Sunday, March 1, 2020
Session Details: Afterlives of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
Here are the full details of the Afterlives of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court session for NeMLA later this week:
Northeast Modern Language Association 51st Annual Convention, 5-8 March 2020
Marriott Copley Place, Boston, Massachusetts
Friday, Mar 6 Track 8, 11:45-01:00
Location: FAIRFIELD (Media Equipped)
8.10 Afterlives of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
Sponsored by the Alliance for the Promotion of Research on the Matter of Britain
Organized by Michael A. Torregrossa, Independent Scholar
Chair: Michael Torregrossa, Independent Scholar
American & Cultural Studies and Media Studies
"Sir Boss, His Successors, and His Surrogates: Classifying Adaptations of Connecticut Yankee" Michael Torregrossa, Independent Scholar
Writer Mark Twain and illustrator Daniel Carter Beard’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889) has had a long history of adaptation in popular culture, but the full scope of its reception remains untold. There are, of course, the obvious texts, both in print and on film, that merely retell the story. Along with retellings, there are also a small number of works that continue Connecticut Yankee. These appear entirely unknown to Twainians but offer a unique approach to the author’s legacy. More importantly, Connecticut Yankee itself or its story as mediated through one of its many retellings has also stimulated new narratives detached from Twain and Beard’s telling that recast characters and restage events. Also relatively unknown by scholars of the novel, these materials can be found throughout modern popular culture, and, although Elizabeth S. Sklar somewhat derisibly labels these as “spinoffs and ripoffs” of the novel, they are of value (as she suggests) and perhaps more so than the retellings because such items serve as the base for an extensive corpus of transformations of the novel that send various protagonists, all characters more familiar to contemporary readers and viewers than Twain’s Hank Morgan, into the medieval past and set a common pattern for time travel stories. Serving as an introduction to the themes of this session, the goal of this presentation will be to offer a broad view of adaptations of the Connecticut Yankee story to situate both retellings and the lesser known and/or hitherto unknown continuations and recastings into a new continuum to offer a more complete picture of the novel’s effect on popular culture and provide fresh insight into the various ways that the producers responsible for these re-imaginings have appropriated the story and its time-travel motif for their own purposes.
Michael A. Torregrossa is a graduate of the Medieval Studies program at the University of Connecticut (Storrs) and works as an adjunct instructor in English in both Rhode Island and Massachusetts. His research interests include adaptation, Arthuriana, Beowulfiana, comics and comic art, Frankensteiniana, medievalism, monsters, science fiction, and wizards. Michael has presented papers on these topics at regional, national, and international conferences, and his work has been published in Adapting the Arthurian Legends for Children: Essays on Arthurian Juvenilia, Arthuriana, The Arthuriana / Camelot Project Bibliographies, Cinema Arthuriana: Twenty Essays, Film & History, The 1999 Film & History CD-ROM Annual, The Medieval Hero on Screen: Representations from Beowulf to Buffy, and the three most recent supplements to The Arthurian Encyclopedia. In addition, Michael is founder of The Alliance for the Promotion of Research on the Matter of Britain, The Association for the Advancement of Scholarship and Teaching of the Medieval in Popular Culture (successor to The Virtual Society for the Study of Popular Culture and the Middle Ages), and The Northeast Alliance for Scholarship on the Fantastic; he also serves as editor for these organizations’ various blogs and moderator of their discussion lists. Besides these activities, Michael is also active in the Northeast Popular Culture/American Culture Association and organizes sessions for their annual conference in the fall. Michael is currently Monsters and the Monstrous Area Chair for NEPCA, but he previously served as its Fantastic (Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror) Area Chair, a position he held from 2009-2018.
" ‘Thou Swell’: The Power of Words (and Music) as a Connecticut Yankee goes Back to the Future" Tammy Rose, Independent Scholar
Both the Broadway Connecticut Yankee (1927) and the Back to the Future series (i.e. BTTF, 1985-1989) contain similar time travel elements: an outsider with certain knowledge (read: power) travels in time ostensibly with the ability to bring the benefits of modern society to the impoverished peoples of the past.
In both of these variations on Twain’s work, it is music that delivers most cleverly on this meta-message. Including double edged musical choices has the same strong sensory effect as a weighted suit of armour.
‘Thou Swell’ is a Rodgers and Hart song featured in their 1927 Broadway version of A Connecticut Yankee. A version of Ye Olde English mixes with modern slang- one of few songs which include the word “lollapalooza”- a clever trick of anachronism created by Hart. Rodgers uses the shorthand of ragtime and unusual rhythm to ground the music in a particular era.
The song is a trick of time travel itself, appearing Zelig-like every few years with new famous friends including Bing Crosby, June Allyson and Boris Karloff.. It is even heard in All About Eve (1950) as the characters fasten their seat belts for a bumpy night.
In BTTF, music is also juxtaposed to reinforce the time periods. Marty McFly delivers musical messages from the future; he can play like Jimi Hendrix and really show the people what an electric guitar can do. In fact, BTTF III has an oblique reference to Clara Clemens. The meet-cute of the characters Clara Clayton and Doc directly mirrors a runaway sleigh event experienced by Clara and her soon-to-be-husband Ossip Gabrilowitsch.
Twain juxtaposes 2 specific times and places to tell his story of time travel; subsequent variations of the plot echo his attention to detail, especially in one of the most powerful modes a storyteller can use; sound.
Tammy Rose is an award winning playwright, writer and performer and has been creating theater for the past 20 years. Out of her 10 plays total, 5 have focused on giving voice to 19th Century Authors, primarily the Transcendentalists and also Mark Twain. Her history plays are based on intense research, and utilize source quotes from primary sources, to bring literature into modern conversation. Her most recent play, Thoreau/Twain: Brothers on the River was performed for The Thoreau Society Annual Gathering in Concord, Massachusetts, the Samuel Clemens Conference in Hannibal, Missouri and several other venues. Ms. Rose is the 2020 Playwright in Residence for the Thoreau Farm and Birthplace. Her Antislavery Play will premiere there on July 12th, Thoreau's birthday.
"A Secret Agent in King Arthur's Court: MacGyver Saves the 7th Century from Nuclear Proliferation" Emily Race, Sewanee: The University of the South
In 1991, the final season of MacGyver featured a two-episode special called “Good Knight MacGyver” in which our eponymous hero is struck by a falling window box and wakes up in King Arthur’s court. He must dodge treason plots, solve assassination attempts, and finally confront the villanous Queen Morgana, who has discovered gunpowder. Obvious nods to Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court include a lasso joust and an unintended rivalry with Merlin. However, as a folksy hero who has been fighting the Cold War villains for half a decade, MacGyver takes a different tack than does Hank Morgan. Whereas Morgan amasses an amory and destroys not only his enemies but his allies in an orgy of death at the end of the novel, MacGyver protects seventh-century England from Morgana’s new terrifying discovery of gunpowder.
Echoing fears of nuclear proliferation and the hopes of the Threshold Test Ban Treaty and Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, this two-part episode shows a benevolent, wiser head prevailing against the heady power of mass destruction, an American hero saving a European country from its bordering enemy and preventing the widespread destruction of firearm proliferation. This paper will explore how the framework of a tentative end to the Cold War shifts the Connecticut Yankee stand-in social commentary to 1990s foreign policy and nuclear proliferation, ending with a hopeful victory as the enemy destroys herself and her dangerous knowledge with the help of MacGyver’s sense of justice and folksy American know-how.
Since receiving her BA in Secondary Language Arts Education in 2007 from Anderson University, Emily Race has taught high school English classes in Indiana. In efforts to keep her scholarly skills sharp, she has presented papers as an independent scholar at conferences such as Catwoman to Katniss: Villainesses and Heroines of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Midwest Popular Culture Association / American Culture Association Conference. In 2016, Emily started an MA program in American and British Literature at University of the South (known colloquially as Sewanee). Having finished her courses over subsequent summers, she is now preparing to write her thesis on a Reader Response analysis of Mike Carey and Peter Gross’s The Unwritten, examining the agency of the reader and story logic in a world where narrative has very real power, and characters have very little.