It’s strange that everybody knows this story but hasn’t read the book. Before I read The Prince and the Pauper, I didn’t even know that Mark Twain wrote it. I felt so bad—I owe him something! He writes great books and this one is no exception. Since you know the story, I won’t bother telling you. Oh, so you don’t know it? I’ll tell you then. The story is about two boys, Prince Edward the 1st and a beggar, Tom Canty, who switch identities. The real Prince Edward is hauled off and maltreated by other paupers, while Tom Canty walks around in lavish clothes. Then when King Henry 8th dies, Tom Canty is transported to the crowning ceremony…and whether the real king or Tom Canty will be crowned I will leave you to find out. The Prince and the Pauper is an exceptionally interesting historical fiction book—it must be because it has some great qualities: it is realistic and intriguing, has five ounces of tension, and a pound of adventure.
One of the things that enchanted me is that this book seems so real—the language, the city, the people. The language is different for different types of people: the paupers’ language is crude, with many grammatical mistakes; the language of the nobility is correct and sophisticated. Also, the city is very realistic for the period that the story is situated. This book’s London isn’t a la-di-da London. It’s a London with lovely houses and dark slums so real that when I read it I felt like I had lived there–and at that period. There were cramped rooms with people sleeping on hay and cold dungeons. The people were realistic too: there were stone-hearted nobility and warm-hearted beggars. It’s not surprising that when the real king proclaims who he really is to the paupers (“Thou idiot! I am no beggar! I am the King of England!”), they nickname him “Foo-foo the 1st, King of the Mooncalves.” I could picture almost everything and everyone in my mind, which I find is a sign of a great book.
There is a kind of tension in this book too: a nervous, fidgety kind. When I read this book, I was either saying, “Darn it! That’s the Prince! We have to get back to the castle!” or “No no no no no. That’s the pauper, guys, not the Prince.” I like that kind of tension, because it stops the book from being boring, but it doesn’t drive you insane. It’s that kind of tension that pushes you to keep on reading. I suppose that was the reason I finished this book in just a few days. The Prince and the Pauper is great (you know, if I hadn’t made myself clear.)
Adventure goes with tension, so there’s lots of adventure in this book. It’s exhilarating. There are many tricksters, and even a murderer who claims he is an “archangel.” Because the prince exchanged identity with a pauper, there are many things he refuses to do, such as begging. This gets him into trouble, meaning that he (Prince Edward the 1st) is on the run. As he strives to get back to the castle, many people maltreat him. It is a dangerous journey…
This book is a masterpiece. Mark Twain transforms the unoriginal idea of switching identities into a book that is slightly mysterious—what if this isn’t a silly story? What if it actually happened? But of course that isn’t really possible—Mark Twain writes “it may have happened, it may not have happened: but it could have happened.” However, it may be tricky to read, so on the level-of-reading scale, this book is between “medium” and “hard”. I still think you should read it, though. This book could even be called, “A Mystery: The Prince or The Pauper?”
You can buy the book here.