Reviews for Canterbury Tales

Booklist Reviews 2011 October #2
For his second graphic novel (after Dante's Divine Comedy, 2010), legendary graphic designer and illustrator Chwast tackles another classic work of narrative verse. In his signature visual style, he reinterprets Chaucer's fourteenth-century account of a group of medieval pilgrims entertaining one another on the way to a shrine by telling stories. Although many of the travelers' tales contain spiritual elements, others are strikingly risqué and irreverent, accounting for the work's enduring popularity. In his introduction, Chwast notes that Chaucer wrote in the English vernacular of the time. He takes a similar approach, popularizing the proceedings by using contemporary lingo and injecting such whimsically anachronistic touches as having the pilgrims travel on motorbikes. The intentional simplicity, bordering on crudeness, of Chwast's line drawings is a fitting match for the brash bawdiness of Chaucer's satires. If much of the work's literary merit is lost, reading Chwast's variation is certainly less demanding than plowing through Chaucer's text. Perhaps, as educators hoped about the Classics Illustrated comics of an earlier era, it will lead curious readers to the original. Copyright 2011 Booklist Reviews.

Booklist Reviews 2009 September #1
Who better than Ackroyd to "retell" the tales of Chaucer's iconic pilgrims? A protean, creative, and prolific writer, historian, and critic, Ackroyd possesses an erudition that is matched by enthusiasm for his mission, that of bringing history to life for all to enjoy. It makes perfect sense that Ackroyd would relate to worldly-wise Chaucer so deeply, as evident in his superb Chaucer biography and in the novel The Clerkenwell Tales (2004), a takeoff on Chaucer's masterpiece, The Canterbury Tales. Now Ackroyd releases that indelible long poem from its confounding medieval English, replete with odd spellings and lost definitions--real, for instance, meant royal--and translates it into supple and poetic contemporary prose, a transformation Chaucer, himself a great believer in the vernacular, might well applaud. Cleverly illustrated by Nick Bantock, of Griffin and Sabine fame, Ackroyd's fresh and transporting retelling brings forward Chaucer's "salacious wit and scabrous humor," shrewd observations, and lustrous descriptions as well as the inimitable voices of the pilgrims, from the Knight to the Wife of Bath. This is, as Chaucer promised, a "feast of words," and Ackroyd 's translation, like Seamus Heaney's of Beowulf (2000) and W. S. Merwin's of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (2002), will become the much appreciated standard. Copyright 2009 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 1996
Published fall 1995. McCaughrean's accomplished version of the medieval classic -- written in prose -- retains the basic plot and humor of Chaucer's original poem. Colorful detailed illustrations accompany an accessible introduction to the medieval masterpiece. Copyright 1998 Horn Book Guide Reviews

Kirkus Reviews 2011 July #1

As a follow-up of sorts to his illustrated Dante's Divine Comedy (2010), graphic artist Chwast embraces a kindred spirit in Chaucer.

Though the credit reads "adapted by Seymour Chwast," "transformed" or "subverted" might be more precise. Here the pilgrims who tell the tales ride motorcycles, with the artist himself as the host and Chaucer waving from a sidecar. They spin stories of lust in which characters seduce each other with jaunty language: "Hey, babe, let's party!"; "Come here, big boy. Show me your stuff!" Yet Chwast recognizes that he is doing in large part what Chaucer did, "writing in the English vernacular of the time." As these tales comment upon and interrupt each other, Chwast aims to illustrate nothing less than the human condition, filled as it is with profound differences between men and women, romantic betrayal that barely pays lip service to monogamy, jealousy taken to lethal extremes and fables that have morals that are a little too pat for the narratives they accompany. There are plenty of beheadings, repeated bursts of flatulence and, as the cartoon Chaucer explains, action "complete with swash and buckling." There is also a cross-cultural expanse to the epic storytelling, with biblical figures, Greek gods, Roman emperors and Arabian legends all represented within this graphic condensation of Chaucer's classic into tales that are often as little as a few panels each.

Not quite the achievement that the Divine Comedy was, but a work that finds an artistic common denominator for Chaucer and Chwast.

Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Kirkus Reviews 2009 September #1
Continuing his apparent mission to refract the whole of English culture and history through his personal lens, Ackroyd (Thames: The Biography, 2008, etc.) offers an all-prose rendering of Chaucer's mixed-media masterpiece.While Burton Raffel's modern English version of The Canterbury Tales (2008) was unabridged, Ackroyd omits both "The Tale of Melibee" and "The Parson's Tale" on the undoubtedly correct assumption that these "standard narratives of pious exposition" hold little interest for contemporary readers. Dialing down the piety, the author dials up the raunch, freely tossing about the F-bomb and Anglo-Saxon words for various body parts that Chaucer prudently described in Latin. Since "The Wife of Bath's Tale" and "The Miller's Tale," for example, are both decidedly earthy in Middle English, the interpolated obscenities seem unnecessary as well as jarringly anachronistic. And it's anyone's guess why Ackroyd feels obliged redundantly to include the original titles ("Here bigynneth the Squieres Tales," etc.) directly underneath the new ones ("The Squires Tale," etc.); these one-line blasts of antique spelling and diction remind us what we're missing without adding anything in the way of comprehension. The author's other peculiar choice is to occasionally interject first-person comments by the narrator where none exist in the original, such as, "He asked me about myself then--where I had come from, where I had been--but I quickly turned the conversation to another course." There seems to be no reason for these arbitrary elaborations, which muffle the impact of those rare times in the original when Chaucer directly addresses the reader. Such quibbles would perhaps be unfair if Ackroyd were retelling some obscure gem of Old English, but they loom larger with Chaucer because there are many modern versions of The Canterbury Tales. Raffel's rendering captured a lot more of the poetry, while doing as good a job as Ackroyd with the vigorous prose. A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer's Tales. Copyright Kirkus 2009 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2011 September #2

A delicious cover: the Wife of Bath on a motorcycle, in semimodern garb and wearing a self-satisfied grin. The same clever decanting of old wine into new bottles carries us through all 20-plus Chaucer tales, if compressed a bit. Chwast used the same approach for Dante's Divine Comedy (2010), which was well received. But the missing ingredient in both works, for this reviewer, is color: the freewheeling, stylish hue characteristic of Chwast's half-century-old Push Pin Studio. Whereas the cover sports striking orange, green, and black, the interior pulls back into black and white. Perhaps Chwast was trying to evoke William Caxton's medieval woodcuts for the Chaucer stories. Indeed, Caxton's illustrations feature elaborate design explicitly tailored to a colorless medium, but Chwast's portfolio has centered on color to complement his clear-line penwork, which here looks rather unfinished. VERDICT Chwast's entertaining adaptation suffices as casual reading and can serve as a pathway to the original for students with Chaucer as class assignments. Just keep in mind that the award-winning artist was drawing with one hand behind his back. Includes cartoony nudity and bawdry.--M.C.

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Library Journal Reviews 2009 November #1

Novelist and biographer Ackroyd (London: The Biography) offers a modern English prose "retelling" of The Canterbury Tales designed "to facilitate the experience of the poem." After an informative overview of Chaucer's life and the elements that "conspired to render Chaucer the most representative, as well as the most authoritative, poet of his time," he begins with the general prolog to the Tales and concludes with Chaucer's retractions. The body of the work is made up of 23 tales, starting with The Knight's Tale and ending with The Parson's Prologue. VERDICT Ackroyd's prose is not elegant: the sentences are generally short, with few transitional phrases to link these sentences to form a unified composition. Some of the language does not accurately reflect the flavor of Chaucer's original words. Fans of Ackroyd's previous works may appreciate this effort; other readers may prefer the classic modern English verse translation of Geoffrey Chaucer's great poem by Nevill Coghill.--Kathryn R. Bartelt, Univ. of Evansville Libs., IN

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Library Journal Reviews 1994 January #1
The old standby here gets its first facelift in more than 50 years. Librarian/author Ecker and scholar Crook translated Chaucer's Middle English into a more modern, more accesssible form. Large English literature collections should consider. Copyright 1994 Cahners Business Information.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2011 June #4

Reimagining a 14th-century masterpiece for a modern audience proves to be extremely difficult. Readers who want a very fast survey of the Tales will be satisfied, for famed designer Chwast summarizes everything, not ducking the Miller's enthusiastic bawdiness and the Prioress's pious anti-Semitism. Some of his updatings are clever: the pilgrims travel on motorbikes, and their dialogue frequently uses contemporary slang; in addition, the cartoony style and overall design sometimes work to emphasize a story's point. On the other hand, Chaucer's work hasn't lasted so much because of the tales' plots but because of the personality each pilgrim shows and the subtle way Chaucer handles the interaction of tales and tellers. Chwast's more bombastic approach creates an amusing surface, but doesn't really try to translate the substance of the original. While his bare-bones style simplifies some elements, the elements of the stories stay well-defined. (Sept.)

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2009 September #1

Ackroyd's retelling of Chaucer's classic isn't exactly like the Ethan Hawke'd film version of Hamlet, but it's not altogether different, either. Noting in his introduction that the source material "is as close to a contemporary novel as Wells Cathedral is to an apartment block," Ackroyd translates the original verse into clean and enjoyable prose that clears up the roadblocks readers could face in tackling the classic. "The Knight's Tale," the first of 24 stories, sets the pace by removing distracting tics but keeping those that are characteristic, if occasionally cringe-inducing, like the narrator's insistence on lines like, "Well. Enough of this rambling." The rest of the stories continue in kind, with shorter stories benefiting most from Ackroyd's treatment, though the longer entries tend to... ramble. The tales are a serious undertaking in any translation, and here, through no fault of Ackroyd's work, what is mostly apparent is the absence of the original text, making finishing this an accomplishment that seems diminished, even if the stories themselves prove more readable. (Nov.)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2011 June

Gr 9 Up--Covering works that are frequently studied in high school, this strong set is a useful one-stop research tool. The books are divided into three major sections: biographical information, contextual essays, and critical essays. The selection of critical works covers the gamut of readings, from early reactions to Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises to considerations of feminist and lesbian themes in Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street. And unlike Gale's "Novels for Students" and "Short Stories for Students" sets (which these might complement), Salem isn't simply presenting readers with lengthy excerpts from critical works, but with entire essays. Online access to the full text of the set is complementary with print purchase. It should be noted that while the print set will be a welcome addition to reference shelves, the kind of material repackaged here is readily available through Gale's Literature Resource Center and EBSCO's Literary Reference Center.--Herman Sutter, St. Agnes Academy, Houston, TX

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School Library Journal Reviews 1998 August
Gr 9 Up-The first version put into modern English by John Tatlock and Percy Mackaye. Narrated by Flo Gibson. Copyright 1998 School Library Journal Reviews

School Library Journal Reviews 1988 November
Gr 3 Up Cohen has chosen wisely to adapt four stories from Chaucer's masterpiece for children with an overview of the pilgrimage, whetting the appetite for the real thing. She doesn't bowdlerize as Farjeon (Hale, 1930) and McCaughrean (Childrens, 1984; o.p.), who included more stories, had to. Cohen's choices: ``The Nun's Priest's Tale'' (Chauntecleer), ``The Pardoner's Tale'' (revelers in search of death), ``The Wife of Bath's Tale'' (variant of Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady), and ``The Franklin's Tale'' (honor, fidelity, and generosity). She has given equal importance and depth to the tellers and to the tales. Her language, as always, is clear and fine. Hyman's glowing watercolors, bordered in gold, illuminate the tales. She has not painted the characters in flat, medieval style, but has given them the depth that the tales do, bringing them to life, dressed precisely as Chaucer described them, captured in a medieval frame, as Chaucer had framed them in the pilgrimage. Enjoy this impressive blend of talent. Helen Byrne Gregory, Grosse Pointe Public Library, Mich. Copyright 1988 Cahners Business Information.