Book Review: Illustrated Canterbury Tales - Geoffrey Chaucer

Canterbury TalesCanterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to The Reading Zone and the publisher for the review copy.

Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales has a revered place in British culture - it is often said to have heralded the birth of modern English Literature. First written in the 14th century, it is essentially a short story collection - it follows a group of strangers who start a story-telling competition to help pass the time on their pilgrimage from London to Canterbury.

This new children’s edition is charmingly illustrated, and the stories are told in easy to read modern English. It contains 15 of the tales, covering subjects such as love, hate, truth, lies, gods, monsters, loyalty, betrayal, brave knights, beautiful maidens, infidelity, cheats, plotting, revenge, eating, drinking and farting.

The stories reflect the personalities and preoccupations of their tellers, as well as satirising life, society and religion in medieval England. They are also very funny. In the Miller’s Tale, a character tries to win the love of Alison, the carpenter’s wife, by playing King Herod in a play. “Against all his expectations, the sight of him ordering the slaughter of thousands of innocent children did not make Alison fall instantly in love with him.”

In the same story, an astrologer is asked for advice on when to take pigs to market. “You must go on Friday…For on Friday Venus will be conjoined with Mars, and Mercury is on the wane. Also, that’s the only day the market’s open.”

The humour often carries insights into human nature. In the Franklin’s Tale, a heartbroken maiden consumed by grief “...sobbed and sighed and wept and cried and sniffed and snivelled and moaned and moped, and altogether thoroughly enjoyed being miserable.”

This edition provides a great introduction to a classic work of medieval literature. It is accessible and engaging, without dumbing down or patronising its audience.

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