Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

Funnily enough, I actually heard of this book from watching “The Big Bang Theory”. Amy Farrah Fowler mentions it as her favourite book during the show. When I was growing up in Canada, we didn’t read many texts like this. ‘Texts like this’ being from the traditional Anglo-Saxon canon. I don’t even think we read Shakespeare. So, I decided to read the Canterbury Tales partly for the interesting stories, and partly for the historical significance of the text.

The story is about a group of pilgrims traveling to Canterbury to visit a church. Along the way to ease their boredom, each person needs to tell a tale to keep them amused. Some of the stories are raunchy, others about knights, one is about alchemy, and others about God. Many were great, but some were filled with allegories to God and were a bit of a bore to get through.

The historical significance is pretty incredible. It was written between 1387 and 1400. How often do we have a chance to read texts over 600 years old?

The one difficult point I laboured over before beginning was which translation to read? Or should I try to read the original? The Canterbury Tales are written in Middle English, so the spelling and pronunciation of the English words are very different from modern English.

Here’s an example of a passage from the excellent Wikipedia entry for this book. Go look - it has many pictures!

    Wepyng and waylyng, care and oother sorwe
    I knowe ynogh, on even and a-morwe,'
    Quod the Marchant, 'and so doon oother mo
    That wedded been.'

vs.

    'Weeping and wailing, care and other sorrow
    I know enough, in the evening and in the morning,'
    said the Merchant, 'and so do many others
    who have been married.'

I ended up reading The Canterbury Tales translated by David Wright (ISBN13:9780192815972). Though I enjoyed reading this book, I will still try to find an original translation of my favourite tales in the original Middle English to read. I want to hear what the language sounded like.

Rating: ★★★★★

Book #112 in my ReadingChallenge2021

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