Tuesday, September 25, 2007

My untitled response to graded blog number five, prompt number two.

“There is nothing special in the world. Nothing magic. Just physics.”

-Chuck Palahniuk

In A Connecticut Yankee At King Arthur’s Court we see two forms of magic; the first being the illusions performed by Merlin and the second being Hank’s magic, which is, in fact, modern-day science. Aside from how you may or may not interpret the end of the novel, both forms of magic in the text are illusions based on deception. Magic, in A Connecticut Yankee At King Arthur’s Court, signifies the means with which the people of the sixth century solve problems of the unknown.

Merlin’s magic is that of smoke and childish fabrications. Everything about his magic is vague and lacks any reality. At the Valley of Holiness, Merlin’s demonstration of his magical abilities is far from impressive. He claims that if he is unable to repair the well, then no man will ever find it possible. Because Merlin does not understand the science of the leaking well, he does not understand what it will take in order to fix the crack. Hank watches Merlin, noting that he, “…was still burning smoke-powders, and pawing the air, and muttering gibberish as hard as ever, but looking pretty down-hearted, for of course he had not started even a perspiration in that well” (207). Hank, unlike everyone else, realizes that Merlin has no powers; rather he just puts on a show and hopes for the best. If Merlin finds that the result is less than satisfactory, he comes up with a brilliant lie that is meant to justify his shortcomings. Whereas Merlin burns smoke and speaks of evil spirits, Hank uses his intellect and thirteen hundred years worth of knowledge in order to perform his magic.

Although Hank fully understands the technologies that he is working with, and all that he creates, he also understands how the simple minds of the people of the sixth century work. In order to pass off any of his ideas, and have them carry any weight, he must convince everyone that what he is doing is magic. After having confided in Clarence and a handful of others, Hank has the whole country believing in his mystical wisdom that allows him to perform feats of greatness. Much like Merlin, Hank too puts on a show in order to hype up his less than extraordinary accomplishments. At the same incident at the Valley of Holiness, after allowing Merlin to do all that his powers will allow, Hank finally assesses the problem at hand. He recognizes that there is a leak and has it fixed well before he finally reveals his successful restoration of the fountain. Once he decides that the time has come, Hank exposes the water with a display of pyrotechnics and the pronunciation of a jumbled word.

Although they may seem like very different characters, Hank and Merlin are essentially alike. Both men deal in deception, claiming that they can solve the worlds’ problems with magic. The only difference is their definition of magic. Merlin uses the word as a curtain for his lies and falsifications of the truth, whereas Hank uses it to hide the reality of science.

1 comment:

Adam Johns said...

This is an interesting continuation of the Hank-as-confidence-man theme from last week. What I like best here is your exploration of the ways in which Merlin and Hank, rather than being diametrical opposite, are really mirror images of one another. And, of course, you mined Palahniuk for another great title.

Here's what troubles me, though. "Aside from how you may or may not interpret the end of the novel, both forms of magic in the text are illusions based on deception." This is, of course, true - in the way that you nicely detail through the rest of the paper. But why are you ignoring the end of the novel, especially when that how I frame the prompt? Despite everything Hank says about Merlin, and despite all Merlin's failures (up to and including stumbling into the electrified fence) his magic seems to be real at the end. Does that make us think of Hank differently? Is he ignoring evidence of the reality of (some of) Merlin's magic?

It may be, in other words, that just like with Hank there is something behind the smoke & mirrors.