Geoffrey Chaucer is one of those Early Renaissance writers that English majors are forced to read. That is, forced to read in Middle English, which pisses off English majors because if Shakespeare’s language wasn’t hard enough, Middle English will make you want to kill your professor. The reason being that Middle English has a lot of words that are no longer in modern use and the pronunciation and spelling are completely different than Modern English. That’s why we have guys like Seymour Chwast, a comic book artist who decided to make a comic out of The Canterbury Tales in glorious fashion.
For those who don’t know, The Canterbury Tales is a bunch of stories told by various people who are on a pilgrimage to Canterbury being lead by Chaucer himself. The catch in this version is that everyone is going to Canterbury on motorcycles.
Yes, a bunch of 14th Century people riding motorcycles. Shut up, it’s awesome.
As far as how the tales are told, Chwast condenses the stories and replaces Middle English with Modern English. Yes, most of the poetic writing is gone (like my favorite, “This Nicholas just then let fly a fart as loud as it had been a thunderclap.”) The story is still there. It’s understandable as to why Chwast did this: Comics and 14th Century poems are different mediums.
The art is pretty weird. It’s terrible, but it’s not good either. Sometimes the characters look fine, but then the art becomes really basic and the characters look awful.
As I said above, the motorcycle motif is more of a comedic tactic than an artistic. It works, of course. The problem is Chaucer himself is riding in the sidecar with the Host. It would’ve been funnier if he had his own bike.
For those looking for an easy way to read The Canterbury Tales, this comic is your best bet. The stories may be condensed and the art pretty bad, but it’s still one hell of a ride to read just to say you read The Canterbury Tales and to see a bunch of 14th Century people on motorcycles.