Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court Summary and Analysis of Chapters 19-27

Chapter 19 Knight-Errantry as a Trade

Sandy and Hank set off on the road again, and Sandy continues with her never-ending tale of the identity of the six knights Hank has vanquished. This time, however, she finally finishes, revealing that the knights are a duke and his sons. "A duke!" Hank exclaims, and begins rattling off about the illogic of knight errantry as a trade, worse than investing in pork.


Twain's style of humorous writing is often marked by unlikely and incongruous ways of treating a general topic, and this chapter is a prime example of his brand of wit. When Hank finds out that the six knights he has vanquished are a duke and his sons, he is quite pleased with his haul and begins to consider knight errantry in terms of its profitability, comparing one's odds in "pork bellies" to one's odds in conquering men at arms. This commodification of chivalry is a humorous idea in itself, marrying the dry and practical mind of Hank to an institution of senses, glamour and myth.

Chapter 20 The Ogre's Castle

Another of Hank's billboard-knights comes along peddling toothbrushes and toothwash, and he tells a humorous story of how he had been tricked by a fellow knight into hawking his wares to a band of‹toothless men and women. The group turns out to be the old prisoners that Hank had set free. Hank himself encounters the troupe and watches helplessly as they return to homes that they don't remember and are greeted by family they cannot recognize. The piteous scene makes Hank wonder if the type of gentle revolution he is planning will really work in this society, but his philosophizing is cut off by Sandy, who exclaims that they have come upon the object of their quest‹the Ogres' castle.

When Hank turns the corner, the much awaited castle turns out to be a pigsty, and its 'maiden captives' a herd of swine. Sandy claims that the castle is enchanted, and that to Hank, it appears as a pigsty, but to her piercing eyes, it is a great castle abounding with ladies of high-rank. Hank can't make any sense of this situation or understand why Sandy, otherwise sensible, would make such ridiculous statements. He plays along with the scheme and pays three swineherds (the Ogres according to Sandy) for their goods.


The episode of the Ogre's Castle is the oddest and most ironic twist of book. It is effective because it is anti-climatic. For Hank and the reader, there is no good explanation given for Sandy's delusion: Twain creates her as talkative and at times flighty, but she is nowhere near mad. But in making the Ogre's castle a mere pigsty, Twain achieves several things. First he brings to its fullest development the idea that the power of superstition is strong enough to cause even sensible people to believe the most insensible things. Secondly, he fulfills Hank's suspicion that there is nothing at all‹not even a grain of truth‹driving the stories of chivalric heroism of Arthur's day. If there had been a real castle or real maidens, Hank would have to back down from his hard line derision of knight errantry and Arthur's court. As it stands, Hank is even further justified in his intentions to overthrow sixth century society and replace it with a more practical, if less romantic one. Finally, "The Ogre's Castle" creates a visual joke that reaffirms Hank's ideas about nobility: it is all in the title. Hank might as well treat pigs as royalty if that is their title, for a Duke would be no more remarkable than a pig if it were not for his title. The same idea emerges towards the end of the book when Clarence jokes that a royal family of cats would serve just as well as any other.

Chapter 21 The Pilgrims

Hank and Sandy drive the whole herd into a house where they spend the night. Hank ponders Sandy's odd delusion and attributes it to her training and the influence of superstition on her mind. To her, he reasoned, it made perfect sense for a group of princesses to be enchanted into a herd of swine, just as it made perfect sense to him that one could speak over large distances via the telephone or travel on a locomotive. Hank quickly moves the herd out and tries to find a solution to his predicament. He gives the pigs away to the servants and Sandy is satisfied that the princesses' friends will soon come to collect them.

They meet a band of pilgrims who are going to the Valley of Holiness in the "Cuckoo Kingdom." The valley is a famed residence of holy hermits and is known for a miraculous spring that flowed when an abbot prayed for water in the parched land. Hank decides to visit the place, and along the way, he and Sandy meet up with a chain gang of slaves that are being sold town-to-town. Hank describes at length their piteous condition, from the harsh lash of the slave trader to the thick layer of dust that veils each wasting one. Hank is reluctant to free the slaves, lest he draw too much attention to himself by overriding the country's laws. He leaves them alone and watches as families are separated and people are sold.

One of Hank's knights, Sir Ozana le Cure Hardy comes past the inn where Hank and Sandy are staying and he tells them that there has been a disaster in the Valley of Holiness. The miraculous fount has been dry for nine days, and all in the Valley are praying and processing and pleading for its return. They have called in Merlin, who has been there three days trying to break the enchantment.

Hank gets an idea and immediately dispatches Sir Ozana to Camelot with a message to Clarence. He asks him to send to trained experts and a shipment from their chemical department to the Valley of Holiness.


Twain alludes to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in comparing that work's jovial and motley pilgrims with the ones that Hank and Sandy meet up with along their way from the Ogre's Castle. But the pilgrims are a mere backdrop to contrast with the slave-gang that comes by. One is concerned with miracles and intangibles, the other is very much trapped by real horrors and miseries. When dealing with slavery, many of Twain's images become much more vibrant, in part because it is an issue close to his heart and also because modern readers have a historical connection to anchor the fiction. He uses the powerful image of the thick layer of dust that masks and dehumanizes the slaves as they walk chained to one another, tracks of tears their open sign of suffering. The flaying of the slaves, the merciless slave-trader, conjure scenes from the Antebellum South.

Chapter 22 The Holy Fountain

The abbot and monks of the Valley of Holiness greet The Boss and beseech him to do something about the fountain lest they be ruined. To stall for time until his supplies arrive, Hank says that he will let Merlin have a full attempt to restore the fountain before he works his miracle.

When Hank visits the fountain he confirms his suspicion that it is a mere well, one which he believes has sprung a leak. The well shouldn't be hard to repair, but Hank builds up the idea through "advertising" that the task will be difficult and will require great enchantment to complete. Word spreads through the valley as people anxiously await the result.

Hank and Sandy go though the valley visiting all of the hermits who live there. They are a strange and unkempt lot, and Hank is highly critical of what he calls their "complacent self-righteousness."


Hank sees the holy fountain as his kind of adventure, one that allows him to pit his scientific talents against superstition while gaining the awe and respect of the common people. His nemesis, Merlin, has been impotent from the beginning, and Hank takes pleasure in setting him up and knocking him down. Twain digresses to make a quip about German literature in naming Sandy "the mother of the German language." Her endless sentences, he says, are forerunners of German intellectual and literary works; for those who have read German romantic prose, one can see the truth and humor of Twain's tirade. Twain also takes a shot at one of his great peeves: the Catholic Church. Biased by his Presbyterian upbringing, Hank is sees no sense in asceticism and considers is foolish and self-righteous. For him, the hermits in the valley are odd monsters, putting on a show of piety that benefits neither their fellow man nor themselves. For Hank, such people deserve no reward, in this world or the next.

Chapter 23 The Restoration of the Fountain

Merlin has finally reached the climax of his attempt and has gathered a crowd of people as he burns smoking powders and mutters spells to make the waters flow. Exhausted by his efforts, he tells the abbot that the waters will never flow again, and that it is enchanted by a terrible demon. The only way to release the fountain is to pronounce the demon's unpronounceable name at the risk of death.

Hank takes up the challenge. By evening, his two experts arrive with a load of Greek fire, rockets, electric apparatus and pipes. They set to work through the night to repair the well. When the well is repaired, they install an iron pump and lead piping through the wall of the chapel. They also place a sheaf of rockets on the roof of the chapel over the well, covering the corners with Greek fire and wiring a detonation device to the entire set-up. Hank even has a platform built so that when he performs the 'miracle' later that night, the coming crowd will be able to see.

Thousands of people flood the valley after dark to see if Hank can restore the well. Hank stands before them and utters a long nonsense word, and his boys set off the blue Greek fire. He waits as the terrified crowd shrinks back before doing it again and again, each time igniting a different colored flame. Finally, when he is sure that his experts are manning the well, he dramatically pronounces the dreaded name: "BGWJJILLIGKKK!" At that moment the sheaf of rockets is touched off and the water is sent pumping through the chapel door. The crowd surges ecstatically. From then on, Merlin's spirits are crushed and he is sent home a useless pile of bones. It was Hank's most spectacular effect yet.


Hank's showiest "effect" is a triumph of science, but does little to free people from superstition. It is precisely superstition that feeds Hank's greatness, and while he says his miracle was "bogus," he nevertheless considers himself "a superior being" for performing it. Hank drinks in the approbation of the people; it is not enough for him to defeat and demystify Merlin, but he makes himself godlike in the eyes of the commoner as well. It is ironic that Hank's showy effect bolsters the Church and the practices that he professes to detest.

Hank also has a habit of objectifying masses of people. He describes "acres of people" and "acres of foundlings," and a "pavement of human heads that stretched for miles." Acres is his favorite word to describe vast numbers of people; it is used many times throughout the work, especially during the moments when Hank feeds off of the fear or the adoration of the masses.This dehumanizing imagery evolves into its most grotesque form when Hank later describes a war in terms of "one great mass" of carrion or "walls" of dead men.

Chapter 24 A Rival Magician

Hank decides to leave Sandy in the nunnery for a rest while he prepares to go out into the country disguised as a peasant for a week. As he takes a walk into the valley, he comes across a cave where he discovers one of his telephone clerks manning a new line. He calls up Clarence in Camelot and finds that King Arthur's court is traveling to the Valley of Holiness to see the site of the miracle. He also learns that Arthur has been working to establish a standing army and will be choosing his officers by competitive examination while traveling. Arthur sends word to his West Point, and tells them to dispatch an officer to meet them in the Valley of Holiness.

When he returns to the monastery, Hank finds a man who claims to be a great magician from the east. He awes the monks by telling them the thoughts and actions of any person around the world, such as the current actions of the Emperor of China. Hank challenges this humbug by asking him to prophesy what he is doing with his right hand behind his back, but the magician retorts that his magic only works with great people. Hank is frustrated that he has just performed the greatest miracle these people have seen and yet they choose to believe the charlatan magician over him. He challenges the magician again, telling him to predict where King Arthur was going at the moment. The magician claims that Arthur is by the sea; Hank correctly predicts that he is coming to the Valley. When the King enters the monastery, the monks scramble to greet him with due respect. Despite Hank's efforts, they had not been expecting it.


The presence of the rival magician beats upon the theme of superstition again, but more importantly, it brings up the fact that no matter how extravagant and important Hank's 'miracles' are, they are soon forgotten by a fickle and show-hungry crowd. In this case, Twain's criticism of human nature is understated in Hank's frustration with the short collective memory of people. At the same time, the author deals even-handedly with Hank's growing ego-mania, subjecting even the Yankee to his satire.

Chapter 25 A Competitive Examination

The King continues some of his court business while in the Valley of Holiness. Once Hank's West Point cadet arrives, he has him examined by the King's deputies for the position of lieutenant in the standing army. When the deputies discover that the cadet is a weaver's son, they discount him immediately in favor of a highborn candidate. When Hank has the two candidates examined by his West Point professors, the cadet is clearly superior in knowledge of warfare, mathematics, weaponry and strategy to his rather dense opponent. All of Hank's efforts are to no avail, however, since the nobility refuses to be usurped by a meritocracy. Hank makes a concession to the King that he will have an army of officers consisting of only noblemen‹these will be the King's own men. To join this force, the princes have to give up their Royal Grants, money entitled to them for being related to the King in order to have their expenses paid by the military. The rest of the army will consist of commoners, chosen by Hank's system. King Arthur agrees to this arrangement and Hank succeeds in saving the kingdom money while ensuring that his West Pointers serve in the army.


Arthur as a person and king begins to emerge in the novel. Whereas in the beginning Hank merely dismissed him as the insubstantial figurehead of the kingdom, he now acknowledges the elements of Arthur's character that make him such a beloved figure. He says that he is "a wise and humane judge" who does best "according to his own lights," meaning according to the best that his training and circumstances allow him. The problem is not in the person of Arthur as the upholder of law, it is in the imperfect construction of the laws themselves that injustice lies. In is interesting that despite Twain's readiness to attack and villify so many elements of the Arthur legend, when it comes to the man himself he remains fairly orthodox. Even for cynical Twain, the Arthur of the old texts still embodies a courage, manliness and integrity that stand up to inspection.

In the competitive examination of officers of the standing army, we receive a foretaste of the type of modernization that Hank has in store. Beneath the more obvious themes of merit versus rank that Twain brandishes in this chapter, there is a sinister foretaste of what will soon come: somehow, in Hank's peaceable kingdom there are guns and bombs; and in the midst of his 'gentle revolution,' provision has been made for the 'art and science' of total war.


The specific insertion of a 'West Point' into Arthur's England and the competitive exam talked about here point to a contemporary issue in Twain's day.

Chapter 26 The First Newspaper

When the King learns that Hank is going out into the country incognito to learn how the commoners live, the King decides to join him. Before they go, the King finishes his annual duty of healing patients who come to him with scrofula, or king's-evil. It is believed that if the King lays hands on them they will be cured. Hank cleverly uses the occasion to introduce his newly-minted nickels, one for each patient cured. This practice not only satisfies the crowd but saves the kingdom the cost of giving out gold coins. He calculates that by doing so, he economizes four-fifths of the day's national expense.

As Hank sits in a window, he hears the call of the first newsboy selling the Camelot Weekly Hosannah and Literary Volcano. He picks up a copy and reads the write-up of his latest miracle in the Valley of Holiness. The monks who see the paper crowd around in amazement, and Hank beams proudly, "steeped in satisfaction, drunk with enjoyment."

Newspapers and journalism have always been close to Twain's heart: he attempted to start many newspapers during his lifetime and was renowned as one of America's wittiest and most read journalists. (The type of 'Yankee commentary' crafted in the book has roots in his earlier travel correspondence during travels in Europe.)

Twain even gives advice on the manipulation of print media: He claims that to tell the truth straight is wrong, that for readers' interest one must always "coat it in a new cuticle of words,"‹advice strongly resonant in today's media environment.

Chapter 27 The Yankee and King Travel Incognito

Hank cuts King Arthur's hair and otherwise tries to disguise him for their new adventure. But Arthur has a difficult time acting humble, and his dignified attitude puts them in danger each time knights or noblemen pass them. Arthur talks to Hank about prophecy, and Hank tells him that he can see the future 1300 years in advance. Arthur is amazed yet again at Hank's abilities; before he had respected him as a magician, now he respected him as a prophet as well.

Before long, the King is accosted by two knights, who almost trample him underfoot with their horses. When Arthur hurls an insult at them, they come charging with their swords. Hank rescues the king by diverting their attention and then throwing a dynamite bomb at them.

Twain further develops Hank's conflicting attitudes towards the king. At once patronizing and respectful, Hank feels compelled by his reason to look at Arthur as no more than "an active, heedless child," while at the same time something in him is magnetically drawn to Arthur's regal bearing and courage. Even within the criticism there is growing affection as Hank looks out for the king and puts himself in danger for his sake.

When Hank throws a bomb at two charging knights, the macabre imagery again warns that there is something not right about Hank's use of his scientific power. Hank describes the explosion as "a very neat and pretty thing to see," and the image of "microscopic drizzle of knight, hardware and horseflesh" is to graphic to be funny. Although Hank is quick to assure that the explosion was an isolated incident the book is by degrees becoming more violent, and the effects of Hank's civilizing process less benign.