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.
A fresh, modern prose retelling captures the vigorous and bawdy spirit of Chaucer’s classic
Renowned critic, historian, and biographer Peter Ackroyd takes on what is arguably the greatest poem in the English language and presents the work in a prose vernacular that makes it accessible to modern readers while preserving the spirit of the original.
A mirror for medieval society, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales concerns a motley group of pilgrims who meet in a London inn on their way to Canterbury and agree to take part in a storytelling competition. Ranging from comedy to tragedy, pious sermon to ribald farce, heroic adventure to passionate romance, the tales serve not only as a summation of the sensibility of the Middle Ages but as a representation of the drama of the human condition.
Ackroyd’s contemporary prose emphasizes the humanity of these characters-as well as explicitly rendering the naughty good humor of the writer whose comedy influenced Fielding and Dickens-yet still masterfully evokes the euphonies and harmonies of Chaucer’s verse. This retelling is sure to delight modern readers and bring a new appreciation to those already familiar with the classic tales.