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Twain meets a man who tells him the story of how he ended up back in King Arthur's Court, and influenced that period of history, but ended up back in Twain's time. The Yankee, Hank Morgan, is hit with an iron bar by a man who goes by Hercules in his factory in the late nineteenth century. He wakes up beneath a tree and is captured by a knight of King Arthur's Table Round. He cannot believe where he is, but he starts to believe when he is told he will be executed the following day. He meets a boy who he calls "Clarence" and that boy becomes pivotal to the factories and other nineteenth century technology and wisdom that Hank brings to the sixth century. Hank is disgusted and looks down upon the people of the sixth century as animals and children. He creates elaborate shows to cement himself in Arthur's court as a magician, although he is the farthest thing from it (but he employs the idea that technology is sufficient magic and to the nth degree to a sixth century knight). He saves himself from execution by correctly predicting a solar eclipse, starts a ruptured spring flowing again, creates dynamite, a revolver and other "modern" conveniences that make him seem the most powerful magician. Merlin, the sorcerer of Arthurian legend, is a hack and is exposed by Hank over and over again. Hank goes on a quest to save some damsels from an ogre and is connected with Sandy, the woman he eventually marries and has a child with (HELLO-CENTRAL). He goes in freeman clothes with the king to discover more about the regular people of that period, and is eventually captured and made a slave after his nineteenth century smarts cost him. As he is sailing with his daughter and child they discover that the Church has struck back at the advances that Hank is making (free thought, free religion, absolution of slavery, etc). They have imposed an interdict after Arthur was made to know that his wife Guenevere and Lancelot were committing adultery, and Arthur went to war with Lancelot. Lancelot, Arthur and many, many other knights are killed. The Catholic Church seizes control and makes Sir Boss (as Hank is crowned) their number one enemy. All of England mobilizes against him, but he holes himself up in Merlin's Cave, with electrical wire, land mines and Gatling guns to protect him. The knights didn't stand a chance. They are wholly conquered, but Morgan and Clarance and their helpers cannot escape because that would be to lose their safeguards, but they cannot stay because the rotting bodies that number in the thousands are making them sick. Merlin eventually steals in disguised as a woman and casts a spell over Morgan that makes him wake up back in the nineteenth century. Ah, now it all makes sense. Morgan dies that night as Twain looks on, missing his Sandy and Hello-Central.
A silly, though entertaining story. Morgan is over-the-top that it's unbelievable. He says many times that he will not do something unless its in some grandiose fashion. He does, however, try to bring his nineteenth century values to the sixth century, which overall is a good thing. The absolution of slavery and the massive power the church has is not good for anyone, except the nobles and the church itself. But his treatment of the people of that time as nothing better than children is heavy handed, and costs him a trip into slavery. He does not understand after all that time and with all those massive brain cells that these people are superstitious and are trained to trust no one. He fails to crush Merlin, although he crushes many inferior enemies. Why he continues to allow Merlin to live and torment him is never clear. And it's Merlin at the end who casts an actual spell?!? That does not make any sense, since he has spent the entire book proving him a charleton. A quack. He calls him as much himself. Is Twain trying to say that not all the magic from that time is unreal? Again, that goes against his Gilded Age values. And his "progress" that he brings would have meant the end of our world had he not been