Saturday, September 24, 2011

More Medieval Mayhem

I just don't get tired of it. Another book is on its way to the bookstores. Another murder. Another puzzle for my brave protagonist to solve. And this time, instead of his familiar London setting, he takes off for Canterbury. And the action takes place in the cathedral, hence the frontis piece below. This is a skewed retelling of the Canterbury Tales, only this time with murder.

My love affair with the Canterbury Tales started quite early in life. Raised in a household where the love of history was not only welcomed but encouraged, I found myself surrounded by the medieval. We had historical novels on the shelves and I devoured those written by the stars of that era: Nora Lofts, Thomas B. Costain, Anya Seton. But we also had a plethora of textbooks and nonfiction histories just for the asking. Little did I know I was learning something!

One of my favorite fiction books was the children's version of the Canterbury Tales--with the bawdier stories left out, of course. My mother also had some recordings on records of an actor reciting the prologue and some of the tales in Chaucer's language of Middle English. I knew this was supposed to be English, but the strangely lyrical cadence of this other English was very alluring, and consequently, I was probably the only kindergartner who could recite part of the Chaucer's Middle English!

I was immediately drawn into this story of many diverse people traveling together, wiling away the hours telling each other tales, bickering, laughing--just being people even I recognized. I especially liked the tale of Chanticleer and the Loathely Lady and all the other stories told on the journey. I was truly devastated to get to the end and discover that Chaucer died before he could finish! Who would win the contest of telling the best story? Would they all get home to London all right?

After a few years I read it in its entirety, with modern English side by side to the Middle English. I was able to marvel at the beautiful rendition on the illuminated manuscript, whose unknown artist rendered each of the pilgrims, including Chaucer himself. This is the Ellsemere manuscript and it can be found at the Huntington Library in San Moreno, California, one of those museums I haunted as a kid.

It was in my blood, I guess, so I've been chomping at the bit to include Chaucer in Crispin's tale ever since. And while I was at it, I might as well send Crispin to Canterbury where he can encounter some of those pilgrims mentioned. Crispin and Geoffrey were old friends, both serving in Lancaster's household and Crispin is well aware of Chaucer's ambitions as well as his talent for poetry.
“Put me in one of your poems and you’re a dead man," he growls to his old friend, knowing that Geoffrey's use of symbolism can well mean he will be used in ways that might embarrass him. Does Crispin end up being the model for the old knight at the end of his days, who tells the tale of courtly love and honor? I guess you can see for yourself.

The novel will be released October 11 and I can't wait!


Sheila Connolly said...

Love the cathedral plan. Love any cathedral, since in another lifetime I was a medievalist! I'll watch for the book.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

"Strangely lyrical cadence" really nails Chaucer's Middle English, Jeri. "Whan that Aprille with its showres soote..." Learned in college almost fifty years ago, still remember most of the beginning up to "then longen folke to go on pilgrimages." (To rhyme with "garages.")

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Just remembered the next two lines:
"and palmeres for to seeke straunge strandes/something something something sundry landes." Now ask me what I ate for breakfast. ;)

Sandra Parshall said...

I love the period you write about, Jeri. Not sure I'd want to live there, but I enjoy visiting. :-) It was such a rich time in history -- and you evoke it beautifully in your books.

Barb Goffman said...

Looking forward to the book!

Julia Buckley said...

It sounds terrific, Jeri! Congratulations on another writing (and publishing) adventure.

Jeri Westerson said...

I was especially excited to get a frontis piece!

Jeri Westerson said...

I know, Liz. I can recall bits of it--I can even hear that actor doing Chanticleer--but can't recall it all anymore. Let alone what I had for breakfast!