Literature: The Discarded Image

The Discarded Image is a series of lectures, later collected for print, in which C. S. Lewis told of the Medieval worldview, or the System, as he calls it, and its effect on literature of the time (and a bit afterwards - Dante features as an example). Very useful.


Some of the tropes discussed in this book:

  • All Myths Are True: Not true per se (you don't actually believe in Hermes and Athena, do you?), but the medievals tended to believe what they read, and what they had to read was eclectic.
  • But I Read a Book About It: Lewis explains that in the Middle Ages there were no textbooks - bestiaries are not meant to teach about how animals actually behave, but how men ought, with a heavy dose of literary tradition that was chic to know. Same goes for maps and many other medieval writings. If you wanted a practical skill, you had to learn it from someone.
  • Earth Is the Center of the Universe: Erm, yes and no. In the material order of things, sure. But in the spiritual order Earth is sort of the suburbs. (See The Space Trilogy for a literary depiction)
  • Epic Catalogue: The medievals loved catalogues of any sort, not always in epic poetry.
  • The Fair Folk: Lewis mentions several medieval theories on what, exactly, they are.
  • Shout-Out: Since medieval culture was such a bookish one, these abounded.
  • Tropes Are Tools: Tropes and figures are a sort of language - they mean things (has it changed?). The medievals didn't value originality of plot very much - they tried to tell edifying stories the best way possible.