Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Boss

A couple of weeks ago I finished reading A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.  My memory, as I've stated on several occasions is not perfect so some of this may not be exactly as it happened in the book.

Some people say the book is a satire on English royalty.  Some say it is a satire on Yankee ingenuity.  I think it is neither.  The thing about Twain's portrayal of 6th century English royalty is it is just handy as a pocket to illustrate how power and greed can obliterate any feeling for humanity.  All that ensues about Yankee ingenuity seems to say a lot more about humanity's reluctance to accept new technology than a satire about its failures.  But all that could be argued, and by people much better educated and much smarter than I am.

What I am going to do is relate some of the events that happened when the Yankee, from now on referred to as the "Boss" visited Arthur's sister, Morgan Le Fay.

First let me say that either I can't remember or it was never explained why everyone called the Yankee the Boss but he had impressed Arthur tremendously and so was given a wide range of political power.  The Boss had two goals.  One was to introduce 19th century technology to 6th century England.  The second was to eventually eliminate (upon Arthur's death) their system of government including the royals - I think especially the royals - and institute a republic.

I won't try to mimic Mark Twain's prose.  Forsooth, it would be impossible for me to do that.

There was royal banquet held at Mrs. Le Fay's castle.  During which the band performed "In the Sweet Bye and Bye."  The Boss described this as a horror.  Mrs. Le Fay agreed that it was and decreed that all the band should be hanged.  The Boss thought this punishment was harsh and protested but other events gave him pause.

He wanted to see the dungeon.  There a young man was being tortured on the rack while his wife, holding their young child, cried piteously.  The man was accused of killing a deer and was being tortured to make him confess.  Mrs. Le Fay could have him killed for no other reason than it suited her fancy.  But the accusation of killing a deer and the fact he was found near the deer's body was more than sufficient justification.  In the Boss's mind, it wasn't so much that the man was going to die for his alleged crime but why was he being tortured?  Witnessing the young man's slow and painful demise while listening to the young wife's pitiful cries was more than the Boss could bear.  He implored the young man to confess.

Eventually he gained the young man's confidence and learned that he had killed the deer.  It had been eating his crops.  However, he could not confess publicly.  By law his confession would give Mrs. Le Fay the right to take his land leaving his young wife and child penniless.

The Boss was sympathetic to the young man.  He struck a deal with Mrs. Le Fay.  She agreed after some haggling.  The decision was this.  The young man would go free.  The band would be hanged.  The Boss would get together a new band.  He made the executioner the new band leader.  When the executioner protested saying he didn't know how to play a musical instrument, the Boss replied that was an insufficient reason since no one in the kingdom knew how to play a musical instrument.

For me this book was emotionally disturbing but then I can't watch a horror movie without being horrified.  Still, at times it made me laugh.  I can't say I loved it but I can't say I regret reading it.

18 comments:

ADRIAN said...

I'll have to read this. We call it satire. It's usually meant to be funny.

David Oliver said...

Adrian I will be really interested to hear what you think of it.

Andrew Leon said...

It's on my list to read. My younger son has been reading Twain, lately, and it reminded me that I'd never read that one but always meant to.

Gorilla Bananas said...

Hmm, wasn't Morgan Le Fay King Arthur's enemy? I don't know why Mr Yankee was spending so much time enjoying her hospitality and sorting out her affairs. Did he pooh-pooh their supernatural beliefs?

David Oliver said...

One of the reasons I had so much trouble remembering some of the details was I had read about one quarter of the book maybe 10 years ago. One day my younger son mentioned the book and I said I had liked what I'd read but misplaced it and forgotten where it was. He said, "Dad, it's in the bookcase with the marker where you left off."
So I finally got around to finishing it.

David Oliver said...

I think in most literature, comics, whatever, Morgan Le Fay is Arthur's enemy. In "Yankee" she is not really portrayed that way. She is introduced as Arthur's sister, a great and powerful sorceress but she doesn't perform any sorcery. She is pretty portrayed as just a powerful and head strong woman.

Yep, he absolutely pooh-pooh'd their supernatural beliefs. Whenever possible he tried to discredit Merlin.

A Beer For The Shower said...

I've read a lot of Twain (and love it) but never read this. I'm going to have to check it out. To sound like a really old guy, my favorite satirical look at technology was Charlie Chaplin's movie Modern Times. Still relevant in this day and age, and can still make me laugh.

David Oliver said...

One night while on a date with a lady near my age, we were talking about good movies and I mentioned "Bonnie and Clyde." She said, "but David, it's old." So I said, "so are we but we're still good."
Thanks guys. I've never seen any of Chaplin's work. I'll check it out.

Phillip Oliver said...

Have you read any of Flannery yet?

Carol in Cairns said...

Great ~ a book review :)

David Oliver said...

Phillip I haven't. :(
But I have not forgotten and was reminded Saturday when No. 1 called.
Hopefully I'll get to it before we get together again and we can talk about it.

David Oliver said...

Thanks Carol. I felt totally unqualified to do it but as I've often heard bloggers say, "that never stopped me before." Seriously and truthfully though, I don't think we need to be experts. It is like friends and acquaintances talking but you have to time to gather your thoughts.

Rawknrobyn.blogspot.com said...

I really like this message, David: "power and greed can obliterate any feeling for humanity." Nicely worded and so true. Your review is thoughtful and fair. I'm easily horrified at the mere thought of considering watching a horror movie, so I'm passing on this book, but I appreciate your review. Twain was brilliant.

xoRobyn

David Oliver said...

Thanks Robyn. Of course Twain does not describe any of the cruel events in "Yankee" the way a horror book or movie would, but he puts you there, makes you identify with the victims. And that for me was tough. I think you are right about passing on it.

I agree he was brilliant.

troutbirder said...

I like satire. Twain was very good at it. I think I saw the movie too on late night cable...:)

David Oliver said...

I take it the movie must not have been great unless you are like me and forget most of them. If I run across it, I'll try to watch it.

John Gray said...

I hated the movie but after reading this I may give the book a visit

David Oliver said...

John, there were parts that were like a good novel that you can't put down. Other parts I struggled getting through.

Post a Comment