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The Canterbury Tales by Seymour Chwast
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The Canterbury Tales (2011)

by Seymour Chwast

Other authors: Geoffrey Chaucer

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As a jolly band of pilgrims make their way to Canterbury, they pass the time by telling stories. The stories range from romantic to bawdy to pious, reflecting the equally diverse speakers, which include a scholar, a knight, a merchant, and others from nearly every profession in the medieval world. The tales of Geoffrey Chaucer are adapted into a graphic novel format to help introduce this classic to new readers or provide a new twist for those familiar with one of the first major English works of literature.

The last time I tried to read The Canterbury Tales, it was a real struggle, so I hoped that this format would help bring the different stories to life and make them more accessible. Chwast both succeeds and fails in this attempt.

I had very little trouble following the narrative threads, which had caused me some grief in the past. The comic panels are easy to follow and the action clear, for Chwast uses a very simplified graphic style, crude cartoons with no flourishes or depth. So if you are looking for an easier version of the tales, perhaps to help with a project for school or something like that, this will be useful to you.

Unfortunately, the adaptation is so set on making the material easy to understand that all traces of Chaucer are lost. Characters all sound more or less the same in the narration, and the simple, bland faces make everyone virtually indistinguishable. There’s no sense of place, because there are no backgrounds and no consistency in time – the pilgrims ride motorcycles, but while upon the bikes many of them still dress in medieval clothing. This stripped down version of the tales lacks the vigor and personality that made the original stories so enticing and delightful.

This last thing is very much a personal aesthetic issue, but the ugliness of the drawings did turn me off from the graphic novel. I didn’t care for Chwast’s illustrations, and thought they were a poor match for the richness of Chaucer’s prose. Others who are a fan of his style will no doubt feel quite differently. ( )
  makaiju | Aug 25, 2014 |
A humorous and succinct adaptation of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, updated with modern language -- and motorbikes for the pilgrims. ( )
  questbird | Aug 25, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
As much as I enjoyed Seymour Chwast's treatment of Dante's Divine Comedy, his Canterbury Tales never comes to life. Perhaps the success of Chwast's Divine Comedy was due to the inherently graphic nature of much of the Commedia and the sparseness of the comic's text—Chwast's Divine Comedy is something like a collection of single page posters of the most memorable scenes with little need for narrative. Chaucer's second masterpiece is an entirely different matter. The brilliance of Chaucer is both in the melody of his verse and in his varied, but often lively narratives, and this is something Chwast's comics cannot possibly deliver. Chaucer gives us a ribald Miller's Tale full of dirty slapstick. The infamous kiss in the dark and the vengeful poker to the bum are brimming with vulgar hilarity. Chwast gives us a stilted narrative with a zephyric pen and ink fart followed by what might as well be a scrub-brush to the bum. It isn't funny to see it. If the verses bring back giggling memories of raunchy middle school body humor, the comic embarrasses, reminding us of just how juvenile we once were. Much of the book seems to focus on Chaucer's ribaldry, and without any of the puckish charm of the English verses. These comic tales just fall flat amidst a swamp of limp prose narrative and boringly salacious imagery. ( )
  Tuirgin | Jun 19, 2014 |
OK so this was definitely a fun and very quick read. I know a lot of people complained about this book saying that it wasn't as good as the original, it didn't retain the pretty prose of Chaucer, the art was bad, etc. etc. However I think it was all of these things that made it entertaining.

Now, I have never read the full Canterbury Tales (although it is on my TBR list) but I think that this book was a pretty good introduction to the topic. Because the author didn't try to retain the original language it made the story manageable and approachable to people who otherwise may not read it. The crappy art made the bawdy nature of the story even more amusing. Chaucer, during his time, was writing in the common tongue was he not? He wanted his works to be accessible and easily shared and understood by the masses, which is what this book does. It makes the stories accessible to the masses in a format that they are familiar with.

So for that I really liked it and would recommend it to others! ( )
  Amanda.Richards | Apr 9, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I finally got a chance to sit down and read through Chwast's adaptation of the Canterbury Tales. It is a pretty simple take on the tales - condensing them and presenting them in comic form. Overall I enjoyed it, but wouldn't recommend it over any non-abridged version. ( )
  MikeKn | Jul 10, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Seymour Chwastprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Chaucer, Geoffreysecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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To the memory of my mother, Esther Newman
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In the Tabard Inn in Southwark, Near London, the owner, Harry Bailey approached twenty-nine pilgrims.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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"Accompany a band of merry medieval pilgrims as they make their way - on motorcycles, of course - to Canterbury. Meeting at the Tabard Inn, the travelers, including a battle-worn knight, a sweetly pretentious prioress, the bawdy Wife of Bath, and an emaciated scholar-clerk, come up with a plan to pass time on the journey to Thomas a Becket's shrine by telling stories. The twenty-four tales, which range from high romance set in ancient Greece to low comedy in contemporary England, are adapted into graphic novel form by Seymour Chwast - a pitch-perfect transposition of Chaucer's pointed satire. Chwast's illustrations relate tales of trust and treachery, of piety and bawdiness, in an engaging style that will appeal to those who have enjoyed The Canterbury Tales for years, and those for whom this is a first, delectable introduction"--Provided by publisher.… (more)

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