The American Book That Offended The British

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I would like to start this episode with a fun and interesting personal story. When I was a kid, right after I got access
to the Internet, I downloaded the designs for a basic steam engine, a smoothbore musket
and the recipe for gunpowder and memorized them, just in case I ever ended up back in
time and needed something to help me survive there. I’ve also toyed with the idea of getting
them tattooed on myself somewhere just in case I forget them… and also because it
would be really funny. This probably gives you some sort of idea of how many time travel
based stories I’ve experienced and how much I’ve thought about them over the years. Time travel as a plot device is something
of a paradox for me because I find it simultaneously fascinating and extremely boring. The former because it’s just such a potential
filled concept to explore and the latter because it’s become so over used and so seldom done
with much creativity, tending to rely on the same half dozen or so established tropes. For real, every single science fiction based
TV show has at least one time travel episode and it is an entire genre of books and films. Like I said, I’ve experienced a lot of them,
and regarding the ones that involved a modern person traveling back to medieval times or
further, the thing that kept nagging at me was the lingering thought that it was a damn
shame that the out of time person was always of a profession that was of little to no use
to their predicament. They were always someone who could be humorously
overwhelmed by the ferocity and hardship of the past and have to cobble together some
way of impressing his way out of situations using what little technology he brought with
him or, I dunno, using pop culture references. I wished that just once, the time traveler
could be a scientist, or an inventor, or an engineer. Someone with the know-how to single
handedly make a serious change to the world around them. It turns out that story not only exists, it’s
existed since the 19th century predating all the formulaic modern cliches regarding the
genre. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
was written by American author Samuel Langhorne Clemens and published under his famous pen
name Mark Twain in 1889. Twain is one of the most celebrated writers
and humorists of his era. His works include literary household names like The Adventures
of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. One of the first things I learned about this
book was just how badly it was received in my homeland of Great Britain which obviously
spiked my curiosity to no end. Having now read it and mostly enjoyed it I
can safely say that a modern Englishman is probably not in much danger of having their
monocle popped by it but I can see why my ancestors might have been a bit butt hurt.
I’ll come back to this once I’ve synopsised the plot. This book is described as a comedy but I dunno
that almost doesn’t do it justice. Due to the absurdity of the concept and how seriously
it doesn’t take itself it could certainly claim the title of comedy but it has more
depth and emotional weight at times than many tragedies can claim. As you’ve no doubt deduced from the title,
this book not only includes time travel but also the legend of King Authur. Specifically
the more famous tales from Le Morte d’Arthur. For more information consider subscribing
to Overly Sarcastic Productions to partake of their education and entertainment. As it’s generally agreed by all but the
most sentimentally optimistic of historians that King Authur is an entirely fictional
creation it’s pretty clear this book isn’t going for any serious realism when it comes
to historical accuracy. Which I’m okay with, I mean I do like it
when these time travel books go the extra mile to try to be historically accurate, but
I’ve always been ok with the “Ahh screw it let’s mix in a little fantasy” take on
it. Anyways let’s talk about the plot to this
particular take on the time travel formula. The book, set in the at the time contemporary
late 19th century is written in a way not dissimilar to The Phantom of the Opera in
that Twain writes in the first person about meeting a character from the story and hearing
the events of it from him, implying, though with much less commitment then Gaston Leroux,
that the events of the story are in some way true. Or at least I assume this is the case because
the man narrating the prologue and the epilogue marks his initials as M.T., which I suppose
could be a coincidence, but. He claims to have been touring Warwick castle
and comes across a very old American traveler who he got to talking to at the pub they were
both staying at. After a few stiff drinks his new friend is
convinced to recount the events of his life, though after the first chapter or so, he just
hands over his journal for him to read at his leisure and heads to bed claiming fatigue. The mysterious American’s name was Hank Morgan
and he claims to have been a time traveler. Hailing from Connecticut, he was the son of
a blacksmith, trained as a general engineer and employed in an arms factory where his
skills in gunmaking raised him to the rank of superintendent over several thousand men. Morgan is not a man for lengthy intros apparently
because all of this is summarized within a few sentences before he explains that he eventually
got into a fight with a large disgruntled underling who smacked him around the head
with a crowbar so hard he flew not only into another country but also through time itself. Awakening from this titanic blow to the cranium
upon the isle of Britain in the 6th century, Morgan is immediately taken captive by a knight
errant by the name of Kay. Kay decides based on his outlandish garb that
he must be a sorcerer or rogue and takes him to Camelot to be sentenced before King Arthur
and the Knights of the table round. At first believing the knight to be mad and
Camelot an insane asylum, when he realises the truth Morgan immediately decides that
as he was by default the most advanced and best educated man in the time period he should
probably go ahead and take over the country. This plan seems immediately derailed by him
being sentenced to death by burning at the stake but despite the court wizard Merlin’s
best efforts Morgan manages to get himself out of execution using one of the first examples
of what would later become a popular time travel trope, the very conveniently timed
total solar eclipse. By the way I had no idea that was based on
a real event. Man Christopher Columbus was a dick. By predicting and taking credit for this eclipse
he convinces King and court that he is the world’s most powerful wizard, and demands
that he be made Arthur’s new right hand man and prime minister. In exchange he promises
to introduce new technologies and education to the nation boosting its economy. He realises that Merlin, the vindictive old
man who tried so hard to get him killed, is just a con man magician like himself but one
that has come to believe in his own legend so solidifies his position by ousting him
from court by performing another great feat of “magic” i.e. blowing up Merlin’s
tower with some newly invented sticks of dynamite. After some time as the defacto minister of
the country he picks up the unofficial title of “The Boss” and develops a…. Well
not exactly a friendship but a good working relationship with King Arthur. Something that becomes immediately apparent
regarding this King and kingdom, and one of the plot twists that turned the British off
this book is the fact that Merlin is clearly not the only one who fails to live up to his
fables. King Arthur and his knights seem well intentioned
but no matter how much Morgan comes to like them as people, he cannot get over the fact
that they are an absolute monarch and nobility presiding over a feudal system with all the
unbelievably vast social unfairness that comes with it. Their sense of honor, justice, and chivalry
only applied to other people of equal rank and to them the idea that the many serfs and
slaves of the nation might deserve some modicum of basic human rights as well was an offensively
stupid idea to be scoffed at. On top of that it quickly becomes more than
obvious that every fantastical achievement attributed to Lancelot, Galahad and the other
knights of the round table are all in reality pretty mediocre events exaggerated out of
all proportion by the knights themselves. Eventually a fair damsel in distress by the
name of Sandy turns up in Camelot, claiming to have just escaped a dark castle filled
with likewise imprisoned princesses and fair maidens and guarded by giant evil ogres. No one except The Boss thinks to question
the honesty or credentials of this woman in any way and all of the knights clamour to
be the brave man to ride with this Sandy back to this cursed castle and rescue her compatriots. However, genuinely believing that he is heaping
glory on his new minister, Arthur charges a less than enthusiastic Morgan with the quest. The trip there is an absolute nightmare for
Morgan who is dressed in full plate mail armour and hating every second of it. As I am exactly the kind of nerdy bastard
who has tried on various suits of armour in my time I really felt this chapter. Even the best made, custom fitted armour is
so, SO uncomfortable, like holy shit. Like, you have to have spent your entire adult life
practicing with it every day to even be able to swing a sword in combat, you know? Everything
else is virtually impossible and an act of excruciating agony. Sidenote I spent ages looking for good pictures
of me in armour but apparently none exist because my college days predate phones having
decent cameras on them. I’m old. Anyways along the journey Morgan gets more
first hand examples of the plight of the downtrodden masses of Britain’s lower class and his hatred
for the current political system that would allow such a small percentage of the population
to live in extreme wealth while the vast majority work themselves to death increases tenfold. The worst example of noble abuse is when he
becomes the guest of Arthur’s sister, Morgan Le Fay. He witnesses her stab a young page
boy to death for tripping and touching her gently. Using his clout as “the boss” Morgan orders
Le Fay to empty out her castle’s dungeons and frees half a hundred people who had been
imprisoned there and subjected to unspeakable tortures for decades for little to no reason. When they eventually get to Sandy’s “castle”
it turns out to be a literal pig sty. The young lady clearly has a somewhat tenuous
grip on reality as she perceives the swine as fair princesses and their herders as mighty
ogre. In an act of kindness Morgan plays along and
simply buys the pigs to rescue them. On the way home he passes through a holy valley
that’s inhabited by a order of monks who look after a supposedly magic well. The well has dried up, they believe due to
dark magic though a close inspection by Morgan reveals it is simply cracked inside. Merlin
has been there awhile waving his hands around and saying magic words but to no avail. To top up his reputation as a miracle worker
Morgan pretends to do a dramatic exorcism on the well after fixing it, setting off a
ton of fireworks and rigging up a new iron pump he just invented to spurt the returned
water into the air. When he gets back to Camelot he decides to
spend some time traveling the land dressed as a peasant to get a better feel for the
kingdom. To his slight surprise King Arthur insists on joining him so he ends up spending
most of the trip failing to keep his majesty out of trouble and trying to show him the
error of his system of government. So then, sire, we have been upon the road
for a few days now and we have already barely avoided being run down and beaten to death
by nobles for no discernable reason on at least three occasions. Do you perhaps think
this is enough evidence to consider changing the way things work in this country of yours? Of course not, tis the right of the higher
born and all that is due to him under law that he may preside above his inferiors. Sir, now that we have watched some sweet innocent
folk literally die before our eyes due to the oppressive hand of the aristocracy maybe
now you would like to rethink your system of government, just a little? Not at all, this state of things is nothing
less than the divine will of God himself, to thwart his wishes would be the greatest
sin of all. Your majesty, seeing as we have been captured
and sold into slavery on the whims of a cruel minded baron who’s under no obligation according
to your laws to give us a chance to prove our freeman’s status, do perchance you see
a little something wrong with this picture? I can’t believe you sold for more than me. Okay, we are about to be hung by the neck
for the simple act of having defended our lives from the cruel and murderous slave masters.
Sire, for the love of all that is sacred in this heaven and earth would you please admit
that this nation requires some immediate improvements in regards to equality?! Oh, very well. :crowd gasps: Slavery is henceforth abolished, shut it down,
shut it all the fuck down. This is Morgan’s first huge positive step
in the betterment of the nation, the next is when he is challenged to a duel to the
death by one of the knights of the round table and he defeats first him and then every last
one of them with nothing but a cowboy’s lasso. He hopes that this crushing humiliating defeat
will effectively end the era of chivalry with all its lies and double standards. The only slight hitch comes when Merlin steals
his lasso and the first knight returns to challenge him again. This turns out to only be bad news for the
knight though as Morgan, a weaponsmith has had all the time he needs to reinvent his
specialty item. :crowd cheers: After that he reveals the vast network of
factories and schools that he’s been building in secret across Arthur’s kingdom. In light
of him having kicked the asses of the most famous warriors in the country and with the
King’s favour, no one attempts to stop him from reshaping the country as he sees fit. The story then skips ahead three years. England
has already gone through most of the entire Industrial Revolution and now sports trains,
phone lines, mass production and the beginnings of general education. Sandy, despite being slightly mad and a little
slow on the uptake had really grown on Morgan so he had married her and they had had a child
together that she had named “Hello central” mistaking the words that he would say into
his new telephone for a person of great importance to his past. Morgan has big plans for phasing out the monarchy
and declaring England a republic, already having gained Arthur’s approval to do this
upon his death. However his more immediate concern is his infant daughter who has taken
ill. He’s advised to try taking her abroad for
her health so he takes his family and sails to northern France to stay in a small friendly
kingdom there for a while. Morgan eventually realises that he has had
no word from Britain in the entire time he’s been away so he returns home alone. To his
horror he discovers that everything has gone all kinds of tits up while he was gone. It turns out that one of the very few Arthurian
legends that was entirely on the money was Lancelot bonking Queen Guinevere behind Arthur’s
back. Arthur had discovered his wife’s infidelity right after Morgan left and attempted to have
her executed. Lancelot had rescued her, killing a dozen knights in the process, and sparked
off a civil war. Morgan Le Fay’s son, Prince Mordred, had taken
the opportunity to attack his uncle and after a disastrous battle for both sides he and
King Arthur ended up killing each other. With England bereft of leadership, the Catholic
church had seized power and imposed religious rule over the entire country and were now
in the process of systematically undoing all of Morgan’s advancements both economical and
technological. In the only act of defiance available to him,
Morgan fortifies one of Merlin’s old caves and tells the church where to find him. He only has access to 52 soldiers, but all
the modern hardware he’s been producing over the last few years including land mines,
three rows of electric fences and half a hundred freaking gatling guns. The church fields 30,000 mounted knights against
him, which is pretty much every surviving knight left in England at this point, despite
this colossal imbalance in numbers Morgan isn’t super worried about them. However to his dismay thousands upon thousands
of the common folk join the enemy army as well. Men he had been working tirelessly to
finally raise the status of and afford human rights to chose to take up arms against him,
scream death to his republic, and restore the status quo. His hope is that the nobility will attack
first and be wiped out by his superior firepower which will then cause the common folk to run
away with minimal casualties. This is exactly what happens. All 30 thousand
noble men meet their end either through explosions, electrocution or the hail of bullets from
their opponents’ guns. However this is not ultimately a victory for
the republic forces. They are just too small in number to be able to go on the offensive
and they can’t retake the country from the inside of a cave. Worse, Morgan insists on
trying to help the wounded and is stabbed by an ungrateful knight. While he is recovering Merlin infiltrates
his cave dressed as a woman and supposedly puts a spell on him that will make him sleep
for 13 centuries, returning him to his own time. While doing a victory dance over having finally
rid himself of his nemesis, Merlin makes the mistake of touching one of the electric fences. In a postscript to his journal, one of Morgan’s
loyal troops explain that they intend to hide his slumbering body in the back of the cave
and then expect to slowly die off of illness brought about by being surrounded by 30,000
rotting corpses. Back in the 19th century, Mark Twain is amazed
by the account he has just read and goes to find Morgan upstairs. He unfortunately discovers
him on his deathbed calling out for Sandy and their daughter. In his delirium he believes he is hearing
the trumpets of King Arthur approaching one last time and tries to give his final order
that the king be made welcome before slipping away. This book has a far more emotionally distressing
ending than a comedy has any right to. Damn Twain, I wasn’t ready. Going back to the time travel genre in general
for just a second, there’s a lot of ways that authors handle the possible outcomes of meddling
with the past and the paradoxes that come with it. For example the classic: If you go back in
time and prevent a bad thing from happening then it will not have happened and you will
have had no reason to go back and prevent it, thus it would happen, causing you to go
back and prevent it… Repeat ad infinitum. Available options include but are not limited
to: There’s the yes, you totally can change the
present from the past for good or bad. This one tends to ignore the paradox outright. The no, the time traveling you did already
happened even before you knew you did it, so anything you do in the past will have the
same result in your present no matter what. The parallel universe theory where your changing
of the past creates an alternative timeline, allowing your experienced reality and this
new one you’ve set into motion to coexist paradox free. And the one where the time traveller can’t
or chooses not to return to their own time so we never know what effect they had. Assuming that you believe that Hank Morgan
did in fact time travel and wasn’t simply delusional from the crowbar whack to the head,
which let’s face it is the most likely outcome, then Twain went with option 2. No matter how much Morgan thought that he
was changing the world, Britain apparently just wasn’t ready for it and chose to undo
all his work and go back to having to figure it all out for themselves over the next thousand
years or so. You also see that no matter how much King
Arthur’s life was changed by Morgan, it still ended the same way, with everything
getting so fucked up between him, Lancelot, Guinevere, and Prince Mordred. An interesting thing with this book is the
consistent message that magic and superstition are not real and will always yield before
science. But for that to make sense you have to sort of ignore the bit at the beginning
and end where he, you know, travels through time. Again, assuming that it’s not all
just in the main character’s head. While King Arthur himself probably wasn’t
real, his system of government and the way it’s been super romanticized over the years
has a lot more historical weight behind it. My reaction to the “Knights-Errant were
Garbage and Here’s Why” theme was pretty much just, yeah. It’s really not that radical an opinion any
more. Heck it was one of the main themes of Game of Thrones before the writing dropped
don’t look, Olenna. I don’t want you to see me like this. But like I said, it doesn’t surprise me that
19th century Britain with its world spanning empire and overwhelming sense of superiority
had a bit of a stick up its arse at the idea that a yank would dare to write about one
of our greatest legends being a bit of a prick when you get to know him. The depiction of all of Britain from the highborn
to the low as uber gullible sheeple probably didn’t help much either. In the age old
story of the enlightened traveler trying to educate the ignorant savages this was probably
the first time that we’d been cast in the role of the savage so that no doubt bruised
some egos. However, Britain may well have taken this
story far too personally because Twain seems to have intended his mockery of the 6th century
nobility to double up as a criticism of the modern social norms of his own America and
all other countries that labour under the yoke of a system that allows a very small
amount of people to be fantastically more wealthy than the rest of their nation. What’s really disturbing is just how perfectly
his 19th century warning about the colossal dangers of said upper class and the disturbing
trend of those downtrodden beneath them to become so accustomed to the system that perpetuates
them they will literally fight to maintain it even when presented with alternatives can
apply to the world we find ourselves in in the year of our lord 2020. Please vote this
November. Because yeah, it seems that we all still have
a lot to learn from Mark Twain. The dude manages to stay relevant whether he’s writing about
the past, present, or future. If I have successfully interested you in this
novel, then you’ll be happy to know it’s available for download right now on Audible.
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I’ve no longer had to choose between my beloved books and activities where I really
shouldn’t be reading. Driving for one, that’s a big no-no. Uh, trying to read on a treadmill,
that was a pretty painful experience the one time I tried it. Audible has an unmatched library of audiobooks,
so if this one doesn’t peak your interest perhaps you might enjoy the subject of last
week’s episode, The Witcher books by Andrzej Sapkowski. There are no strings attached to the introductory
offer, you can quit anytime you like and you get to keep the free audiobooks. So, there’s
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to be reviewed by yours truly. However, if right now you are thinking, my goodness The
Dom, I can’t do that, for you see, I am of the Fremen and we use water as currency
here on Arrakis. I mean, you can have some if you really want, but I’m not sure how
much use you’re going to get out of it. Fear not, it would still be a huge help to
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I hope you have a most pleasant day and I will see you in the next episode. I’ll just say the line with you here and
just not acknowledge your existence. Oww! Will you please admit that this nation requires
some immediate improvements in regards to equality? I don’t know what accent I was
going for there. Gotta channel Daniel Craig from Knives Out.
Well, I do apologize, yeah. I’m gonna get ripped apart in the comments
for this, uh, for this accent, I just know it. :mouth popping noises: Oh valley of plenty, oh valley of plenty,
oh oh oh. Is it 13th century, 13 plus 6…yeah, okay.
Maths! I just said that line while a cat slowly came
over and sat down on my foot. You’re being very ticklish. You tested me and I passed
the test, Sir Terry. Do not bite my foot, you little shit. Don’t give me that look, you’re trying
to bite me! See, I’m trying to say his name but my,
I, instinctively think “Oh no, if I say Twain it sounds like I’m lisping” so I
automatically try to change it to Train. But that’s not his name, so, it’s no good. Help! Save me from the crazy human! Help! :Cats music playing:

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

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