A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

In A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Mark Twain chronicles the experience of an engineer from the nineteenth century who goes back in time to King Arthur’s era in the sixth century. Hank Morgan, the protagonist, is bewildered at first to find himself in a strange land after taking a blow to the head. He is captured by a knight and taken to Camelot, where he makes the acquaintance of a page and learns that he is in the past. A series of events ensues, in which Morgan convinces everyone that he is a magician and secures a spot in the King’s administration for himself. Since he’s from the nineteenth century, he tries to modernize the sixth century to reflect his time period (which is probably easier for him than another person because he’s an engineer).

I found the beginning of the book to be a bit slow, but it started picking up near the middle. There are funny parts to it and other parts that made me mad at some of the characters. There are also sections that were excerpted from Le Morte D’Arthur, some of which I found difficult to read (the ones describing battles), and at times, Twain seems to be criticizing some aspects of the world he himself was living in, in the nineteenth century, like slavery. The ending was a bit ambiguous, but considering the nature of the story, I felt that it was appropriate.

-Aliya A.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Parzival by Wolfram Von Eschenbach

From my understanding, most people have never heard of Parzival, so I suppose I must begin by enlightening you on who he was. I’m sure you’re all familiar with King Arthur and the Round Table. If not, in quick summary, King Arthur created an exclusive group of knights who sat about a round table that represented the equality between them all (because the table was round, no one sat at the head). Parzival was one of these knights, and he fought very hard to achieve this. This book tells his story and how he learned the ways of knighthood, making many consequential mistakes along the way. Although the book is titled “Parzival,” it also tells the story of Gawain, another knight of the Round Table. I believe his story was included to highlight the polarities and differences between the two knights and how they changed and matured.

Parzival’s upbringing was anything but knightly. His father was a renowned knight, but he died in combat and his mother was fearful that the same fate would fall upon her son. She never spoke of knights, and sheltered Parzival, hoping he’d stay with her in the safety of their secluded home in the woods forever. Obviously, this did not happen, and one day, Parzival came across a trio of knights in gleaming armour in the woods. He was completely awestruck, and because his mother had sheltered him so, he was convinced that he was in the presence of God. The bemused knights told him otherwise, and he rushed home telling his dismayed mother he wished to ride off and become a knight. Completely distraught, she dressed him in fools’ clothes and gave him a lame pony, still hoping he’d embarrass himself and come back to her.

Farther along his journey, Parzival comes across a castle (which he later discovered was the Grail Castle). While at the castle, he witnesses a beautiful display of the Holy Grail, and is itching to ask a question, but does not end up asking it. When he leaves, he is chastised by the guard for not asking the question. Parzival later learns that by asking the question, he could’ve saved an injured king and freed all the inhabitants of the castle from their captivity. He is utterly disappointed in himself and ashamed at his failure. Parzival realises that he is not worthy of the Round Table until he rights his wrong. He then goes in search of the Grail Castle once again, hoping to earn his place at the Round Table.

Though this book was a bit dry at some parts, I still think its was an intriguing read, as I really don’t know much about knights and their customs. It was also interesting to hear a bit more about this time period (the middle ages in Europe), and how vastly different it is from today’s world. This story was originally passed down orally by the French, and was later transcribed in German by Eschenbach. Some French words in the story were left untranslated which helped maintain and emphasise the culture and tradition described in the book. Though it was not the easiest read, I don’t regret reading it, and I think anyone who is interested in knights and the middle ages would enjoy it.

-Elina T.