The Canterbury Tales: A Retelling by Peter Ackroyd (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)

The Canterbury Tales: A Retelling by Peter Ackroyd (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)

3.6 7
by Peter Ackroyd, Geoffrey Chaucer, Ted Stearn

View All Available Formats & Editions

"A romp for the ages" (Vanity Fair)now with a graphic cover and deluxe packaging

Renowned novelist, historian, and biographer Peter Ackroyd takes on what is arguably the greatest poem in the English language and presents it in a prose vernacular that makes it accessible to readers while preserving the spirit of the original. A mirror

…  See more details below


"A romp for the ages" (Vanity Fair)now with a graphic cover and deluxe packaging

Renowned novelist, historian, and biographer Peter Ackroyd takes on what is arguably the greatest poem in the English language and presents it in a prose vernacular that makes it accessible to readers while preserving the spirit of the original. A mirror for medieval society, The Canterbury Tales concerns a motley group of pilgrims who meet in a London inn on their way to Canterbury and agree to take part in a storytelling competition. Ackroyd's contemporary prose emphasizes the humanity of these characters-as well as explicitly rendering their bawdy humor-yet still masterfully evokes the euphonies and harmonies of Chaucer's verse.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

Read More

Editorial Reviews

Most of us first encountered Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales as required school reading. Now that those days are happily past, we can enjoy this ever-ripe 14th-century classic as the rich diversion it was meant to be. We can't think of anyone more qualified to achieve that worthy purpose than free-range critic/historian/biographer Peter Ackroyd, already the author of a brief biography of Chaucer. Ackroyd's prose version captures the disparate methods and tones of the individual tales, never relinquishing the robustness of this informal storytelling competition. This Canterbury Tales reminds us of what we should have never forgotten: Classics became that way because they grip us.
Harold Bloom
Retelling Chaucer in our contemporary prose necessarily is a great loss, yet so rich is Chaucer that enormous value remains in Ackroyd's robust versions of The Canterbury Tales…Ackroyd is happiest and in his best form with Chaucer's sublime ribaldry: the tales told by the Miller, the Reeve and the Summoner.
—The New York Times
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.)
Library Journal
Novelist and biographer Ackroyd (London: The Biography) offers a modern English prose "retelling" of The Canterbury Tales designed "to facilitate the experience of the poem." After an informative overview of Chaucer's life and the elements that "conspired to render Chaucer the most representative, as well as the most authoritative, poet of his time," he begins with the general prolog to the Tales and concludes with Chaucer's retractions. The body of the work is made up of 23 tales, starting with The Knight's Tale and ending with The Parson's Prologue. VERDICT Ackroyd's prose is not elegant: the sentences are generally short, with few transitional phrases to link these sentences to form a unified composition. Some of the language does not accurately reflect the flavor of Chaucer's original words. Fans of Ackroyd's previous works may appreciate this effort; other readers may prefer the classic modern English verse translation of Geoffrey Chaucer's great poem by Nevill Coghill.—Kathryn R. Bartelt, Univ. of Evansville Libs., IN
Kirkus Reviews
Continuing his apparent mission to refract the whole of English culture and history through his personal lens, Ackroyd (Thames: The Biography, 2008, etc.) offers an all-prose rendering of Chaucer's mixed-media masterpiece. While Burton Raffel's modern English version of The Canterbury Tales (2008) was unabridged, Ackroyd omits both "The Tale of Melibee" and "The Parson's Tale" on the undoubtedly correct assumption that these "standard narratives of pious exposition" hold little interest for contemporary readers. Dialing down the piety, the author dials up the raunch, freely tossing about the F-bomb and Anglo-Saxon words for various body parts that Chaucer prudently described in Latin. Since "The Wife of Bath's Tale" and "The Miller's Tale," for example, are both decidedly earthy in Middle English, the interpolated obscenities seem unnecessary as well as jarringly anachronistic. And it's anyone's guess why Ackroyd feels obliged redundantly to include the original titles ("Here bigynneth the Squieres Tales," etc.) directly underneath the new ones ("The Squires Tale," etc.); these one-line blasts of antique spelling and diction remind us what we're missing without adding anything in the way of comprehension. The author's other peculiar choice is to occasionally interject first-person comments by the narrator where none exist in the original, such as, "He asked me about myself then-where I had come from, where I had been-but I quickly turned the conversation to another course." There seems to be no reason for these arbitrary elaborations, which muffle the impact of those rare times in the original when Chaucer directly addresses the reader. Such quibbles would perhaps be unfair if Ackroydwere retelling some obscure gem of Old English, but they loom larger with Chaucer because there are many modern versions of The Canterbury Tales. Raffel's rendering captured a lot more of the poetry, while doing as good a job as Ackroyd with the vigorous prose. A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer's Tales.

Read More

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.30(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

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

Geoffrey Chaucer was born in London, the son of a wine-merchant, in about 1342, and as he spent his life in royal government service his career happens to be unusually well documented. By 1357 Chaucer was a page to the wife of Prince Lionel, second son of Edward III, and it was while in the prince's service that Chaucer was ransomed when captured during the English campaign in France in 1359-60. Chaucer's wife Philippa, whom he married c. 1365, was the sister of Katherine Swynford, the mistress (c. 1370) and third wife (1396) of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, whose first wife Blanche (d. 1368) is commemorated in Chaucer's ealrist major poem, The Book of the Duchess.

From 1374 Chaucer worked as controller of customs on wool in the port of London, but between 1366 and 1378 he made a number of trips abroad on official business, including two trips to Italy in 1372-3 and 1378. The influence of Chaucer's encounter with Italian literature is felt in the poems he wrote in the late 1370's and early 1380s—The House of Fame, The Parliament of Fowls, and a version of The Knight's Tale—and finds its fullest expression in Troilus and Criseyde.

In 1386 Chaucer was member of parliament for Kent, but in the same year he resigned his customs post, although in 1389 he was appointed Clerk of the King's Works (resigning in 1391). After finishing Troilus and his translation into English prose of Boethius' De consolatione philosphiae, Chaucer started his Legend of Good Women. In the 1390s he worked on his most ambitious project, The Canterbury Tales, which remained unfinished at his death. In 1399 Chaucer leased a house in the precincts of Westminster Abbey but died in 1400 and was buried in the Abbey.

Read More

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

The Canterbury Tales: A Retelling 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
bjboyle More than 1 year ago
I love the Canterbury Tales - and read the middle english version in college. I thought this book would be neat to read and see if it held up to my imagined telling. I downloaded the Sample for my Nook Color - the only problem is that the sample isn't nearly long enough. 12 pages. It doesn't even get you through the introduction. I was curious to see the content before I bought the book, but I wasn't able to see any. So, if you are thinkning of doing to same - don't waste your time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
For one who has never been able to wade through the English of "The Canterbury Tales" this is an enlightening experience. It allows the reader to experience one of the classics and the period in which it was written without having to translate into current verbiage. Ackroyd is to be complemented on a most worth undertaking.
EdithHankel More than 1 year ago
Excellent "retake" for modern readers -- but read the original first --
JWChichetto More than 1 year ago
This is a striking retelling of Chaucer's TALES by one of UK's best living authors, Peter Ackroyd. All of Chaucer's characters are alive and well in these stories, which Ackroyd does a masterful job translating. My favorite characters, the Wife of Bath and the Pardoner, are as big as life, appointing wit and weight to every word and syllable of their delightful tales. Under their hearts the road trip to Canterbury is as teeming with life as any thoroughfare of Europe and all the pilgrims' destinies, at least on the surface, are as one and undivided as their own. Ackroyd does a brilliant job trickling down and distilling Chaucer's genius and age into our own idiom. I am sure Chaucer himself would prize the translation (as would Rabelais). As for the Wife of Bath, what would she say? "Brilliant job, Sir Peter! These are my last words. I die in peace!" I highly recommend this book. James Wm. Chichetto
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When I picked this book up at the bookstore and read the Prologue I knew I wanted to read the rest. I am familiar with Mr. Achroyd's other books so I was interested in what his updating of Chaucher's tales would be. While at university I had read the tales in Middle English with copious footnotes. It was not a difficult labour, just slower than my usual reading speed. I think there will be some argument that Chaucer's poetry will be lost, of course some of it will when rendered into prose. But for me upon reading this prose version I can still hear Chaucer's voice. I can still hear his poetry. If one is coming to Chaucer for the first time I would recommend that you start with the orginal. But if you are returning to Chaucer once again for what I think is a delightful read than by all means read this update. If on the other hand you are coming to Chaucer for the frist time and are daunted by Middle English than this could service as and introduction. I think it could serve the reader doing in either direction.