Sorry for the late post; I felt a little bit more inspired for this blog so I wanted to do it some justice before I posted it.
First of all I would like to start off by stating a simple known fact; I am magical. I am magical because everything I do or touch has a certain bit of grandeur and mysticism to it. Basically, I make things happen that unfortunately a majority of my encounter with the human race cannot do like telling time without a clock, eating sushi, lifting heavy boulders, and knowing what a woman wants (Yes, most men and women don’t know what women want but I’ve learned the age old secret and do not expect me to divulge the answer in this blog). Now that we know the extent of my magical powers lets examine the role of Merlin and his supposed arcane prowess in Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthurs Court.”
Growing up I was always fascinated with Dark Ages and the story of King Arthur and his Round Table. From my experiences, Merlin has always been a benevolent, powerful, and erudite mystic who aids Arthur through his trials. In this novel Twain puts a really interesting spin on the common perception of Merlin by constantly mocking and degrading his arcane knowledge and skills. The first instance where Twain mocks Merlin occurs in the beginning of the novel when Merlin tells his story about one of his escapades with Arthur. Although to unfamiliar ears the story sounds novel and fantastic, as Hank denotes, the response of those familiar to the story explicitly mocks Merlin’s validity. The assassination of Merlin’s character occurs all through the novel. Since we have all already read the book I don’t feel I need to explain every situation Merlin gets trumped by Hank so I’ll just list the majority of them as follows; the eclipse, the destruction of Merlin’s tower, and the Holy Fountain.
One of the main purposes of Merlin and his professed magical ability is to juxtapose his 6th century nonsense with Hank’s technological genius, illuminating the genius of engineering thought. In creating this image of Merlin and his magic as fraudulent, Twain likens Hanks innovative skills to real magic. In situations where 19th century technology is used and is inexplicable/unfathomable to the 6th century men it reinforces the power and strength of Hank explicitly, but implicitly Twain is acknowledging the true magic of innovation and its fearful potential (Twain was fascinated with innovation in his lifetime and lost a fortune supporting a type machine as practical as the automatic feeder for the factory men in Modern Times).
Up until the end of the novel, Merlin’s credibility as a true magician is as much as Brittany spears is relevant to pop music; none. But Merlin performs some true magic in the end essentially sending Hank back to his own time. Why does Twain describe Merlin’s magic up until this point as mere parlor tricks, then have him perform true magic causing Hank’s demise after his “successful”(destruction of an entire army) military campaign? Well this goes back to the concept of Irony in the third blog. “A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthurs Court” is as ironic as a midget named Long Legs. Merlin’s triumph (and subsequent death) is an extension of the constant irony found in the book.
Some questions still remained unanswered like; If Hank was actually performing what the 6th century citizens believed to be magic why was the Church so intent on his destruction but let Merlin exist without interference; Why does hank claim to be a simple Yankee but he often goes that extra yard, adding theatricals to his display of engineering skill? It turns out the second question is a response to the first; Hank’s display of awesome power created Fear (Yes I capitalized fear if you don’t know why you should quit college now) in the Church which has worked centuries to consolidate power. In many ways the Church was holding their society back by proclaiming heresy where innovation prevailed ( keeping the people illiterate was key to maintain their power structure). I feel the Church knew the proclaimed magicians of their time were nothing to fear because they knew muttering spells was the extent of their power and they posed no real threat to the Church itself. Hank was a frightening reality that needed to be dealt with as soon as possible.