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The Canterbury Tales


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About the Author

Geoffrey Chaucer was born in London in about 1342. He was valued highly by Edward III, who paid part of his ransom when he was captured fighting in France in 1360. He rose in royal employment, becoming a Justice of the Peace and was buried in 1400 in Westminster Abbey.


Like Charles Lamb's edition of Shakespeare, Hastings's loose prose translation of seven of Chaucer's tales is more faithful to the work's plot than to the poet's language. This is not a prudish retelling (even the bawdy Miller's tale is included here) but the vigor of Chaucer's text is considerably tamed. In the original, the pilgrims possess unique voices, but here the tone is uniformly bookish. The colloquial speech of the storyteller is replaced by formal prose; for example, while Cohen (see review above) directly translates Chaucer's ``domb as a stoon'' as ``silent as stones,'' Hastings writes ``in solemn silence.'' Cartwright's startling paintings skillfully suggest the stylized flatness of a medieval canvas, but often without the accompanying richness of detail. Like Punch and Judy puppets, the faces and voices of these pilgrims are generally representative but lack the life and charm of the original text. Ages 10-up. (Oct.)

Gr 3 Up Hastings' retelling consists of seven tales, an introduction, a scene at The Tabard, and roughly two sentences introducing each teller: Knight, Miller, Reeve, Nun's Priest Pardoner, Wife of Bath, and Franklin. This smooth, easy reading version includes a simple illustrated index, cuts Chaucer's moralizing (not even Chanticleer's fox comments on his folly), and leaves much bawdry. ``The Miller's Tale'' is the best slapstick cuckoldry farce ever told, and ``The Reeve's Tale'' is a comedy of vengeful bed-hopping. Cartwright's primitive, thick acrylic illustrations, with selected parchment pages, recall medieval art. Even ink and type are careful choices. Too bad he didn't reread the original (i.e., Chaucer's Miller wears white with blue; Cartwright's is in green, scarlet, and blue, etc.). The picture book format belies the content, but the pictures don't. In ``The Miller's Tale'' the illustrations of Absalon branding the mooning Nicholas' bare buns, as nude Alison covers herself in bed while her husband falls into the scene, tell all. This is simplistic for high school and salacious for grade school, but could be great adult remedial reading. For children, try Cohen's fuller rendering (Lothrop, 1988), sans Knight, Miller, and Reeve, with Hyman's researched illuminations that make Cartwright's look stiffly muddy and tell more about The Tabard and the tellers than Hastings and Cartwright together. Helen Gregory, Grosse Pointe Public Library, Mich.

This unabridged edition features some of the BBC's best narrators giving voice to the outrageous personalities of Chaucer's motley crew of medieval pilgrims. Essential. (Audio Oldies but Goodies, (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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