Throughout the centuries, people have looked to the legends of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table as the standard for a harmonious society. In the stories that have been passed down, knights were bold and chivalrous, fighting real and supernatural foes for the honor of themselves and the ladies they pledged themselves to. The king wisely watched over his subjects with an eye toward justice. In 1889, Mark Twain published the novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court to debunk the myths. The book has a man of Twain’s era magically transported back to Camelot, the court of King Arthur. What he encounters is not a mystical time of dragons and sorcery, but a time of ignorance and suffering, when anyone who claims to have witnessed a supernatural event is believed by all. The King’s court is balanced atop an unjust social system that ignores the rights of the working people and confers divine rights upon nobles who, having been born to wealth and power, have no idea of justice. The book’s protagonist makes himself more powerful than the legendary magician Merlin by performing tricks that are simple for a man with contemporary knowledge. In addition, the protagonist sets about making wide-reaching social reforms, only to find that enlightenment ultimately does not work with superstitious, naïve people.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court continues to be as relevant today as it was in Twain’s time. As a social satire by one of America’s great humor writers, it remains one of the funniest books in our nation’s literary history.