Tag Archives: Mark Twain

The Prince and the Pauper – Mark Twain

downloadWhen I reviewed the film The Prince and the Pauper I wrote that the movie was a reasonably faithful adaption of the book, though I hadn’t read it since I was a child. After reading it again, I have concluded that it is indeed a reasonable adaption, though there are a number of notable differences that I had forgotten.

The Prince and the Pauper, published in 1881, seems to blend the Cinderella archetype with the rich-person in-disguise-who-discovers-how-people-really-live archetype.Tom Canty is a beggar and Edward is the son of Henry VIII. When they meet by chance and exchange clothes, they realize that they look alike and that apart from the clothes, there is no way to tell who is prince and who is beggar (though Tom’s mother can tell them apart later – unlike everyone else, she truly knows her son and his unique quirks; there seems to be no one who truly knows Edward).

This brings up another theme: the difference between a king and a beggar is only the clothes and the way he is treated by others.

But after Tom and Edward change clothes, the prince goes outside and is mistaken for the beggar and thrown off the palace grounds while all the nobleman assume Tom is really the prince. They account for the fact that he denies being the prince, and that he seems to have forgotten important information, by assuming that he has temporarily lost his mind. Meanwhile, Edward goes about London in his ragged clothes proclaiming that he is the prince and people assume likewise that he is mad.

But Edward’s identity of prince is so deeply ingrained in him by education that it honestly never occurs to him that people might find it difficult to believe he is who he says. He is the prince and so he assumes that it should be enough for him simply to declare himself. he doesn’t adapt particularly well to his new surroundings and requires a rescuer in Miles Hendon, a soldier of fortune. Tom, on the other hand, initially denies being the prince, but adapts to the situation fairly well. He learns how to put on lordly manners, pumps his whipping boy for important information he ought to posses as prince and learns to minimize the kind of talk that leads people to assume he’s deranged. He even learns to like being prince and awes the lords and ladies with his wisdom in administering law.


original illustration by Frank Thayer Merrill

The Prince and the Pauper is a charming story, a bit like a fairy tale and like fairy tales, with a dark underside. Twain is very interested (as he was later in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court) in the injustices of the period, the superstition, the abject poverty and crime, the religious intolerance that would lead two Quakers to be burned at the stake, the death penalty for even the most paltry of crimes. It’s an eye opener for the young prince. It’s an eye opener for Tom Canty, as well, who discovers that the laws seem to be upheld simply because they are laws and not because any one actually believes them to be good.

It’s an historical, adventure, fairy tale. Edward has the most adventures and meets the most colorful cast of characters, like the hermit who believes himself to be an archangel, the Ruffler, who runs a gang of beggars and thieves, and Miles Hendon. Hendon is good-humored and dashing, likes to talk to himself cheerfully and essentially adopts Edward. He likes his spirit, even if he does think his mind is touched, and is resolved to cure him. Hendon’s story is entirely left out of the film. He’s a younger son who’s even young brother has stolen his home, his title and his beloved. In a mirror situation to Edward, no one believes Miles when he returns home and he is declared to be a lunatic and driven away.

What makes Hendon a good man is not that he believes Edward, but that he is kind to him. That seems to be another theme of the book. It is not important to know who a person is or have faith in them or know position, but it is important to treat them with humanity. There is a judge who pretends that the item Edward is thought to have stolen (he was framed) is worth less than it is, because all thefts over a certain price are punishable by death. There is the kind cottager and her children who feed Edward. They don’t do it because they believe he’s the prince, but simply out of goodness.

Twain must have been fascinated by the concept of exposing the injustices of the past by having previously cloistered royalty suffer the sting of their own laws, because he reused the concept in his 1889 A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (which set out to satirize Arthurian chivalry and somehow ended on a note of horrifying technological warfare and despair). In A Connecticut Yankee, there is a stranger who gains power (like Tom) and is able to bring a stranger’s fresh eyes to reshaping the unjust and illogical laws, while King Arthur travels the countryside disguised as a beggar and learns about the injustice and poverty and disease rife in his land (even nearly being sold into slavery).

The_Prince_and_The_Pauper_-_14-175A significant difference between the book and the movie is that in the book there is no plot by the Earl of Hertford to steal Edward’s throne. In the book, he is a good and humane man, nothing like Claude Rains’ schemer (though I’m not complaining about the changes, since I love it when Claude Rains schemes). Tom’s mother and sisters are likewise removed from the movie for the sake of simplicity and the more episodic nature of the book is streamlined.

I noticed that under the title of the book, the caption promised one hundred and ninety-two illustrations. It’s not a long book, so there must have been more illustrations than text! Too bad my copy didn’t have any of them. I would have liked to have seen them all.


Posted by on September 21, 2015 in Books


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The Prince and the Pauper (1937)

download (2)The Prince and the Pauper feels something like a warm up for the 1938 The Adventures of Robin Hood:  both movies were made by Warner Bros., both scores were composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold and both films share four prominent actors, with Claude Rains trying to steal with throne, while Errol Flynn tries to stop him. But The Prince and the Pauper is not really a Robin Hood-type story. It’s based on Mark Twain’s novel published in 1882 and is a reasonably accurate adaptation (though I haven’t read the book since I was a child).

Born on the same night are two boys in very different circumstances, though nearly identical in appearance. Edward (Bobby Mauch) is the son of Henry VIII and destined to be king. Tom Canty (Billy Mauch – the actors are identical twins) is born in poverty with an abusive and criminal father (Barton MacLane). Perhaps twelves years later, Tom has grown up a beggar in the streets, while Edward lives in his castle, indulged, slightly bored and unaware of the world outside.

Henry VIII (Montagu Love) knows he’s dying and plans to make the Earl of Hertford (Claude Rains) regent while his son is still young, even though he knows Hertford is a scheming, ambitious and sycophantic nobleman, but he can’t stand the truly noble and good Duke of Norfolk (Henry Stephenson), who Edward likes much better. Montagu Love is quite good as the debauched, corrupt, but dying king who nevertheless has a soft spot for his son. His advice to his son about being king is to never trust anyone and never like anyone so much that he is unwilling to “betray them with a smile.”

Bobby Mauch, Errol Flynn, and Billy Mauch

Bobby Mauch, Errol Flynn, and Billy Mauch

But when Tom Canty wanders near the castle and is beaten by the Captain of the Guard (Alan Hale), Edward interferes and invites Tom into the castle to play with him, since he’s so bored. They exchange clothes and realize that they look like each other and when Edward goes outside, he is mistake by the Captain of the Guard for Tom and thrown out of the castle grounds.

The next day, everyone thinks both boys are mad. The only person who believes Tom’s protestations that he’s not the prince is Hertford, who pieces the truth together after interviewing the Captain of the Guard. Henry VIII is dismayed, but determined to ensure that his son will rule, mad or not, but dies before he can appoint Hertford as regent. Meanwhile, Edward runs about London proclaiming that since Henry VIII is dead, he is now the king, but people just laugh at him and he finds himself in a street fight until he is rescued by roving soldier of fortune, Miles Hendon (Errol Flynn), who at first also thinks he’s a bit nuts, but comes to believe him.

Court intrigue ensues for poor Tom, who is told by Hertford that he must appoint him regent and do whatever he says or else Hertford will expose Tom and have his head cut off. Oliver Twist-like adventures ensue for Edward, who gets an education on how his subjects really live. He runs into Tom’s father (who plays him like a Bill Sykes character) who wants to use him as a retriever of stolen goods by lifting him through windows. Meanwhile, Hertford has sent the Captain of the Guard out to look for Edward and kill him. Miles Hendon chases after Edward, rescues him several times and has a sword fight with Alan Hale. Meanwhile, Hertford plans to have Tom coronated as king while Edward tries to return in time with the aid of Hendon.

Billy Mauch, as Tom, and Claude Rains

Billy Mauch, as Tom, and Claude Rains

It’s actually quite interesting to see Alan Hale in a straightforward role, where he is nobody’s sidekick and does not ham it up and is actually the tool of the villain. He doesn’t want to kill Edward, but he fears for his job and life because he unknowingly turned him out of the castle. It’s one of two films – out of 12 movies they made together – where Flynn and Hale are enemies. The other is The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. But in this one they get a sword fight.

Claude Rains is always excellent (I’d watch him in a film if all he did was sit in a chair and stare at the wall), duplicitous, shrewd and scheming. Errol Flynn is almost hyper-jaunty in this film, perhaps because he has too much energy for the role he is playing. Miles Hendon is not in the film that much and does not even show up until perhaps thirty minutes into the story. Originally, the studio executives were not going to put Flynn in the role because it would cost so much to have him in such a comparatively small role, but after testing Patric Knowles (Will Scarlet in The Adventures of Robin Hood) and George Brent, they realized that only Flynn would do, and he does bring a much appreciate zip and sparkle to the story. One just wishes, perhaps inevitably, for more of him.

The Prince and the Pauper was released in 1937, around the same time as the coronation of George VI of England and there must have been great interest in royal coronations because the one near the end of the film where Tom nearly gets crowned king goes on for a very long time. We get all the oaths, the various postures of humility the king must assume, the prayers, the costumes and the various interjections by the choir. But I suppose if you’re going to take the trouble to pay for a good choir, you might as well have them sing as much as possible.

GW370H303Part costume drama, with a dash of swashbuckling spirit, a little bit of Dickensian social sensibility (Edward learns that it is okay to use the royal seal often, despite his father’s warning not to, so that he get rid of so many of the silly and oppressive laws), good humor and a fantastic cast, The Prince and the Pauper is quite fun. I try not to think too much about real history when watching the film. In reality, Edward VI was crowned at nine years of age (the Mauch twins were sixteen), but ruled for only six years and died at fifteen, after a somewhat tumultuous reign featuring war and rebellion. But Twain’s story is more fantasy than history and so leaves room for imagining a happier ending.


Posted by on September 4, 2015 in Movies


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court – Movie and Book and What If It Was I Who Had Traveled Back in Time?

A_Yankee_in_the_Court_of_King_Arthur_book_cover_1889Some time ago, I read Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and recently watched the 1949 film of the same name with Bing Crosby. The movie is quite a bit more light-hearted than the book, with Bing Crosby singing his songs with his trademark easy-going humor. The book is oddly serious at times; it starts out as a biting and often hilarious parody of chivalrous fiction, specifically the Arthurian legends, only to end with an exceedingly bleak indictment of modernity.

In the book, the man who goes back to King Arthur’s time, Hank Morgan, is from Connecticut and was a supervisor at a weapon’s factory. In the movie, Bing Crosby’s Hank Martin is a blacksmith. What both these men have in common, however, are some basic skills, the ability to build modern devices, often weapons, but also other useful devices (like a safety pin). And in both versions, Hank is handy with a lasso and can bring down a knight in a joust without having to resort to actually wearing armor and using a lance. They also both use their special knowledge of an approaching eclipse to pretend that they are wizards who can make the sun cease to shine and Crosby’s Hank has matches and a piece of glass to create fire.

Mark Twain wrote his book in 1889 and in his book Hank Morgan is clearly more enlightened than King Arthur and his knights. He introduces baseball, democracy, shows the king his realm and the suffering and slavery within. But all his knowledge is ultimately of no use. He restructures the kingdom, only to have it all undone when he takes a trip and Arthur discovers Lancelot and Guinevere’s love affair and the kingdom disintegrate into war. When Hank comes back, the people have deserted him and he and a faithful few are besieged by knights. He puts up electric wires all around his refuge and every last knight is electrocuted en masse (because of their armor). The besieged are surrounded by a wall of fried knights and cannot get out because of their own electric fence and the electrocuted men. It is truly an appalling end and although the war was brought about by medieval ignorance (a big theme in the book), it seems as if Twain negates his parody with such utter destruction, which critics have often likened to what was to come in the trench warfare of WWI. Superstition and ignorance versus soulless machines, but it is the final scene that really stays with the reader.

connecticutyankee2The movie, made in 1949, completely omits the bleakness and is sheer good-humored, Technicolor fun – the kind of film where people seem so happy to be living that they have to sing.

Bing Crosby’s Hank Martin is still more enlightened than the medieval people, but mostly because he’s more cool (Bing Crosby generally plays people who are very cool and sing cool songs). Crosby sings, woos Alisande (Rhonda Fleming – known as The Queen of Technicolor for how well her red hair filmed in color), shows the musicians how to play cool music, has a wizard battle with Merlin, hangs out with Sir Sagramore (William Bendix), lassoes Sir Lancelot, takes King Arthur (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) on a trip to see his kingdom and makes a gun. He does die at the end, but he is translated back to the future and meets Alisande’s descendent (or possibly her reincarnated self).

I watched it with my Nana, who remembers seeing it when it first came out. She was walking to school the next day and met her friend, who had also happened to see the film that weekend. She recalls that there was no one on the street and the two of them walked to school, all the while singing the film’s most infectious song “Busy Doing Nothing.”

In some ways A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court makes me think of The Court Jester in its medieval comedy, jousts, and fun with medieval language, though Bing Crosby’s character has things a little more together than Danny Kaye’s.

I was also rather struck by the fact that they chose to set the beginning of the film in 1912 as opposed to the 1940s. I think they did this so that he could reasonably be a blacksmith and therefore have some useful skills when he was sent back in time. And that got me thinking. Many people in American have such specialized and specific knowledge that if we were to be sent back in time, we might be of no earthly use in the past. I wondered, if I were sent back in time, what could I do? I could never build a gun, let alone a safety pin.

Bing Crosby at his blacksmith's ship, sharpening a sward with William Bendix

Bing Crosby at his blacksmith’s ship, sharpening a sword with William Bendix

I can play the piano, but pianos hadn’t been invented yet. Not even the harpsichord was in use (which wouldn’t be until the fourteenth century). And I couldn’t build one. I could, possibly, explain our modern musical notation to them and musical theory. Music in the 6th century (when Arthur was king) was monophonic, which means a single line of melody, and was generally vocal. I suppose I could try to scare the living daylights out of people with my harmony, though I am not sure if I would survive such a performance.

One thing I’d have is my phone. (Bing Crosby had matches on him when he was sent back, I would probably have a cellphone). I could play alarming music and shine the screen at people until my battery died.

I could also teach sanitation, washing hands and such, but I couldn’t really help with the plague or other diseases. Nor do I think writing or blogging would be especially useful. My best bet might be to employ my mediocre juggling skills and become a court jester.

What would you do if you were sent back into King Arthur’s day?

For anyone interested, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court can be seen on youtube.


Posted by on November 14, 2014 in Fiction, Movie Musicals


Tags: , , , , ,

%d bloggers like this: