14th Century – Classics
The Story:A large and diverse group of people gather at an inn. All are about to begin a pilgrimage to the shrine of Sir Thomas Becket, a saint and martyr buried in Canterbury Cathedral. One gentlemen, hereafter known as the Host, steps forward to suggest that the group travel together. He also proposes that for their entertainment while on the journey, the pilgrims tell stories. The winner of the storytelling game will gain a free dinner at the expense of the group when they return to the inn. Canterbury Tales is a collection of short stories on a variety of topics ranging from morality to tales of adventure to animal fables. The stories are presented mostly in poetry form, although a few of the tales take the form of prose. The copy that we read for the challenge was the Everyman’s Library version, which featured the original Middle English.
The Opening Line:
Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
What I Loved:Some of the stories included were actually pretty hilarious. The tales of romance, sex, and cheating spouses were my favorite, simply because they were so funny. Like the Reeve’s Tale, in which a miller is known to be stealing from his customers, cheating them by stealing their corn and grain. Two college students bring a bag of grain and fall victim to the miller’s tricks. However, they stay the night, and in revenge, one sleeps with the miller’s daughter and the other sleeps with the miller’s wife. There was genuine laughing out loud as I read through that one.
What I Didn’t Love:Middle English. Although it becomes easier to read after some practice, there were some phrases or words that I never understood. Or I would read the same phrase 100 times, then realize much later what it actually meant. So I’m sure I missed out on a ton of stuff. Also, prose. The poetry sections were my favorite because they flew by so much faster. But a couple of the stories were in prose, and I got so bogged down. I wanted to give up about halfway through the Parson’s Tale, but it was literally the last tale in the book, so I made myself finish. And there were so many references that I’m sure were common back in the 14th century, but I didn’t understand a lot of them. Mostly, this book was a chore to read.
Final Thoughts:I won! It was so close, though – after I finished, it only took Katie 15 minutes to finish up as well. So far, my reading challenge record is unblemished, but she gets closer each time, so I’m genuinely worried for the next one. The book itself, I’m not going to recommend it to anyone. If you really want to mark it off some reading list, try a more modern version of it. But stay away from the Middle English, unless that’s just your kind of thing. If you just want a quick overview of the stories so you can hold your own in conversation, try Cliffs Notes. I read a summary before each tale, and it was super helpful to keep me engaged with the story. For me though, the work it took to read the book wasn’t worth it. But I get to mark it off some lists, and of course, there are the bragging rights that come along with having actually slogged through the thing. So there’s that, I suppose.