There and back : A tale of two pilgrimages
Those of you who know the Canterbury Tales will know that Chaucer originally intended each of the thirty-odd pilgrims to tell two tales on the outward journey and two on the return, making one hundred twenty tales in all. Either Chaucer died before completing the scheme or at some stage thought better of it and would have substituted a more modest commitment had he lived to edit it. Nonetheless, I have often wondered whether the return journey tales would have been different in tone and character from the ones told on the outward journey, whether the pilgrims’ experiences in Canterbury, sacred or profane, might have changed them and whether those changes might have found their way into the tales they told.
In Mr Blackwood’s Fabularium it was never my intention to mimic Chaucer or re-tell any of his tales in a Victorian setting. What I did want to do was to complete Chaucer’s scheme – in other words, to have my Victorian excursionists return home in some way altered – exhilarated, disappointed, fulfilled, educated, appalled – by their experiences of the Great Exhibition. The outward stories are more traditional and are meant to have a folk tale feel to them, whilst the return journey ones are meant to seem more modern, as if the excursionists have passed through the portals of the Crystal Palace and come out laden with recognisably modern anxieties about money, class and social justice.
A last thought. I am not the only person to have wondered what the Canterbury Tales might have looked like had Chaucer complete them. An anonymous fifteenth century poet attempted to complete the story of the round trip in the fragmentary Tale of Beryn, whose Prologue describes the adventures of the pilgrims in Canterbury. For anyone interested, this is the Wikipedia link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prologue_and_Tale_of_Beryn