A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
With A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Mark Twain—humorist, philosopher, and tireless champion of naughty little boys—helped create the time travel story while simultaneously sending up the larger-than-life ridiculousness of Arthurian literature. Not too shabby, right?
This book tells the tale of a hardheaded New England factory manager in the late 19th century named Hank, who finds himself whisked back to the time of King Arthur thanks to a crowbar blow to the head. (Note: Shmoop does not endorse this method as a viable form of time travel. Neither do we endorse swirling vortexes, witches' spells or modified DeLoreans driven by wild-haired eccentrics.) When he arrives, he clashes with their Olde Tyme traditions such as wearing hose and burning witches at the stake. Thanks to Hank's practical ingenuity (and a handy eclipse), he soon has the whole court at his feet, rising to Boss level and thwarting the nasty schemes of the wizard Merlin.
Twain wrote A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court after his famous stories Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, and while it keeps the fundamentally American voice that marked those two tales, this book found a fresh new target to throw that voice up against. The antiquated epics of Europe, with their suits of armor and fire-breathing dragons, make a good target for satire, and Twain's direct, no-nonsense character was the perfect way to cut them—and Merry Old England—down to size. The book also lets Twain indulge in fantasy and science fiction, two genres he wasn't normally known for. It's always fun to break loose from time to time, right?
But most important, this book is a fun, well-written tale of a hero in a strange land, surviving by his wits and even finding a pretty girl to fall in love with along the way. You can't knock a good story, and no one knew how to tell them better than Twain.
Why Should I Care?
Time travel shows up in everything from Back to the Future to Star Trek… and Twain helped set it all in motion with A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Though H.G. Wells beat Twain to the punch by one year with The Chronic Argonauts, Twain's book followed right on its heels, and predated Wells's The Time Machine by a good six years. That puts it right at the genesis of the genre.
If that's not reason enough to read this book, consider it from a slightly different angle. Without it, Arnold Schwarzenegger might never have told us that he'd be back, and Marty McFly might never have discovered what happens when he hits 88 mph. Pretty grim prospects, right? So tip your hat to Twain and fasten your seat belt, because we're going way back to the 6th century.