“I looked at the boy in sorrow; and as I looked I saw the cloud of a deep despondency settle upon his countenance” (56).
Preceding the story of how Merlin aided King Arthur in retrieving the sword from the Lady in the lake, Hank notices the dismal reaction of everyone in his presence upon seeing Merlin prepare for his monologue. After Merlin recounts his dull tale, Hank comments that he found the account appealing, contrary to what those around him felt.
“It seemed to me that this quaint lie was most simply and beautifully told; but then I had heard it only once, and that makes a difference, it was pleasant to the others when it was fresh, no doubt” (60).
What is humorous or, rather, ironic (and by being so it becomes humorous) is Merlin’s tale. What occupies the space of nearly two pages of Twain’s novel is, in fact, not the words of Twain. Rather, it is something taken directly out of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. Although the assignment is to write about the irony that is Hank Morgan, I noticed this to be more ironic (well, at least this… and the fact that the irony embedded in Twain’s story is completely lost on me; or maybe just too embedded for me).
Malory’s text, which was originally published in the fifteenth century, is considered to be one of the best works of Arthurian writing. Most likely, in doing research on sixth century life, Twain found himself within the pages of Le Morte d’Arthur, and he probably lifted some of his ideas from the text. That being said, I’m not surprised that he took Merlin’s account of what happened straight out of Malory’s text.
The irony, however, is the reaction from the characters in the story. A look of suffering takes over the faces of the crowd, Clarence seems annoyed, and nearly half (if not all) of the audience falls asleep, and is snoring, within the first few minutes. The only person to have any sign of interest in the tale is Hank.
How is it that this literary piece of art is utterly hated by everyone in Merlin’s company? Maybe it’s because they know the story by heart, or that they believe it to be untrue. Or maybe they just flat out don’t like it. However, to me, it is still ironic that in our times the tale is considered to be one of the best accounts of Arthurian times but in their time, it’s basically a steaming load of crap. Maybe it truly is because it was only his first time hearing the story that Hank is in favor of the story, but I have my theory nonetheless.
I just find it ironic, a la Alanis Morissette, that a revered work of literature is considered anything but that, regardless of the time period.