More than six hundred years ago, the Archbishop of Canterbury was murdered by King Henry II?s knights. Before the Archbishop?s blood dried on the Cathedral floor, the miracles began. The number of pilgrims visiting his shrine in the Middle Ages was so massive that the stone floor wore thin where they knelt to pray. They came seeking healing, penance, or a sign from God. Chaucer?s The Canterbury Tales, one of the greatest, most enduring works of English literature, is a bigger-than-life drama based on the experience of the medieval pilgrim. Power, politics, friendship, betrayal, martyrdom, miracles, and stories all had a place on the sixty mile path from London to Canterbury, known as the Pilgrim?s Way.
Walking to Canterbury is Jerry Ellis?s moving and fascinating account of his own modern pilgrimage along that famous path. Filled with incredible details about medieval life, Ellis?s tale strikingly juxtaposes the contemporary world he passes through on his long hike with the history that peeks out from behind an ancient stone wall or a church. Carrying everything he needs on his back, Ellis stops at pubs and taverns for food and shelter and trades tales with the truly captivating people he meets along the way, just as the pilgrims from the twelfth century would have done. Embarking on a journey that is spiritual and historical, Ellis reveals the wonders of an ancient trek through modern England toward the ultimate goal: enlightenment.
Book Review #1:
Ellis, a mystically inclined journalist of English and Cherokee descent, re-creates the Canterbury Tales' central journey on foot in this informative but unsatisfying follow-up to Walking the Trail: One Man's Journey Along the Cherokee Trail of Tears. As in that work, he seeks connections with his ancestry by engaging strangers along the walk, a journalistic method that might seem uniquely unsuited to outlining the English character. Remarkably, though, he connects with a good number of Tales-worthy eccentrics, including a Steve McQueen-loving monk and runaway teenagers who recite Chaucer from memory. Compelling as these characters may be, they never engage the reader; Ellis is satisfied with merely bouncing his own minor revelations off of them. " `Yeah,' I said, `the inner world means something to me as well' " is about where his easily won epiphanies bound along. Happily, he often veers into historical rambles that offer portraits of medieval life. His desire to use every piece of information he's uncovered leads to some leaps (as when a Ronald McDonald statue prompts a mini-essay on the role of jesters), but these are some of the best sections in the book. What is more worth knowing than that French pilgrims carried wax replicas of eyeballs? If only his thoughts about the modern world were equally grounded in fact. Publishers Weekly
Book Review #2:
This charming and thoughtful book takes the reader on a modern-day pilgrimage as Ellis, who explored his Cherokee heritage in Walking the Trail, examines his English ancestry by walking the same path as Chaucer's fictional travelers. His week-long hike is filled with brief encounters with an array of interesting people, including Scotsmen reminiscing about their World War II experiences, a group of teenagers fascinated by Native American culture, and a woman who asks him to pray for her ill husband at the shrine to Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. He spends a night at the same monastery at which medieval pilgrims stopped and there witnesses the moving consecration of a Carmelite nun. Throughout, Ellis finds the welcome opportunity to interweave sections from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales as well as historical information about various aspects of everyday life during Chaucer's times. Black-and-white illustrations from medieval manuscripts are included. At times, Ellis tries a little too hard to make a connection between his journey and Chaucer's tales, but this is nonetheless an appealing account of one small part of his lifelong spiritual journey. Recommended for public libraries. Library journal
Book Review #3:
In the Middle Ages, Canterbury Cathedral was a holy place sought by many a troubled pilgrim. As immortalized in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, those seeking salvation or miracles made long and dangerous journeys, usually on foot, to the small town in southeast England where Archbishop Thomas a Becket was martyred. Ellis, who has walked Pilgrims' Way from London, now shares his experiences. More than simply a tale of a long walk, Ellis fills the pages with lines from Chaucer's most famous work and reflections on what the pilgrimage meant to the faithful. In the journey, he finds the opportunity to reach out to strangers and connect with them emotionally. Though not overtly religious, Ellis writes a great deal about his own spirituality, which owes much to his Cherokee ancestry. It is perhaps this influence that makes everything sacred and allows him to see beauty everywhere. His optimism and sense of peace are so powerful and contagious that even readers in the comforts of home will find this book an affirming spiritual experience. Booklist