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Essay on Children's Versions of "The Cantebury Tales"

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Being a work filled with an unprecedented “wealth of fascinating characters”, Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales has been translated and retold in many versions over the years (Cohen 7-8). Unavoidably translations and retelling require choices made by writers and editors of how to represent things and what to include, which can easily change aspects of the original story. The most difficult retellings may be versions written for children as writers not only have to deal with modernizing the language but also simplifying stories which feature adult themes, including corruption of the church, sex, marriage, adultery, for a younger audience. This essay will look at children’s versions of The Canterbury Tales retold by Barbara Cohen, who uses a fairy tale style, Geraldine McCaughrean, who uses the format of an illustrated novel, and Marcia Williams', who uses a comic book style. Overall these stories all manage to impart the essence of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales in a modern presentation for children.
When looking at children’s versions of The Canterbury Tales it is interesting to take note of which tales are included and which are left out. Each of the children’s books looked at include some sort of prologue and conclusion to give the tales context the same as Chaucer’s story. The children’s versions of “The General Prologue” tend to simplify things by sticking to the basic plot points, the pilgrims all meeting at the inn and Bailey’s suggestion of each taking turns telling stories as they travel and drawing straws to decide what order to tell the tales in. They leave out the detailed description of each pilgrim and poetic, sensual descriptions of spring seen in Chaucer’s opening verses as seen in the Norton edition. An e...


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...ates the text beneath it, but also adds to the story with dialogue in Middle English. The images assist young readers in teasing out the meaning of Chaucer’s language. Also, along the bottom of each page is illustrations of the pilgrims as they journey towards Canterbury. In addition to presenting images of the tale and the pilgrims, the margins of each page feature birds or other animals commenting on the tales as if they are reading along with readers.
Upon reviewing three versions of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales done as children’s storybooks, one can see that Chaucer’s tales are essencially timeless and can be enjoyed today as they were in the Middles Ages. While the amazing poetic skill of Chaucer’s work is not included in the modern children’s versions, which are written in simple prose, the key plot points are kept, unbowdlerized even for young readers.


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