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The Canterbury Tales: A Retelling Hardcover – October 29, 2009

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (October 29, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670021229
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670021222
  • Product Dimensions: 1.6 x 6.6 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #109,479 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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. (Nov.)
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About the Author

Peter Ackroyd is an award-winning novelist, critic, and biographer.

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67 of 70 people found the following review helpful By L. Scharf on November 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover
When I first heard about this, I was a bit skeptical, not to mention feeling a bit of an intellectual snob remembering the hours we spent learning, decoding, memorizing, and translating the original Tales back in school. But I couldn't resist taking a peep under the cover and was immediately seduced. Ackroyd's language perfectly captures the tone of each tale, and the characters leap from the pages as their stories unfold. I expect it is now only a matter of time before it's adapted for the screen; we can only hope HBO or Showtime get a hold of it first and spare us squirming through Keanu Reeves as the Pardoner or Carmen Electra as the Wife of Bath. In any case, give this book a chance, and stuff it in the stocking of anyone who claims to love literature. Just don't expect to see them until they've turned the last page.
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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful By S. Thomas on November 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover
While the Tales don't usually translate well, this is about as good as any could be. Avoiding the painfully flat literalism of most adaptations, Akroyd gives, instead, a real sense of the flavor and tone of the original Middle English.
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35 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Wanda B. Red VINE VOICE on January 26, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm sorry to rain on the parade of positive reviews here, but this "translation" of the "Canterbury Tales" strays too far from the original to be characterized truly as a translation (Ackroyd himself calls it a "retelling").

Chaucer is a suggestive poet, ambiguous, ironic; he can be crude at times, but he is always cleverly reversing himself and hiding his intentions from the reader. That (and the amazing poetry) is what makes him such a complex and delicious poet to read. Ackroyd's prose, larded with the f-word and other expletives, just doesn't capture the sense or the spirit of the original.

Examples could be multiplied endlessly, so let me pick just two. In the infamous pear-tree scene in Merchant's Tale, a randy squire copulates in a tree with May, the young wife of January, the old blind owner of the manor. January's sight returns at the crucial moment and he witnesses his own cuckolding, which both he and the narrator have some trouble describing, until the gullible old fool lapses into a paroxysm of euphemism ("I thought your smock had lain upon his breast") as he apologizes to his deceitful wife. At one point January does blurt out "He swyved thee!" (which is as close as Middle English comes to the f-word). Ackroyd uses this scene though as a pretext for exploding the f-bomb three times in less than a page, thereby missing most of the comedy that comes from shifting registers and the poet's struggle to be explicit and delicate at the same time. Ackroyd also completely misses the hints in this same scene that May is pretending to be pregnant in order to get January to let her climb into the tree so she can satisfy her food-craving (J longs for an heir).
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