Reading Matters

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Feb 14th, 2012
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Ever since I first learned to read books have enthralled and fascinated me in a way that almost nothing else has. I have had a love affair with the printed word since I used to fall asleep reading them. Despite admonitions from my mother about ruining my eyesight, I used to read by torchlight under the covers.

I began with the usual children’s books, Little Grey Rabbit, the Beatrix Potter collection, but it didn’t take long for me to branch out. I read voraciously. Even in class at school, I used to have a paperback concealed within the pages of my Physics text book (mind you, if I had known then what I know now, I would have paid more attention in Physics).

It was inevitable that I would do English Literature for one of my A Level subjects, however the unexpected side effect was that I fell in love with Chaucer.

I should at this point admit that the love of Chaucer probably had more to do with the bawdiness of some of his tales, than the high pure emotions of The Knight’s Tale.

But Chaucer has a very powerful place in the history of the printed book. Prior to Chaucer, books were for the elite few, mostly religious in nature and were hand written by monks, in the dark.

Chaucer was the first author to make his stories for the people.

Six centuries later, I decided to buy into that idea. That is exactly what I trying to do with my writing, make it accessible.

But it’s more than that. I loved Chaucer from the first moment I started to learn his work. An antique language, recognisably English, but varied, the pronunciation is melodic, it lends itself to verse. I began with The Wife of Bath’s Tale, her prologue is one of those bawdy stories I mentioned earlier, but her tale conjures up a wistful vision of a time of courtly knights and fairytale ladies. Not that it is not tinged with a gentle humour, particularly against the church. I was always something of a sucker for Arthurian Legend, and The Wife of Bath taps into that.

By the time I had expanded my reading, The Knight’s Tale, The Miller’s Tale, The Reeve’s Tale (very bawdy that one), you could say I was hooked.

Over the years I have read and re-read the stories. I can even quote you large tracts of some of them.

In tholde days of the King Arthour

Of which that Bretons speken greet honour

All was this land fulfild of Fayerye.

The elf queene, with hir joly compaignye,

Daunced ful ofte in many a grene mede;

This was the olde opinion, as I rede.

I still love them as much today as I did when I first encountered them. But it is the language that really does it.

So I had the craziest idea the other day. I was watching Adele’s video for Rolling in the Deep, and I had Went The Day Well on the tv behind it. The two images combined in my brain. Suddenly I had a feel for a short film. The dialogue, in Middle English.

But Middle English hasn’t been a spoken, living language since roughly 1500, so how could this possibly work? There are guides to pronunciation, and once you get into it, it isn’t that hard. So it could work.

Watch this space.


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