Below is my list of recommended books to help you understand and appreciate the Middle Ages and all of the literary delight they offer. Some of these are directly referenced in my comics, and others provide good historical background. I will update these whenever I think it will be helpful, and hope you enjoy everything you decide to pick up.
(Please consider purchasing the books below from your local bookshop)
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Broadview Press. Edited, Translated by James Winny.
This is my go-to copy of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and the one I referenced the most. It contains both the Middle English and the modern translation arranged as facing pages, which is a nice way to become acquainted to the slightly more difficult northern dialect. You can also find free translations online, some of which I’ve linked to elsewhere, but it never hurts to have an official copy with its translation notes and introductions.
The Canterbury Tales
Penguin Classics. Edited, Translated by Nevill Coghill.
Nevill Coghill’s translation of The Canterbury Tales is the best of the best. He manages to maintain the rhythm and feel of the original while also making the modern version a delight to read. There are a few liberties taken to keep the rhyme scheme in tact, but I promise it’s well worth the subtle differences from the original. Chaucer’s English is not so foreign that you couldn’t read the Middle English if you’re really picky about that sort of thing, in which case do yourself a favour and splurge for The Riverside Chaucer.
The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England
Vintage. Ian Mortimer.
I have two copies of this book (TWO!), because of how good it is and how regularly I reference it. You would be hard-pressed to find a more complete picture of life in the Middle Ages. Sure, you could piece it all together through historical documents and the like, but there’s little point when something as clearly written and fun to read as Mortimer’s text exists. If you’re even the slightest bit interested in the topic, pick up a copy. You will never regret it.
Reynard the Fox
Bodleian Library. Retold by Anne Louise Avery.
This new edition and retelling of Reynard the Fox by Anne Louise Avery is a marvel of modern storytelling and medieval fable. I’ll admit I’m a bit biased toward a good Beast Fable ;), and I found it hard to put her translation down when I got my greedy paws on a copy. She adds flourishes and footnotes that add to the whole fun of the Reynard fable, and this is very likely going to be my preferred copy for years to come (sorry Caxton).
Other useful Links
- British Library “Beastly tales from the medieval bestiary“