Friday, August 25, 2017

Let's Read: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (Ch.14-15)

The chapter begins with Protag-man complaining about an expensive breakfast then redoubling on being grateful to help the proprieties with some extra cash. It’s kinda odd. At any rate, we learn the protagonist is a spendthrift, so he likes to throw away large chunks of dough. He’s like Homer Simpson! (get it?)

I spent money rather too freely in those days, it is true; but one reason for it was that I hadn’t got the proportions of things entirely adjusted… where I was able to absolutely realize that a penny in Arthur’s land and a couple of dollars in Connecticut were about one and the same thing” (93).

                Fixing the economy is hard. I have a funny feeling that he is going to have trouble with this throughout, but I would be surprised if he didn’t make the economy planned. This would seem to fit the paternalistic streak he has as well as his seemingly left-leaning views.

                Regardless, though: six dollars for breakfast isn’t too bad. At least, in today’s money. I’m not sure what that would have been in Victorian Connecticut, though. But speaking of today, six dollars would get you some kind of donut or bagel product, plus a drink, with maybe a little something extra, depending on the place. It wouldn’t be a healthy breakfast but it would be better than nothing. So it sounds like the character is actually a penny-saver, and is simply chiding himself for spending what he feels is an absurd amount. But, again, I don’t know the inflation from now from the late Victorian period, so what do I actually know?

I had adopted the American values exclusively. In a week or two now, cents, nickles, dimes, quarters, and half-dollars… would be trickling in thin but steady streams all throughout the commercial veins of the kingdom…”

                I really wonder what this is looking like to outside parties. I mean, yeah, it is the fifth of sixth century, so it is not like communication is going to be great, but still, by now Protag-man has been trapped here for a few years and been getting things going, so some kind of communication must have been established by now with the outside territories, the other Barbarian states. What do they think about all these new inventions and practices? Are they likewise adopting them?

                But, anyways, this chapter is short and concerns an encounter with a group of knights. Protag-man sets off some fireworks to scare them off—feigning magic—but they stop scarred instead. He is in favor of leaving, saying to Sandy, his Quest Maiden, which his magic somehow miscarried. But Sandy, in a moment of badassery, says ‘screw up’ to that, and marches up to the knights, declares that they have encountered “The Boss”, and the knights go off to Camelot to present themselves as prisoners. Sick!

Chapter 15

                Hardly anything happens in this chapter. Sandy talks a bunch and Protag-man complains about it. Yay?

If you interrupted her she would either go right along without noticing, or answer with a couple of words, and go back and say the sentence over again. So, interruptions only did harm; and yet I had to interrupt… in order to save my life; a person would die if he let her monotony drip on him right along all day” (98).

                Women! Am I right?  /sarcasm.

*rolls eyes*

I’ve noticed that a lot of characters in this early medieval setting are very childlike, like, immature, as though they can’t tell reality apart from an elaborate game. I think this is purposeful on Twain’s part; I think it is supposed to be part of the commentary on the childish idea of knighting and chivalry.

Speaking of which, this chapter actually has a amusing content set which lampoons the writing style of Arthurian tales.

“[In response to numerous horses being killed on knights quests] ‘Well, that is just the trouble about this state of things, it ruins so many horses’” (100).

Haha… Protag-man then makes another jab as Sandy continues her story about horses being killed with their knights. 

The entire scene reads straight out of a comedy, a travel movie specifically. Sandy talks non-stop while Protag-man quips sarcastic commentary on the ridiculous aspects of her story. On occasion, he speaks about improvements and one improvement in particular made me laugh well.

’The truth is, Alisande, these archaic are a little too simple; the vocabulary is too limited, and so, by consequence, descriptions suffer in the matter of variety; they run too much to level Saharas of facts, and not enough to picturesque detail; this throws about them a certain air of the monotonous; in fact the fights are all like: a couple of people come together with great random… and a spear is brast, and one party brake his shield and the other one goes down, horse and man, over his horse tail and brake his neck, and the other man brast his shield, and down he goes, horse and man, over his horse-tail, and brake his neck, and then there’s another elected, and another and another and still another, till the material is all used up; and when you come to figure up the results, you can’t tell one fight from another, nor who whipped; and as a picture, of living, raging, roaring battle, sho! Why, it’s pale and noiseless—just ghosts scuffing in a fog. Dear me, what would this barren vocabulary get out of the mightiest spectacle?—the burning of Rome in Nero’s time, for instance? Why, it would merely say, ‘Town burned down; no insurance; boy brast a window, fireman brake his neck!’ Why, that ain’t a picture!’” (101).

                I love this because it harkens back to the Le More Darthur quote from the beginning of the book, that long ass quote with monotonous language. It comments on antiquated linguistics and the student and researcher’s trouble in maintaining interest in examining such texts when the texts all sound so alike. I especially like the relation of language to ‘ghosts’ in ‘fog’ as it perfectly captures the idea of all the language blurring together and erasing the wider image. Protag-man then relating it to the burning of Rome is just the icing on top. Wonderfully hilarious!

                Sandy, of course, is not phased and continues her story. Protag-man then day-dreams about his boyhood days at a train station; this part is not so amusing should you just read it on paper, but the narrator of the audiobook I was listening to really put some effort into it and it captured a very modern feel of what Twain was trying to convey.

                Protag-man then sleeps for a bit while in the saddle.

But I lost the thread there, and dozed off to slumber, thinking about what it pity it was that men with such superb strength… should not have been born in a time when they could put it to some useful purpose. Take a jackass, for instance: a jackass has that kind of strength, and puts it to a useful purpose, and is valuable to this world because he is a jackass; but a nobleman is not valuable because he is a jackass” (103).

                As soon as the narrator began speaking about jackasses, I knew some kind of joke was coming, but I was still amused by it. If we want to talk about how laborers use their labor-power, and then connect that commentary to class society, this is, by far, the most amusing way I have yet seen from the book. It is a perfect metaphorical comparison and just captures some of Twain’s literary skill.

                So, Protag-man then says that when Sandy tells her tales in the future, she should give her characters some sort of defining verbal trait, so that they can be identified without even being identified. He goes on to say that all the great authors use such a device.

                I haven’t read a lot of Twain, but even so, I feel that this is a commentary on himself. Does Twain usually assign such traits to his characters? I’ve already such a trait with Protag-man, all the ‘Great Scots!’ and ‘Hang a man’ seem to mark him as pretty identifiable with him as a character. So it does seem meta.

                Protag-man day dreams again, this time about his teenage love. The reader learns that Protag-man’s name is Hank. I’m not sure if this was revealed earlier in the book, but it seems to be revealed now, unless Protag-man’s reminiscence are about a fifteen year old girl who is not his love; in which case, then, yeah, that’s creepy. (Provided, she also may have been a prostitute that he visited when he was… hopefully… younger. In either case, it is uncomfortable to think about.)

We were approaching a castle which stood on high ground; a huge, strong, venerable structure… It was the largest castle we had seen, and so I thought it might be the one we were after, but Sandy said no. She did not know who owned it; she said that she had passed it without calling, when she went down to Camelot” (105).

                So close! So close!