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Paula Stiles

Geoffrey Chaucer

The Canterbury Tales

It has been said that the critical point in our becoming human is when we started to tell stories. Certainly, reading Chaucer's Canterbury Tales shows that the nature of our storytelling has not changed much in the last 600 years. A group of pilgrims on the way to Canterbury amuse themselves by telling each other stories, and even in a work of this age we see the usual themes coming up. Some tales are of far away places, there's one about alchemy - even then Chaucer realised it was essentially trickery - but mostly they are tales of love, or more particularly lust.

Chaucer has plenty of rivalry between the storytellers - the Miller tells a tale of how a carpenter is tricked by his young wife and her lover, and so the Reeve (who was previously a carpenter) responds with a tale of how a thieving miller gets fooled. One thing I've noticed about these stories is that they're not particularly memorable on one reading - they seem to 'go with the flow' as it were. Whether this means that they should be read several times in order to get the full benefit or that they should be treated as a bit of light reading to while away the odd hour -that's up to you.

The Canterbury Tales can be read at, either in the original Middle English, or in a 19th century translation. However, I thought that Nevill Coghill's translation seemed to flow more freely.  |  Chronon Critical Points  |  Recent Science Book Reviews