THE CANTERBURY TALES
By Geoffrey Chaucer
Wordsworth Poetry Library
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Many years have passed since I read The Canterbury Tales, a challenge and a chore for a young schoolboy and it was with not very fond memories that I picked up this 700-page Wordsworth Edition. But, whatever happened and however it happened, from my school years in the 1960s to now, I found fresh enthusiasm as I started to read the tales again, helped along by the explanatory margin notes in the book, and gradually succumbed to the wonders within Chaucer’s writing.
Now it would be dishonest to suggest that I have read and absorbed every word of this extraordinary work, but I have read enough to be reminded of the complexities and marvels on offer from writing that dates back to the 14th Century.
There will be those readers who will know the book very well but there will be others who shy away from such classic literature because it is seen as a difficult text, requiring patient concentration and time, two commodities that seem to be in decline in this hi-tech, high-speed, rush-rush modern age. But, I promise you, if you stick with it, The Canterbury Tales will not disappoint you, and you will find clever storytelling, delicious wit, drama and a wondrous smattering of Medieval English words and phrases to boggle and amuse. It is a work like no other.
For the uninitiated, The Canterbury Tales collects the stories of thirty pilgrims who meet at the Tabard Inn, Southwark in south-east London. They decide to travel together to the shrine of St Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. Along the way they tell their stories. The tales cover a number of themes including religion, human nature, morality, women in society, marital relationships, honour, truth and chivalry. The binding ingredient, humour, is evident throughout.
This is not holiday beach reading. It's not for the impatient, nor is it a page-turner by modern standards. But it is a treasure chest of exemplary writing for those who truly want to understand the lengths to which a writer went to stretch the English language and to tell stories in a unique way.
It is challenging. It is annoying, It is frustrating. It is unique. It is The Canterbury Tales. Oh, and did I mention that at £3.99, it is a bargain - almost ten times cheaper than a train from London to Canterbury. Now, that’s a tale the pilgrims would not believe.