Blowing up Merlin’s tower consolidates Hank’s power. Although it’s initially hard to accept that he’s really in the sixth century, he soon becomes used to the situation. In fact, he says that he wouldn’t have willingly return to the 20th century. In the past, his superior “brains, pluck, and enterprise” allow him to outcompete the less sophisticated and uncivilized medieval people. Hank is powerful—if not more—than King Arthur himself. The only thing that holds more power than Hank is the Church.
Hank’s reflections demonstrate an awareness that his power depends on unfair advantages; he’s just an average man in the 19th century, and he would be primitive in comparison to a man from his future. Yet, his focus on attributes such as his intelligence and drive suggest that he feels an almost divine right to run England the way he wants.
The aristocracy and the Church enslave the people of sixth-century Britain. To Hank, born in the “wholesome free atmosphere” of 19th-century America, their outpourings of love and respect for whomever holds the thrones of power, regardless of their capacity to rule, sound strange. Hank considers the position of all the kingdom’s inhabitants as no better than slavery, even for the so-called “freemen.”
The contrast between the New World and the Old World (America and Europe, respectively) animates much of Hank’s frustration and judgement throughout the book. He particularly dislikes the Roman Catholic Church and the idea of hereditary monarchy, since both allow unfit men to control the lives of both freemen and slaves.
To a certain extent, Hank realizes that his own ideas are as entrenched as those of the medieval Britons; he knows it’s nearly impossible to argue away ideas worn into “ruts […] of time and habit.” For example, without a title, no matter what he does, Hank can only earn so much respect in this hierarchal society. He attributes the people’s servility to the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, which manipulated people into accepting the divine right of the kings that the Church controls. But the future shows that this can change; by Hank’s day, the taint of “reverence for blood and title” will be absent, at least from America.
Whenever Hank runs into a medieval attitude or institution that he doesn’t like, he chalks it up to “training”—the ideas and values taught to members of a society. On the one hand, training suggests the malleability of ideas, since in theory, new information could cause changes in knowledge and thus in training. But in practice, old ideas, which run on well-worn social paths, are quite hard to dislodge. Hank knows from the future that the Roman Catholic Church and the idea of monarchy aren’t unassailable. But he regularly underestimates the strength of time and habit. Finally, Hank’s personal desire for power comes into focus when he complains that his lack of a noble title prevents his social advancement.
Although Hank considers himself a “a man among children,” he gets less respect than even the most unintelligent earl whose title comes from an ancestor being the king’s mistress. King Arthur offers Hank a rank, but Hank refuses on principle. As an American, he thinks that only the people of the nation can legitimately confer titles of authority. Eventually, a village blacksmith gives Hank a title of authority, calling Hank “The Boss.” Hank likes this because it comes from a commoner, and because it’s a special title. There are many kings, bishops, and earls, but there is only one Boss, and that’s Hank.
Hank espouses a belief in meritocracy and democracy—the ideas that authority should be earned through accomplishment and that the people should choose their own leaders. Yet, he aspires to be “the Boss” of the kingdom, taking on a role that sounds suspiciously hierarchal. And he “earns” his position by inspiring fear (as an alleged wizard) rather than demonstrating his superior capacity to lead. Again and again, Hank’s actions betray his professed values.
The exchange of respect and disrespect between Hank and the medieval people is mutual. Hank looks down on the king and the knights as men but respects their offices. And the king and his knights look down on Hank as a commoner, although they respect his power.
For all his professed affection for the citizens of King Arthur’s Britain, Hank’s orientation toward them is patronizing at best and directly hostile at worst. He resents not having the respect of people he believes to be inferior while he disparages the nobility for looking down on the commoners they believe to be their inferiors.