#43 A Review of The Canterbury Tales (Graphic Novel) by Geoffrey Chaucer and Seymour Chwast

If I remember correctly, the first time I was introduced to The Canterbury Tales was in high school.  I remember instantly falling in love with Chaucer’s tongue-in-cheek humor and how he infused that humor with parables that left one with a lesson learned.  When I was at the bookstore and found that a graphic novel version existed, I of course needed to buy it and see how creative Seymour Chwast was in his interpretation of Chaucer’s great work.

For those of you not familiar with The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer writes the tale of 30 pilgrims that are making their way to the Canterbury Cathedral.  Chaucer originally intended for each pilgrim to tell a tale to and from the Cathedral, for a total of 60 works.  Unfortunately, he died after completing 24 tales, of which we will never know the true order in which they are meant to be told.  What is complete, however, are the funny, serious, intriguing, intelligent, and overall entertaining tales of these pilgrims.  From the shockingly raunchy and funny tale of the Wife of Bath to the pious tale of the Prioress, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales cover the whole emotional spectrum and evoke both laughter and sorrow from the reader.

One thing that I think makes people frightened to read The Canterbury Tales or any other Medieval literature is the language barrier.  When I first read the tales it was when I was still in school, and was therefore being taught how to translate the text.  Once I was able to understand fully what each tale was about, why certain themes were important, and what made them funny, I developed a love of them.  What’s great about the graphic novel version is that it’s written not in its original text but a hip, modernized version of today’s English language.  Even the illustrations got in the “modern game”, depicting the pilgrims riding motorcycles instead of horses.  In doing this Chwast has opened up The Canterbury Tales to  not only a new generation of readers, but also a whole new audience in general.

My only critique of the graphic novel is that some of the tales’ adaptations weren’t written cohesively.  The Canterbury Tales is a huge undertaking in its normal format, so to squeeze all of that into 144 pages of text and illustrations is definitely not a simple job.  I felt that some of the stories could have used a little more tender loving care in their adaptation.  Despite this, the humor and morality of the tales still shone through well enough for any newcomers to the tales.

4 out of 5 Stars

This is my twelfth completed review for the Around The Stack In How Many Ways Challenge

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer and Seymour Chwast
Bloomsbury USA (2011)
Hardcovers: 144 pages
ISBN: 9781608194872

Read-A-Thon Hour 7, Mini Challenge #6

Hour seven is here! Todd, Adam, Jess, and myself all decided to switch what books we were reading to “freshen up”.  I’m now reading a graphic novel version of The Canterbury Tales, Todd’s moved on to A Million Suns by Beth Revis, Adam’s reading  Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi, and Jess is reading Carole King’s memoir A Natural Woman.

My adorable kitten Sebastian has also picked out a novel to begin reading – When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris. Isn’t that picture adorable?!?

The mini challenge this hour is being hosted by The Hungry Readers.  They ask that you take words and phrases from the book you’re currently reading and compose a poem with them.  The four of us (and Sebastian!) have tried to come up with a poem based on what we’re reading but have utterly failed.  Instead Adam wrote a poem that he would like me to share with the rest of you.  Without further ado:

Challenge six and this group don’t really mix
We have our noses stuck in our books
So well wait for challenge seven and load up our nooks

That’s it for now.  See you in the next hour!

Complex Reading vs. Simplistic Reading

Adam and I were discussing The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway when we began discussing complex books vs. simplistic books.  We started discussing it because I was talking about how The Old Man and the Sea speaks in very simplistic language. I personally am a fan of classic literature books, books that follow the style of Jane Austen’s writing period, and also books that make you think.  It’s not very common that I read a book written in simplistic terms.  While it’s a nice break, I enjoy reading to enrich my mind, grow my vocabulary, make me think, and also make stop and pause to look and appreciate the things around me.

Adam had said he wished more writers would write simplistically. He felt that books get overly wordy and explain everything in such small detail.  He would rather be able to think about what it looked like, smelt like, felt like, etc on his own. He wants authors to cut out the “fluff” and get down to the nitty-gritty.  I can agree with him about fluff to a degree.  Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck has almost a full chapter explaining in extreme detail about a turtle crossing the road. It is the MOST boring thing I’ve ever read in my life. So on the subject of “fluff” I can agree to a degree with Adam.

The more and more I thought about what we were discussing the stronger I felt for books that weren’t super simplistic. In my eyes reading holds the keys to enriching people’s lives and minds.  For people who will never be able to travel to Europe in their lifetime, they can pick up a book and read about what it’s like. Those that will never make it scuba diving, mountain climbing, sky diving etc, they can pick up a book and read about others experiences doing it.  None of us know what it was like to live in the past when King Henry VIII ruled, but we can pick up a book and read about what it was like.  If writing was always written simplistically, we might not be able to experience any of these things through words.

Reading complex things also expands your intelligence.  The more you read the better your vocabulary gets and your sentence structure get stronger.  You learn to recognize metaphors, themes, similes, protagonists, antagonists, conflicts, resolutions, etc. 

When I think of classic literature I don’t think of simplistic authors or simplistic books – I see Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, Charlotte Bronte, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hawthorne, Poe, Arthur Miller, Steinbeck, etc. I see Pride and Prejudice, Macbeth, North and SouthTo Kill a Mockingbird, The Odyssey, The Canterbury Tales, etc.  These books are taught in schools and taught year after year because we learn from them.  As a child you’re taught with picture books, then you begin reading and move to chapter books, as we get older and our brains can handle more we begin reading “the classics.”  That is how we progress on to college and into the working environment. As our brains retain more knowledge our reading levels change, allowing us to read more complex books. I think in order to continue to grow intellectually, that adults should read complex books.  Throwing in a simplistic book here and there is ok, it gives your brain a rest, which is definitely necessary.

As I was talking to Todd last night I said to him that I think reading books with details is important as well.  For me reading poetry expands the meaning of love, reading books that discuss the look, smell, taste of things enriches my own senses.  Reading about a sunrise/sunset and then seeing one – I can understand the text better and understand the beauty around me.

I’d love to hear everyone else’s thoughts on what I’ve said.  Adam has been kind enough to begin writing a response to my thoughts that I’ll post up before the week is out.  Please comment and let me know what side of the argument you fall on!

Happy Reading!