A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court | Study Guide

Mark Twain

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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court | Chapters 23–24 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 23: Restoration of the Fountain

Merlin's magic fails to restore the fountain, and he blames this on a powerful magician whose name cannot even be uttered. Hank Morgan still says he can fix it, and the abbot agrees to follow Hank's guidelines. These include keeping everyone away from the fountain until Hank gives permission for them to get close. Hank's two assistants arrive and the three of them patch the hole in the well so the water rises. Then they install a pump and piping so the water will flow out of the well and be seen by everyone. They also set up fireworks and Greek fire in different colors so the miracle will look dramatic. Hank arranges for crowds of people, including Merlin and the abbot, to be present as he "breaks the spell" and restores the water. He pronounces some nonsense words and sets off the fireworks and Greek fire. Then the water pours forth, thanks to his assistants who are pumping it out through the new pipes. Merlin is crushed and has to be sent home.

Chapter 24: A Rival Magician

Hank Morgan convinces the abbot it is now permissible to bathe in the water. Hank and his assistants set up a bathing pool, and the monks are delighted to bathe. Hank decides he will go out and explore. He plans to dress himself like a freeman or peasant and wander the land, learning about the lives of everyday people. One day before he sets off on his adventure, he discovers a cave which has been turned into a telephone office. He is delighted to talk on the phone with Clarence, in spite of static which can make it difficult to hear clearly. Clarence tells him the king and queen are on their way to the Valley of Holiness to see the miracle he has wrought. Clarence also warns the king has begun building a standing army made up of nobles. Not one student from Hank's military academy has been included—something Hank plans to change.

A rival magician arrives in the Valley of Holiness. This magician claims he can tell what anyone in the world is doing at that moment—provided the person is of noble blood. Hank sees his opportunity and asks the magician to predict what the king is doing. The magician gives his answer and Hank contradicts it. Hank knows he is right because he has just learned from Clarence how the king is traveling. When the king arrives and Hank is proven correct, the other magician is ruined.

Analysis

Hank Morgan fixes the miraculous fountain, but he has to really polish off Merlin with fireworks, phony magic words, and Greek fire. "Greek fire" is a generic term which refers to any number of flammable mixtures used in ancient and medieval warfare. The exact composition of it is unknown today. It seems to have been a flammable substance which could be poured or dumped out of pots and was difficult to put out.

Two more of Hank's innovations appear in these chapters: the telephone and the military academy. Twain was an early adopter of the telephone. He had one installed in his house the same year Alexander Graham Bell patented the device. At the same, Twain was a realist about the telephone's limits. As Hank says: "Confound a telephone ... It is the very demon for conveying similarities of sound that are miracles of divergence from similarity of sense." The military academy is perhaps a less predictable innovation. Hank sees it as a way to begin his assault on the nobles and the ossified class structure of Arthurian England.

Hank has thoroughly defeated Merlin, so why does Twain introduce another magician? This magician, who makes only a brief appearance, demonstrates how a scoundrel could use magic to further his own ends. Merlin, in fairness, seems to be well-intentioned—at least toward King Arthur. This traveling magician is out to amaze people and, presumably, make some money by scamming the audience. In addition, Hank defeats Merlin through a combination of technology and engineering know-how. When he tackles this magician, however, he is using only his wits. He stumps the magician straight away by asking the magician what he is doing with his right hand—something the magician cannot pretend an answer to. The magician squirms out of it by claiming Hank is not noble and, therefore, not worthy of this magic. Not to be outwitted, Hank retaliates by using his knowledge of the king's movements to prove himself right and the magician wrong. Twain does not intend the reader to feel any sympathy for the traveling magician: he is a con artist and he gets his comeuppance.

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