One of my favorite books is a little fellow from 1947–Tales from Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, selected tales told for young people . . . from the Heritage Illustrated Bookshelf. It won’t cause any bidding wars. It’s a reprint, for one. And in its former life it took to sunbathing, allowing the slip case and spine to fade. But the contents! Housed within the cover of this book are full color illustrations from Arthur Szyk–the Polish-born illustrator Eleanor Roosevelt referred to as “a one-man army” against Fascism.
As for the tales themselves, well, I think they’re best described in Charles Cowden Clarke’s own words:
To My Young Readers
I HAVE endeavoured to put these Tales, written by one of the finest poets that ever lived, into modern language and into as easy prose as I could, without at the same time destroying the poetical descriptions and strong natural expressions of the author. My object in presenting them in this new form was, first, that you might become wise and good by the example of the sweet and kind creatures you will find described in them; secondly, that you might derive improvement by the beautiful writing (for I have been careful to use the language of Chaucer whenever I thought it not too antiquated for modern and young readers); and, lastly, I hoped to excite in you an ambition to read these same stories in their original poetical dress when you shall have become so far acquainted with your own language as to understand, without much difficulty, the old and now almost forgotten terms.
To the adult reader
THE adult reader (should I be honoured with such), who can scarcely fail to discern an abrupt stiffness in the construction of the sentences in the following Tales, will bear in mind the many complicated difficulties I have had to contend with in retaining, as much as possible, Chaucer’s antique quaintness and distinctive character; in avoiding his repetitions, and yet in incorporating every nervous expression which constitutes the great charm of his graphic descriptions.
The task I proposed to myself was to render my translations literal with the original, to preserve their antique fashion, and withal to give them a sufficiently modern air to interest the young reader. I was to be at one and the same time “modernly antique,” prosaically poetic, and comprehensively concise. He only will appreciate my frequent perplexities who shall attempt the same task—observing the same restrictions.
Needless to say, if you get the chance to add it to your collection, I highly recommend. Here’s just a peek at what you’re missing . . .