cover image A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

Seymour Chwast and Mark Twain. Bloomsbury, $22 (144p) ISBN 978-1-60819-961-7

Adapting Twain is a dangerous thing: too often the old master’s pretend-ramshackle style and tall-tale sensibility gets taken straight, no chaser. Fortunately, Chwast (who previously adapted The Divine Comedy and The Odyssey ) brings just the right puckish tone to Twain’s comedy. Hank Morgan, a 19th-century jack-of-all-trades, is mysteriously transported to 6th century England. Instead of being impressed by the Arthurian pomp and ceremony, the efficiency-minded Protestant Yankee is offended by the superstition, filth, cruelty, and antidemocratic oppression. As the “stranger in a strange England” sets about modernizing the place, forces of reaction (Merlin the magician, the church, knights who don’t like his turning them into advertising billboards) rise up. It’s a tale told more briskly than in the original, with great blocks of plot and background sliced out. But Chwast’s squiggly art, flattened perspectives, and purposeful misspellings bring a curiously innocent and childlike perspective to this complex satire, which, if anything, further highlights Twain’s dark view of human progress. (Feb.)