Study Guide

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

By Mark Twain

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court Introduction

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.

What is A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court About and 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.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court Resources

Websites

Free Download
A free e-copy of the book from Gutenberg.org.

Mark Twain's Interactive Scrapbook
A fun collection of tidbits from the people who brought you Big Bird.

Movie or TV Productions

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
An early silent movie version of the tale, produced in 1921.

A Connecticut Yankee
The first sound adaptation of the story, featuring noted humorist Will Rogers as Hank.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
The most famous adaptation of the story, released in 1949 and starring Bing Crosby in the title role. The film was made as a musical, presumably because, if you're going to cast Crosby, you really need to let him sing.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
This feature-length animated version was made for television in 1970. Orson Bean provides the voice of Hank; the actor later went on to voice Bilbo Baggins in a notable cartoon version of The Hobbit.

A Connecticut Rabbit in King Arthur's Court
The legendary Chuck Jones directed this twenty-five-minute Looney Tunes animated short in 1978. Bugs Bunny stars as the Connecticut Rabbit, testing his wits against the evil Merlin (who bears a suspicious resemblance to Yosemite Sam) and the dogged Sir Elmer of Fudd.

Unidentified Floating Oddball
Otherwise known as The Spaceman and King Arthur, this live-action Disney film arrived in 1979, when fortunes for the studio were low. It sends a modern astronaut and his android duplicate back to foil Merlin's schemes.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
Not to be outdone, this 1989 reimagining involves a modern twelve-year-old girl sent back to Arthur's time. She uses modern technology and a little spunk to help Arthur become the king he was meant to be.

A Young Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
Hallmark jumped into the ring in 1996, taking a guitar-strumming hipster back to Arthur's time to see how he fares.

Articles and Interviews

"The Many Sides of Hank"
An essay on the main character from the University of Florida.

"A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court and U.S. Imperialism"
An article on Twain's subtext from Purdue University.

Unraveling Twain's True Message
What's it all about? Caroline DeFino gets to the bottom of it.

Video

Yay for Legos
The wonders of the Internet produced a version of A Connecticut Yankee, solely in Lego form.

Audio

Rest Your Eyes
A free MP3 audio recording of the book.

Commercial Audio Files
A version for sale from Amazon and Audible, read by actor Richard Henzel.

Images

Sir Boss
An image of Hank from the original printing of the book.

Multiple Images
A blog full of images from the book, ranging for original illustrations to more recent works.

Will Rogers
A blog review of the Will Rogers movie, with multiple stills from the film.