Pilgrim’s Prize (Part 1): General Prologue (Chaucer Journal)

Discovered as I was careening across the medieval web, Pilgrim’s Prize is a modern attempt at recreating The Canterbury Tales; the idea is to create a series of stories, each story an attempt to “one-up” the previous tale and storyteller. Edited by Harry Bailey and performed by a wide variety of people, each tale is wildly different: not all are told in the same medium but all are powerful attempts at re-creating Chaucer’s narrative of creative competition.

                Previously, I have only skimmed these stories, so I cannot say much more on the content until I go through. But, since there is an engagement for each tale of Chaucer’s novel, I will be going through tale-by-tale to see how these adaptations compare to the original; since I will be reading Chaucer’s original tales for the first time before I read these adapted tales, this will be a great chance for me to see with fresh eyes how well such attempts at recreation hold together.

                Understanding this, the first tale which is up is not even a tale. It is just Bailey’s introduction to the project disguised as the General Prologue.

                Normally, introductions are stiff affairs, no matter who is writing them. But on this introduction, I was pleasantly surprised. Bailey manages to charmingly imbue his introduction with a flair of Chaucerian familiarity. Though there are no long-winded descriptions of the pilgrims, he casts himself as Chaucer and recounts how the participants of Pilgrim’s Prize “were all so different and yet all seemed to be going in the same direction: a pilgrimage into the Internet to thank the patron saint of anonymity for helping them recover from whatever it is that life afflicted on them”. Truly, a hilarious yet faithful way to associate religious pilgrimage with what is arguably the modern religion of today—the internet.

                In sum, then, I was satisfied with the General Prologue. While it does not speak much of Chaucer’s original, of which the introduction is one of the most quoted English literary texts of all-time, Bailey’s piece matches his role as the project’s founder as well as successfully relating the idea of the mother text to the adaptation itself. Short and snappy but great all the same.

                Though I would have liked a mock-run down of the participating artists in the same manner that the Host of Chaucer’s book recounts the pilgrims, I suppose this may be forgiven; after all, I am not even sure all the artists were assembled at this point in the project's life, so it is probably not fair to be too harsh on what was out of the editor’s hands. Still, if it was possible for a brief run-down, I would have liked one.

                All in all, I give this entry a solid five out of ten. Not a very high score but this is more for technical reasons than anything else (it is still merely an introduction, after all, and as I said, lacks much of anything as Chaucer related his General Prologue). I will be looking forward to my time in engaging with the first real tale and grilling how it holds up.