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The Legend of King Arthur as Interpreted by Mark Twain and T.H.White

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‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court’, by Mark Twain, and ‘The Once and Future King’, by T.H. White, are two very different books. While Mark Twain incorporates plenty of humor into his writing, T.H. White decides to take a more serious side. However, both books fall into the categories of Arthurian legend. They also have many similarities.

‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court’, by Mark Twain, follows Hank Morgan around in Camelot after he gets knocked out at his job. He travels back in time, where he believed he was in a circus. Later he believed he was in an insane asylum. He finds out soon enough that he is in fact in Camelot, after asking someone about the date and the location. He is arrested, brought to prison, and set to be executed the next day. He knew an eclipse was about to occur, so he told the guards to tell the king that he is a magician, and if they don’t release him, he would cover the sun and bring forth night. They didn’t release him, and when he was sent to be executed at noon, the solar eclipse began, and Hank told everyone watching that if they don’t release him and sit down, the night will be eternal. Everyone sat down, including Merlin, after a moment, and when that happened, the solar eclipse ends. Everyone believed that he is a magician now.

He has many other ‘magical’ adventures, where he uses his knowledge of modern day technology to make everyone believe in his magical abilities. He falls in love with a girl named Sandy, and they get married. They have a child, but the baby gets sick, and the doctors tell him that the only way the baby will survive, they will have to bring him overseas. In reality, they just want to get rid of Hank. Hank comes back, builds an army, and prepares in Merlin’s cave. He arms them with modern weaponry, and when an army comes to fight them, they defeat them easily. They are now trapped in a cave full of corpses and disease. He gets stabbed by an enemy and is bedridden. Merlin casts a spell on him that will supposedly put Hank to sleep for 1,300 years. Merlin accidentally electrocutes himself, and Hank escapes. Later, the narrator finds Hank on his deathbed, and Hank tries to make one last ‘effect’ before he dies.

I loved this book for a few reasons. First, I loved the author’s use of humor and unrealism to portray Camelot and this Arthurian tale. The humor made what would have been an average tale very interesting. I also loved the idea of the story. Following a modern day man around medieval times was fascinating, and I loved watching him struggle with archaic English. Finally, I loved reading about the many adventures Hank went on. From saving the pigs that Sandy called her mistresses, to leveling Merlin’s tower, I enjoyed reading about everything Hank did in Camelot.

However, ‘The Once and Future King’ is a huge change of scenery. The first part starts with Arthur’s rearing by his foster father, Sir Ector, and his friendship and rivalry with his foster brother Kay. He meets Merlyn, a wizard who lives backwards through time, in the woods, and brings him home as a tutor. Merlyn knows Arthur (who is called the Wart) is destined to be king, and transforms him into different animals, which will teach him lessons and prepare him for his future life. Merlyn teaches Arthur that the only logical reason to go to war is to prevent another war, and that the current government epitomizes the worst aspects of the rule of the Might.

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In part two, the stage is set for Arthur’s downfall by introducing the Orkney clan, and how Arthur was drawn in by his half sister, the Queen Morgause. While King Arthur is suppressing rebellions, Merlyn leads him to try a way of harnessing Might for the cause of Right, also known as the Order of the Round Table. Merlyn becomes his trusted advisor and mentor. The third and fourth parts tie all of these loose ends together. The third part mostly deals with the romance of this Arthurian tale. Sir Lancelot loves Queen Guinevere, which is forbidden, and how she loves him back. They try to hide this from Arthur, but are unable to because Merlyn told Arthur everything. This part also deals with how this forbidden love effects Elaine, Lancelot’s part-time lover and mother of his child, Galahad. The fourth and final part deals with how Arthur’s downfall. Part of it is caused by Mordred’s hatred of his father, and another part of it is Sir Agravaine’s hatred of Lancelot, and how they cause the downfall of the kingdom of Camelot, Guinevere, Lancelot, and King Arthur.

I loved how this book changes overtime, and all of the character progressions. Arthur changes from a young and curious boy into a psychologically and emotionally complex man. The book’s tone changes from light and happy into a dark and deep story. I also like how, because of White’s prose style, most of the book comes off as a parody of the Arthurian legend. I loved his dry humor, wit, and writing style. The book was very entertaining, but also fascinating, as the characters developed. Merlyn aged backwards, though he always stayed a wise man.

Although these books were both based on Arthurian legend, there are many differences among them. First is the writing style. While Mark Twain relies on humor and jokes, T.H White has written a witty, prose style of this particular legend. Additionally, their portrayal of the characters was very different. Many of Mark Twain’s characters, including Merlin, were funny and sometimes maniacal. T.H White’s characters, on the other hand, were relatable, and they all kept relatively level heads. Ultimately, the storyline was very different. T.H White based his book off of the original legend. However, Mark Twain told the story from a modern point of view, and, while he used the same characters as T.H White, he didn’t stick to the original storyline.

Nonetheless, these stories still have much in common. First and foremost, they are both set in the same time period, and in the same location. Both tales do take place in Camelot, and they both involve King Arthur coming to the throne. Moreover, both stories are somewhat parodies of the original tale. Mark Twain has created an obvious parody, involving hilarious characters and settings. Meanwhile, T. H White’s story is less blatant, but is still somewhat of a funny parody of the original Arthurian legend. Finally, both books use humor to tell this tale. Mark Twain uses blatant, hilarious humor, while T.H White uses dry, witty humor, but both are still humor.

In conclusion, these two books are different, yet still share a few ideas and themes. Both are comical and entertaining, and are based off of the same Arthurian legend. However, they still have their distinctions, such as writing style and point of view. Nevertheless, both of these books were well written, and will be cherished throughout time.

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The Legend of King Arthur as Interpreted by Mark Twain and T.H.White. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 26, 2024, from
“The Legend of King Arthur as Interpreted by Mark Twain and T.H.White.” Edubirdie, 25 Aug. 2022,
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