This treasured historical satire, played out in two very different socioeconomic worlds of 16th-century England, centers around the lives of two boys born in London on the same day: Edward, Prince of Wales and Tom Canty, a street beggar.
During a chance encounter, the two realize they are identical and, as a lark, decide to exchange clothes and roles–a situation that briefly, but drastically, alters the lives of both youngsters. The Prince, dressed in rags, wanders about the city’s boisterous neighborhoods among the lower classes and endures a series of hardships; meanwhile, poor Tom, now living with the royals, is constantly filled with the dread of being discovered for who and what he really is. (Goodreads)
This book surprised me a great deal and betrayed my expectation in a pleasant, positive way.
I thought this would be just a fun, entertaining children’s book chock full of adventure and mishaps with two look-alikes unexpectedly switching places, but it didn’t take me long to find out there was much more to this book than meets the eye. In fact, I was quite surprised at how satirical this book actually is.
So as not to be a spoilsport, I will forbear to touch on the plot but it was a well-conceived and executed book, it captured my attention and held it in place until the very last page.
That this book is loosely factual and centers on the true British monarch, Edward Ⅵ added to the surprise and heightened my curiosity. This book is obviously make-believe (or at least I reckon so), but it was interesting and glorious to see how this adventurous story where a true king becomes a beggar and experiences things that were once beyond his imagination consequently molds him to be a just and compassionate king in the end and how this factual king’s character overlays the one the history stipulates.
The satire, where the absurdity in the England laws and ruthless treatments towards the oppressed were portrayed, left a shocking yet lasting impact on me as well. As I mentioned earlier, I dove into this book thinking it a mere children’s book thus I presume it needless to mention how taken aback I was when I first encountered the graphic depiction of the oppression and persecution against the weak and underprivileged. I expected nothing of that sort.
Regardless, I must confess it was the very thing that captivated me the most while I was reading this book.
This is not a mere coming-of-age story or an entertaining slapstick aimed at children, I dare say.
This is a story of dignity, fealty, compassion, love – and so much more. The bravery and dignity that Edward maintained even in times of utter humiliation are simply laudable and commendable, and Tom’s emotional transitions also added another dimension to this book, making it even more compelling and enchanting.
In fact, so strong the power of narratives and the writing that the last chapter where the summary of Edward’s brief reign is narrated brought a lump in my throat, leaving a pang of sadness and poignancy. Another unexpected from this book.
On the whole, I so enjoyed and adored this book and I am already convinced this would be one of my all-time favorites.
This is my very first Mark Twain and I had a bit of misgiving regarding the archaic English style (especially in dialogues) with which the story is narrated, but once I got used to it, I found myself liking it quite a lot. It was glorious to observe 16th Century England through this story, too.