I grew up on Golden Age Radio, I love to learn about a great many things, and I enjoy a wide variety of genres. Me, bored? Never!
The Canterbury Tales has withstood the test of time because within them, Chaucer paints character portraits of the kinds of people he met in his time. I have read both modern translations and translations that are closer to Chaucer's original, keeping in mind that English was a foreign language back then compared to anything we understand now. It's the kind of thing that makes Shakespeare far easier to understand. In fact, I had the same problem with Shakespeare and Chaucer both back in school in that I felt like I was missing a vital ingredient in truly being able to understand and appreciate them.
While it took some time to get through this because I was constantly comparing the audio with the printed versions I have, I found that the extra time was well spent. I have a love for the printed word, but I tend to learn and retain information better through audio. As much as I hate to admit it, reading something like this is more akin to literary scholarship than it is reading an anthology of short stories as it might have been in Chaucer's day. I found this audio version to be of immense value in that I could hear the stories perhaps as Chaucer himself might have told them to other people that he met along the way. The character studies become people, even if they are perhaps exaggerated here and there, and that sort of thing helps to bring both this work - and the history of the time in which it was written - to vibrant life. And now that my appreciation has grown enough to catch up to my curiosity, I can truly say that I understand now that it's not simply the age of the work that makes The Canterbury Tales the classics they are. It's the character studies and the stories that make them the classics they are.
As with any translation, there is the risk of potentially losing something. Advanced scholars might be more inclined to try the original versions after hearing this. As it is, maybe it's the style, but it seemed to me pretty close. Most of what I didn't translate well for me was more a case of not understanding some of the vocabulary of the age, which is why I kept comparing the printed texts; I had to keep looking things up as some things that were common in Chaucer's time simply do not exist in ours. Again, well worth it, I think, though I understand most won't take that kind of time or effort. Audio will probably help considerably. There's something about hearing things in context that help a reader to fill in the gaps. If you love old literature, or if you have a fascination with the Middle Ages as I do, this is positively a must-read, for through the arts we better understand our histories.
Maybe I'm just biased, but I've always enjoyed this book. This rendition of it made me fall in love with it all over again.
I love the Arthurian legends, but this used to be merely one of the collection for me. Superior as a story, but I don't think I appreciated blank verse poetry nearly as much back then. The last few years, I've made some personal strides on the poetic front, having learned how to finally appreciate Shakespeare, Chaucer, Byron, Shelley, and a great many others. Having returned to this one after a few years with this new appreciation, this might very well be my favorite version of the Arthur tales now. Funny how that happens sometimes.
I've picked up Audio Connoisseur titles in the past, and I've been impressed by them, both in quantity of extra information and in appreciation of the narrator. For most of my experiences, Charlton Griffin has been the performer. This guy is amazing when it comes to delivery in the classic style. I highly recommend his version of Milton's Paradise Lost for comparison.
What kind of extras are here? There is a bio of Tennyson, which I always find helpful. Knowing the artist makes for better appreciation of the art. There is an Edison recording of Tennyson reading his poem "The Charge of the Light Brigade," which for an old radio geek like me is awesome beyond words. Fair warning: you'll want a print copy to read along with because the quality is less than acceptable, but still... it's cool to have it there anyway. There is extended synopsis and analysis, so nobody's expecting you to be dropped in head first. And before the Idylls get going, there's Griffin's performance of Tennyson's classic "The Lady of Shallot." I truly wish more of his related poetry had made it into this collection, but I'll take what I can get.
On a personal appreciation level, I've found that digging into Arthurian legend and the medieval history that inspires it to be every bit as complex as digging into Tolkien's Middle-Earth. It's easy to connect the dots back and forth too, the more you dig. No doubt that has a considerable amount of my newfound appreciation for this work. Granted, most people won't do that kind of work unless it's a specialization for them. I'm strictly an amateur on this, not a tenured professor or anything, but I've been around the block enough to see an evolution in how these stories are put together. Combine that with a recently-gained appreciation for the poetic, which I've mentioned, I can look at this work in a number of ways. I see it as a pinnacle of the Arthurian legend, certainly. But I can also see it as the pinnacle of the Victorian quest to reignite the flame of romantic chivalry. That speaks to me. If that idea speaks to you as well, then I highly recommend this one.
The translator's introduction is invaluable for getting across the exact point of what this version is all about. The medieval version of this poem is alliterated, and rather than directly translate the words to modern English for the sake of the story, liberties have been taken to recreate the poetry of the alliteration and verse meter while. The story is therefore a more liberal translation, but serves quite well on that point for those seeking poetry over linguistics.
There are a number of versions of this tale told throughout the ages, and much like with any legend from the Arthurian lineup, I find myself seeking out multiple versions to compare and contrast how they've evolved. As I am not well-versed in medieval English, I find this translation to be welcome for it's preservation of the poetic form. I've read a number of prose translations over the years, and much like with The Iliad and The Odyssey, I feel like I've come closer to appreciating the poet's original intent when presented with a version such as this where the poetry itself takes center stage. It's made that much more so when the translator, via the narrator, connects this story backwards from Arthur's Briton to the fall of Troy.
The narrator reminds of me of a historian you might see on PBS. He sounds scholarly enough to get the point across that he's the surrogate for the translator, but at the same time he offers a quiet dignity to the tale itself, calling the listener back to the original poet, perhaps reciting his work around a campfire to a cadre of soldiers. All in all, a superb rendition, one that any medievalist or Arthurian enthusiast should seek out.