Wednesday, March 31, 2010

100 Greatest Books #87 - Canterbury Tales

Finally after an 8 month hiatus, here is the next book on my 100 Greatest Books reading lists, Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. You can this book on the Sybervison and Norwegian book lists.

I started off this book with reading the introduction, which in my version states that "Anyone who is too lazy to master the comparatively small glossary necessary to understand Chaucer deserves to be shut out from reading good books for ever," by Ezra Pound. Awesome. I had high hopes for this book in the beginning. My wife said it was great, she really enjoyed what she read so I'm all looking forward to it. Then I start to read it, and I don't understand it, at all. And this had nothing to do with the "small glossary" it was written with but with the fact that all of the words are misspellings of modern words, and not even consistently misspelled the same way. When you sound the words you can make sense of what is going on but my mind doesn't work that way. It turns out my wife read a more friendly translation than my original script of the book. Mine looks more like this: "And daunced wel, he wolde nat come ayeyn..." (and danced well, he would not come again). So it makes sense, but it took me about 400 pages to understand it on my first reading (about 1/2 the book). Anyway I got to reading a summary of what was happening on Gradesaver.com then reading the tales in the book, which was a lifesaver, because even if I missed a line or two I would still know what was happening. Anyway, on to the review of the book. It had it's high points and low points. A lot of the stories were actually rather fun and interesting, but a lot of them were a drudge to get through (i.e. The Tale of Melibee). Then the final story (The Parson's Tale) seems completely out of place and contradictory to everything he has stated before. After several tales of husbands and wives who sleep around he comes in with this sermon about the seven deadly sins, stating things like masturbation is basically homicide and if a woman were to indulge in sexual activity she should be stoned to death. It seemed so out of place, at times I felt like that it was on purpose, to kind of throw off the reader. So overall, Canterbury Tales is really a story that does not need to be read straight through. I recommend if you do want to read it to pick out the best sections and read them alone, because I feel Chaucer added some tales in more for context around that particular tale than actual enjoyment of reading.

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