“If you know this story primarily through the movie made in 1949 starring Bing Crosby, you really owe it to yourself to read the real thing. The movie was a fine romp through an unlikely tale, and was done primarily for the humor. Mark Twain, of course is known for his humor, so you expect it here. But there's a pretty dark side to it, as well. Twain explains it in the preface:
The ungentle laws and customs touched upon in this tale are historical, and the episodes which are used to illustrate them are also historical. It is not pretended that these laws and customs existed in England in the sixth century; no, it is only pretended that inasmuch as they existed in the English and other civilizations of far later times, it is safe to consider that it is no libel upon the sixth century to suppose them to have been in practice in that day also. One is quite justified in inferring that wherever one of the laws or customs was lacking in that remote time, its place was competently filled by a worse one.
Hank Morgan was a reasonably successful manager in a gun factory in Connecticut when he received a blow to the head and woke up on a hillside near Camelot in the year 528. We never receive a plausible explanation of how this took place, but after he'd been there awhile, he ceased to imagine he was back in Connecticut every time he woke up. In fact, he ends up spending several years there.
Much of the entertaining humor falls into two distinct categories: how he comes to know all about chivalry and the situation in which people lived in Arthur's time, and how the people at Arthur's court and elsewhere react to his presence among them. But the really biting commentary comes once Hank does understand, and is appalled. He sets out to attempt to reform the country, eliminate some of the most irrational and inhumane aspects, and introduce politics, science, technology drawn from many centuries in their future.
Of course, Hank has knowledge of things that are completely unknown and frankly suspicious to the people of the day, including Arthur himself. The first reaction was to assume he was a sorcerer in league with the devil, and sentence him to death. Merlin has a hand in this, since he feels it prudent to eliminate a possible competitor. But Hank, who "just happens to know" that a total eclipse of the sun is due, threatens to blot out the sun if he is not released and treated with respect. Of course, the ruse works, and Merlin is disgraced by not being able to prevent this powerful magician from upstaging him.
I don't want to ruin the story for you, but of course Hank introduces many modern (late 1880s) innovations. He strings up electrical wires and phone wires, creates a whole workshop with apprentices, to create "magical" objects which we instantly recognize as 19th century technology.
But his important goals are to introduce 19th century ideas into the appalling conditions he finds. Slavery, rigid class distinctions, with the aristocracy having almost complete power over the peasants' lives, let alone the slaves'.
His primary target is the Church. Its power was even great over the nobles; over the lower classes, the Church and the aristocracy often combined to not only make their lives miserable, but to make them content with conditions as they were. Hank's efforts to get a revolutionary zeal going fell on ears deafened by threats of punishment both in this world and the next.
It's a fascinating book. It will make you laugh and cry by turns.”
“Mark Twain is really funny, even if he wrote these things in the mid-19th Century. The movie with Bing Crosby wasn't bad either.”Dan M wrote this review Saturday, December 6, 2008. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“I decided to read this book as an adult after starting it in middle school. I really like the beginning chapters dealing with magic and trickery, but that's as exciting as the book got. It was a large book that I literally struggled to read. I kept making myself read it in the hopes that it would get better, but alas it didn't. This book did have a lot of underlying messages, but as far as the actual story is concerned, it dragged on and on. I made myself read this because I have disliked other classical books while reading them, but come to enjoy the story as a whole after reading them; but this didn't happen. I absolutely hated this book and would not recommend it. It was full of details and side stories that were completely unnecessary to the overall plot (whatever that was). All in all if you read for underlying meanings and details, and the class system intrigues you, have at it. Otherwise, don't waste your time.”amvw wrote this review Thursday, December 4, 2008. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“The problem with this book is finding a good edition. If you find an edition that has the whole story. Awesome.”Lydia S wrote this review Wednesday, October 22, 2008. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“What can I say? There are parts of this book that I enjoyed enormously, like Lancelot's tale at the beginning, the knights' reasons for not knowing basic math, the many difficulties of wearing an armor, and a lot of other funny bits and pieces. But it was quite disgusting to have to read all the graphic descriptions of violence. That's why the book is not homogeneous and balanced. And besides, the protagonist's political ideas and initiatives for improving the medieval world raise as many objections as the very system they were supposed to better.”foitza wrote this review Tuesday, September 23, 2008. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Mark Twain. Enough said. Read as much of him as you can.”dragontouch wrote this review Thursday, August 14, 2008. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Love Samuel Clement's tongue-in-cheek wit; it fills me with delight. The book on the whole, however, was simply too long. There were massive sections in the middle that were altogether unimportant, and not amusing enough to make them worthwhile.”Letitia Harmon wrote this review Thursday, July 10, 2008. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No