The Prince and the Pauper
Published in 1881, the story of Prince Edward VI swapping places with a poor boy in 16th-century England was Twain's first foray into historical fiction. Now, Twain himself thought that The Prince and the Pauper was the best thing he had ever written, but it's never been quite as popular as Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer (source).
One reason for this might be that The Prince and the Pauper is an unusual book for Mark Twain. If you're a Twain lover, you may not even recognize your favorite folksy author underneath all the Dickensian prose.
In fact, Twain was influenced by quite a few other authors when he wrote this novel. For instance, most of the book's historical information comes from David Hume's History of England and other old English histories. Twain also took the premise from Charlotte M. Yonge, who wrote a book called The Prince and the Page. Sound familiar?
The Prince and the Pauper may not be as popular—or as controversial—as Twain's other novels, but it shows a different side of this author. Even if people don't read this one as often as Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, the story itself has been adapted into movies, TV shows, video games, novels, and pretty much anything else that you can imagine. Even if you've never read the novel, you probably already know the story.
So why get this story second-hand? Dig in and see what Twain was up to, in his own words. And hey, if the big Samuel Langhorne Clemens himself thought this was his best work, we're not gonna argue.
Why Should I Care?
Things used to be… bad. Bad bad. Like... people-used-to-be boiled-alive-and-have-their-ears-chopped-off bad.
We've advanced a bit since then, but things are still pretty bad for a lot of people in the world. Those of us who are lucky enough to be reading about literature on the Internet using our iPads might feel like our problems are gigantic. But if we swapped places with someone less fortunate for a day, we'd probably end up just like Edward. We'd realize that things are not as bad as they seem, and that there's always someone who has it much worse than we could even imagine.
So if there's one thing that The Prince and the Pauper tells us, it's that the grass is always greener on the other side. But that might just be because it's covered in radioactive waste. So you might want to just be happy with your side of the lawn.