Mark Twain’s rapier wit vs. the ills of the un-American world both past and present in the guise of Medieval England. Representing the case for all things un-American is King Arthur himself as characterized in Sir Thomas Malory’s La Morte d’Arthur. It’s no spoiler to say that Arthur’s Camelot is well and truly skewered at every conceivable turn.
One of the things great literature does is hold a mirror, both to the times in which it is written and to the times in which it is read. I went through this in the midst of the government shutdown of 2013, and it’s fair to say that Twain points out pretty well exactly where the flaws in our own system have been exacerbated. I found myself laughing quite a bit, but there were more than a handful of uneasy chuckles as I realized how many of his words struck home in this day and age. You see, in 1889 when this was written, Britain was in the midst of its Victorian Age, and all that Imperialist expansionism implies. The US had barely left behind the Civil War a generation back, and the wounds were still fresh. Today, the US is feeling the economic and social repercussions of its own Imperial expansionism (even when we don’t acknowledge it ourselves for what it is), so the double meaning through the mirror of modern times is rather apt and sobering. Social classes, slavery, unnecessarily complex language… it’s all here, and so much more, fired at with both barrels in terms that only Twain could deliver. Chapter breaks only serve to allow him to reload.
My biggest realization is that perhaps this book will only become more relevant with every passing year until our policies irrevocably change, one way or another.
William Dufris is an astounding narrator, coming across as though Twain himself were narrating this, mocking virtually every character encountered along the path. It’s a performance you have to hear to believe.