Pilgrim’s Prize (Pt.17): Sir Topaz (Chaucer Journal)
Not much to say here: well, other than that this is a really, really bad story and only an author as skilled as Chaucer—the real-life Chaucer, not the in-book Chaucer—could have written poetry as bad as this on purpose.
The narrative concerns Sir Topaz. He is a knight (ostentatiously). He has some weird garments, long hair (a bit of a hippy, really). Grey horse. Leather. Honestly, if this tale didn’t take place in the Middle Ages, I would call him Gay, but moving on. Topaz goes on a quest (if you can call it that). There is some environmental descriptions, he meets a giant… the host interrupts the tale of Sir Topaz, told by the in-book Chaucer—and says that it is so bad it must end. Now. So… the end. Hooray!
So, it should be said that this is a comedy piece. Narratively, what the tale of Sir Topaz represents is a subversion of the very story-telling system which The Canterbury Tales has set up. Prior to this tale, what would happen is that each pilgrim had a chance to tell a tale to “one up” the previous tale-teller. Now, though, that equilibrium has been upset and thrown out. For the first time, a tale-teller is interrupted and the linear idea of progress, of each tale being larger and more comprehensible than the last, is revealed to be a myth.
As an idea, it works well and serves to give the reader a break. This is much needed since reading this tale filled me with rage.
The unnamed modern tale-teller keeps this tradition alive. They give us a tale using memes, essentially. Technically speaking, the images are actually those inspirational images of people and environments in inspiring poses and places. Instead of inspiring dialog, though, these stock photo images have bland poetry describing the story of Sir Topaz.
What makes this incarnation amusing is that the author must purposefully do a bad job. And the teller here lives up to our expectations. For each part of the tale, the teller re-uses the same images from the previous part while the tale becomes more unhinged. The net result is that you, as the reader, become more confused and frustrated as you try and differentiate images and events. By the time you reach the final part, though, and find the tale has been stopped by whatever merciful God you worship, you become relieved.
In that spirit, then, I give this tale a 7.5/10. If not for entertainment but for execution.