Graphic humour on the road to Canterbury

23rd February 2007 at 00:00
Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

Retold and illustrated by Marcia Williams

Walker Books pound;10.99

9 to 14-year-olds

It is a great pity that most children are put off studying Chaucer by his language. They take one look at Middle English and switch off, dispirited by the challenge. And so they miss out on the richness of the poetry, Chaucer's vivid portrayal of human nature, the wisdom of his morality, his jokes, his bawdiness.

The Animated Canterbury Tales, produced for television in the late 1990s, were successful in bringing the stories to life for a contemporary young audience while retaining the spirit of the original language. Marcia Williams has done the same in her most recent collection of illustrated retellings (Shakespeare, Dickens, Homer and Virgil have all had the treatment).

While retaining vignettes of the original text, she presents an inspired and agile graphic account of some of the best-known stories of the Canterbury pilgrims, as they wend their way from Southwark through Kent to the shrine of Thomas ... Becket. The pilgrims' journey is portrayed with wit and affection in a strip that runs along the bottom of each page, while key tales are presented in cartoons penned with ingenious verve and clarity and huge lashings of lavatory humour. The stories come to life instantly, opening a window on to the magic of the language. A character sitting in a pastoral landscape on the opening spread gives critical advice about Chaucer's English: "Read it aloud or you'll go bonkers!" Quite.

This is Marcia Williams at her very, very best. An invaluable introduction to this father of bards for both primary and secondary pupils

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