When Hank shares his plan to disguise himself as a freeman, King Arthur immediately wants to join him. Hank thinks it’s a great idea, although he insists that Arthur let Guenever know about his trip and follow through on his scheduled “king’s-evil business” first. No one expects Guenever to miss Arthur much (Launcelot is in the Valley), but he can’t disappoint the sick people who want the king to touch them in hopes that it will heal them.
Arthur’s casual aside about Guenever’s neglect of Arthur for Launcelot offers a pointed reminder of the Arthurian mythology in which the affair between the queen and the knight ends up destroying the kingdom. This foreshadows the book’s end and calls the efficacy of any of Hank’s efforts into question.
Hank attends the king’s laying-on of hands as a matter of state; the proceedings are boring to him by now. A doctor certifies that a person is ill, King Arthur touches their sores, and they receive a coin. The whole business used to be very expensive thanks to the gold coins the king handed out. But Hank, who grew up keeping his coins for himself and putting buttons in the charity box, feels that the amount of money isn’t important to the invalids. So, he switched the gold coins with nickels. This saves the kingdom a lot of money. Hank claims that the king “cured” many people because they believed sincerely enough that his touch was healing. Their belief is rooted in their faith in the monarchy; if the people stopped believing that the king could take care of them, the monarchy would topple.
The tradition of a king laying hands on people suffering from scrofula—a skin infection that causes unsightly rashes—dates to the 11th century. For Hank, watching Arthur lay hands on ill peasants illustrates two points: first, it confirms the importance of belief to authority. Arthur’s power lasts only as long as people continue to believe that he’s able to take care of their needs. Second, it highlights the superstitious beliefs of uncivilized people—whom the book generally sees as anyone who doesn’t conform to Hank’s 19th-century American ideals.
Something new happens to interrupt Hank’s boredom: the cry of a boy hawking the “Camelot Weekly Hosannah and Literary Volcano” newspaper. Immensely pleased, Hank buys a copy. It’s written in the best style of the 19th-century press. Headlines about Merlin’s embarrassment and the little social interest pieces are familiar to Hank, but they now sound discordant to him. He reads about Sir Launcelot defeating King Agrivance of Ireland; a search for the missing Sir Sagramore; and the adventures of many other knights. The paper even has a printed schedule of King Arthur’s daily visits to the park.
The arrival of the newspaper—a modern invention—mercifully interrupts Hank’s boredom with the medieval proceedings. Up to this point, Hank has never questioned the superiority of his 19th-century ideas, but the newspaper’s tone strikes an incongruous note. This suggests, on the one hand, that Hank is assimilating to medieval culture. But on the other, it also raises questions about whether 19th-century, new world inventions (such as the sensationalist, often inaccurate “yellow” journalism) are always as superior as Hank believes.
A gaggle of curious monks interrupts Hank’s eager reading. Hank explains that the thin material is paper (the monks mistook it for cloth); it’s covered in reading material (they can read Latin but not English); that there are 1,000 exact copies of the issue; and that they were printed on a press rather than being copied by hand (the only way the monks know to copy books). Hank reads the account of the well’s restoration aloud, and the monks are impressed with its accuracy. Their excitement and interest in the newspaper makes Hank as proud as a new mother is of her baby.
The monks’ interest begs the question of who makes up the newspaper’s intended audience. Most of the medieval citizenry remain illiterate, and although Hank has established underground schools, he never shares details about how many people they educate. Thus, when he shows off the multiple innovations that the newspaper represents—the manufacture of paper, movable type printing, and mass, non-Latin literacy—it is unclear how these innovations will affect a medieval society yet unprepared for them. Nevertheless, the newspaper proves that Hank can accomplish his goal of introducing the nineteenth century to the sixth.