A Yankee’s eclipse

Eclipses with their total blocking of the sun can trigger alarm. With knowledge of when an eclipse will happen, the ignorant can be fooled. This happens in Mark Twain’s satirical novel “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” The main character Hank Morgan uses an eclipse to escape being burnt at the stake and becomes a powerful leader in tbe kingdom. Twain begins with a time warp that sends engineer Hank Morgan out of the late 1800s back to King Arthur’s court in the sixth century. Xenophobic responses to his 19th century clothing, language and ideas land him in jail. An abridged account of his negotiations during the eclipse follows.As he awaits burning at the stake, Morgan realizes an eclipse will soon happen. From his cell, Morgan pledges to turn off the sun on the day they plan to burn him. King Arthur decides to burn him a day early and keep the sun safe. Just as the torch is brought to light the wood around him the sky darkens. The eclipse has begun. (He had been told the wrong calendar date.)Twain writes, “With a common impulse, the multitude rose slowly up and stared into the sky. I followed their eyes, as sure as guns, there was my eclipse beginning! You could see the shudder sweep the mass like a wave. Two shouts rang out, one close upon the heels of the other.”Morgan immediately taps into the situation and calls out, “Stay where you are. If any man moves . . . even the king . . . before I give him leave, I will blast him with thunder, I will consume him with lightnings!” “Be merciful, fair sir, … It was reported to us that your powers could not attain unto their full strength until the morrow; but . . .”“It was a lie.”“The king was assailed with a storm of supplications that I might be bought off at any price, and the calamity stayed. The king was eager to comply. He said, “Name any terms, reverend sir, even to the halving of my kingdom; but banish this calamity, spare the sun!”“My fortune was made. I would have taken him up in a minute, but I couldn’t stop an eclipse; the thing was out of the question. So I asked for time to consider.“I couldn’t shorten up any, for I couldn’t remember how long a total eclipse lasts. I was in a puzzled condition, anyway, and wanted to think. “The darkness was steadily growing, the people becoming more and more distressed. I now said, “I have reflected, Sir King. For a lesson, I will let this darkness proceed, and spread night in the world; but whether I blot out the sun for good, or restore it, shall rest with you. These are the terms.” He basically wants to be the court “magician.” He plans to use science to accomplish his magic.The king agrees to his terms and says, “Now sweep away this creeping night, and bring the light and cheer again, that all the world may bless thee.” “I said it would be but natural if the king should change his mind; therefore I would let the darkness grow a while, and if at the end of a reasonable time the king had kept his mind the same, the darkness should be dismissed. The king does not change his mind. “Then I lifted up my hands . . . then I said, with the most awful solemnity: “Let the enchantment dissolve and pass harmless away!”“When the silver rim of the sun pushed itself out, a moment or two later, the assemblage . . . smother me with blessings and gratitude”Using his scientific knowledge, Morgan attains a position of power. The rest of the book describes his mission to bring 19th century inventions and conveniences to the Knights of the Round Table. Something fun to read before the biggest light in our galaxy goes out for a few minutes tomorrow.