'The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature' by C.S. Lewis

On a clear, starlit night, go outside and look at the stars.

Try to imagine what it was like looking up at the night sky in Mediaeval times -the stars were eternal and unchanging, occupying a perfect sphere next to God.

See if you can see a planet (they are brighter and do not twinkle like stars, being much closer to the earth). Imagine that that object has an actual influence over you and the way in which you behave.

The Discarded Image was the last book that C.S. Lewis wrote, and in essence it summarises a number of lectures and talks he gave on the subject of Medieval and Renaissance Literature, a subject he taught for the greater part of his lifetime. The ‘image’ that has been ‘discarded’ is the general picture of history, science, and theology that served as the foundation for literature in the Western world from the turn of the first millennium A.D. up until around the early 1600s.

It’s probably my favourite non-fiction book, along with Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism. Lewis elegantly describes how the pieces made up the whole, giving a world view which to all intents and purposes gave as complete a picture of the universe as we have today from modern physics, as far as the ordinary reader or viewer is concerned. The extremely knowledgeable Lewis outlines how authors, historians, philosophers, and religious writers wrote about the various facets of the world they knew.

If you want to understand Lewis’s fictive creations -not just Narnia and its inhabitants, but also the planets of the Space Trilogy, as well as the bureaucratic Hell of The Screwtape Letters, you’d be wise to read The Discarded Image. For example, in a