of a long-gone millennium, war stratagems, the manufacturing of steamships, formulas for tooth rinse and gun powder, electrical power generation, the telephone. I doubt I could have done so well! Like I said, suspend thine disbelief!

While Connecticut Yankee is a fun romp through the sixth century, it simultaneously pokes fun at Victorian-era England and successfully undermines the church. The use of archaic language and structure sprinkled throughout can be a bit distracting, but manages to add to the overall flavor. Mixed in with myriad puns and jokes and oft full-blown hilarity is a shocking and disturbing violence that is accepted, endorsed, and often instigated by the lead character. Twain’s method of complete erasure of the newly introduced modern technology into an age not ready was very clever. This doom, foreseen by our protagonist, led him to prepare long in advance for the demise of everything for which he had hoped and worked — a sort of tragic comedy.

My only disappointment is that the adventure is now over. Off to find a new classic!

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