The Canterbury Tales: Usborne

Quite the most readable version of the ‘Tales I’ve ever come across, very decidedly not excluding ‘Master Chaucer’s’ own from the list. As such, it makes a very welcome addition to the book-friends of this eternal don’t-quite-wanna-be of English literature, who must always peer suspiciously at the original, the cursor winking slyly from the Google search bar, fingers hovering over the keyboard to type in yet another obscure whym-wham …

Oh sure, it misses out most of the racier parts – not such a bad idea anyway :-p – and rather more regrettably, blunts or clips the subtleties of Chaucer’s ironic commentary. It is not, whatever the adverts may say, for ‘children’; any reasonable parent advisory must declare it PG13 at the very least. It does, however, mash Chaucer’s roast lamb, spiced delicately and done to a turn, into a boiled-potato salad that can be scarfed down with a minimum of effort. In that sense it is for ‘children’, be they fourteen or forty-five.

Not that it doesn’t have its moments. It’s not Chaucer, agreed; but that’s the whole point of it, isn’t it? Here the humour, even the irony, is more in a hohoho lame-troll mode:

… “I always said astrology was dangerous – and now this! Do you remember that fellow – what was his name?””
“George, was it?”
“Yes, that’s it, he studied the stars. He went out one night, walked across a field, all the time staring up at the sky, and what do you think happened?”
“What?”
“He fell headfirst into a claypit. That’s what astrology can do to you. It’s evil, Robin, and it must be stopped. Fetch me my staff. We must go and save his soul.” …

I suppose the best way to describe the Chaucer-Usborne gap is to compare it to the difference between the book of Deathly Hallows and the movies. Enjoy the show, but do not confound it with the original.

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