The Discarded Image

You probably know that CS Lewis was a professor of literature at Oxford, not just the guy who wrote the Narnia books.  I was interested to read his thoughts in his academic specialty, and literary criticism interests me, so I read The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature.  To my surprise and delight, the book turns out to be not only about literature, but about how medieval writers were influenced by the ancient world, and how that influenced their understanding of the world.

Lewis writes that every era has its own Model for understanding the universe, and argues that although our modern conception is that our Model is right and previous models were flat wrong, that’s not the whole story.  I found the book completely fascinating from a philosophical perspective, as well as satisfying in its literary and historical aspects.

Since I’ve been reading about the ancient world, and read extensively from ancient and medieval literature in college, I enjoyed seeing the historical connections between the eras, especially the consideration of how ancient education and medieval education had so many parallels, and how false the common understanding of pagan versus Christian intellectual conflicts is.  As Lewis writes, “The modern who dislikes the Christian Fathers would have disliked the Pagan philosophers equally, and for similar reasons.”

The Discarded Image is a very thoughtful book, and lends itself to reading in short chunks, so that you can process the ideas.  I’m adding this to the list of books to read again before we study the medieval period next year, because of the incredible insightsinto how people thought and understood their world in that era.

If you’re interested in literary criticism, or how philosophy and literature and history intersect, or the medieval period, I’d recommend this book.


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