Geoffrey Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales

Seymour Chwast. Bloomsbury, $20 (144p) ISBN 978-1-60819-487-2
Reimagining a 14th-century masterpiece for a modern audience proves to be extremely difficult. Readers who want a very fast survey of the Tales will be satisfied, for famed designer Chwast summarizes everything, not ducking the Miller's enthusiastic bawdiness and the Prioress's pious anti-Semitism. Some of his updatings are clever: the pilgrims travel on motorbikes, and their dialogue frequently uses contemporary slang; in addition, the cartoony style and overall design sometimes work to emphasize a story's point. On the other hand, Chaucer's work hasn't lasted so much because of the tales' plots but because of the personality each pilgrim shows and the subtle way Chaucer handles the interaction of tales and tellers. Chwast's more bombastic approach creates an amusing surface, but doesn't really try to translate the substance of the original. While his bare-bones style simplifies some elements, the elements of the stories stay well-defined. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 06/27/2011
Release date: 08/01/2011
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