The Discarded Image: An accessible approach to medieval cosmology

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature by C.S. LewisThe Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature by C.S. Lewis

To me, this might be C.S. Lewis‘ best book. I will have to cop to not really liking the NARNIA books (too allegorical, and those British schoolchildren are pretty annoying), and while I do quite like his SPACE TRILOGY, I think that Lewis was much better as a writer of academic non-fiction than he was as a fiction writer. In The Discarded Image, Lewis is able to tackle a huge subject: medieval cosmology and worldview, and bring both his wide reading and ability to make things understandable to the “common man” to the table.

In his eminently readable way Lewis starts by setting the stage, asking his audience (this was originally a series of lectures given to non-academics) to imagine a world according to the view proposed by the ancients and medievals. He also asks us not to judge this view, for many of its assumptions are no less strange than the ones we hold ourselves and our own belief that many of these ancients were foolish and superstitious, unable to distinguish between fact and metaphor in their depiction of the universe, is both pompous and mistaken.

We then move on to Lewis’ discussion of the classical roots of medieval thought and belief, the hallowed place of the auctores in this conception, and the development of the medieval worldview with the melding of classical and Christian thought. We see the major figures taken as authorities and the views that came to be accepted regarding the universe and its inhabitants. The modes of medieval education are also covered, which help to delineate the subjects they thought most important and the major components that went to make these up.

Lewis always keeps things light and accessible, but has a breadth of knowledge and love for his subject that really shines through. I’d consider this book a great introduction to the thoughts and beliefs that the medievals had about their universe and then I’d move on to the SPACE TRILOGY to see how Lewis incorporated these ideas into a science fiction tale that, as part of its basic premise, at least partially takes this cosmology as true. Great stuff.

(In some ways I’d see this as a good companion piece to E.M.W Tillyard’s The Elizabethan World Picture.)


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TERRY LAGO, one of our regular guest reviewers, is a Torontonian who, like all arts students, now works in the IT field. He has been a fan of fantasy ever since being introduced to Tolkien by his older brother when he was only a wee lad, though he has since branched out to enjoy all spectrums of the Fantasy genre and quite a few of the science fiction one as well. Literary prose linked with well-drawn characters are the things he most looks for in a book. You can see what he's currently reading at his Goodreads page.

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