Here is yet another of the articles I promised as part of my Candlemas Resolutions. I have only four days to review the theological work and the Japanese one; otherwise, I shall fail to keep my resolutions in the very first month I made them! And I should send little e-mail to TWWK ere then too. Vae! Sunt multa facienda, sed tempus fugit!
At any rate, let me get on to C. S. Lewis’ The Discarded Image. This work marks the last book of Lewis’s published while he still lived. These two hundred and twenty-three pages refreshed my knowledge of Medieval Model of the universe. Lewis both delineates the major features of the model and offers details which will please readers more versed in the Middle Ages. By the way, medievals and yours truly have much in common, and I think that highlighting these similarities as I write about the major points of The Discarded Image will amuse my dear readers.
A fundamental trait in the medieval psyche is its bookishness. Lewis is quick to remind us that when we call the Middle Ages the Age of Authority, authority is held not only by the Church but by many other authorities. The word author derives from the word for authority. Any classical work to survive the ravages of time and to fall into a medieval scholar’s hands was placed on the level of Gospel truth–unless it conflicted the Gospel, of course. Lewis writes that the idea that a book could lie would be met by shock during this period of history. Also, Lewis does a marvelous job listing the major classical authorities for a medieval scholar. With his Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius seems to have taken first place, and Lewis remarks that even well into modernity it would have been hard to find an educated person who had not read it.
Link to Medieval Otaku: Any time I write about a rather difficult topic, I quote authority. Those of you with whom I’ve had long discussions with in the comments sections know that I even will point to an authority even when not especially necessary. I used to frustrate my mentor in the seminary the same way. 🙂 Also, like the medievals, I am a classicist.
Because of this reliance on authority, medieval authors preferred to transmit stories rather than devise new ones. They strove for accuracy rather than originality in a way repugnant to modern sensibilities, but Lewis reminds us that medieval authors often became most original when they tried to convey the facts accurately! Almost as if they needed to rely on invention so that they could tell things more truly. Perhaps, the greatest example of the striving for accuracy through close adherence to the authorities of the past is Dante’s Divine Comedy. What other work relies so heavily on allusions and yet bears such a strong stamp of originality?
Link to Medieval Otaku: I have a similar tendency to praise works which might seem less creative to others because of their excessive borrowing. I praise Shiki for retelling Beowulf by means of the vampire genre, Kill la Kill would not be so good if had not borrowed ideas from Aeschylus’s Oresteia, and a major part of Arpeggio of Blue Steel‘s greatness lies in its use of the Gospel and Acts of the Apostles.
The third aspect of the Medieval Model to focus on is its hierarchical structure. God makes the universe hierarchical by placing each creature on a specific spot on the Great Chain of Being. In high school, you probably learned about this, but here is the divinely instituted order: non-living things, plants, animals, human beings, angels, and God. Rational beings have the higher places and irrational beings the lower. Lewis makes the discussion on the Great Chain of Being more interesting by adding the Longaevi (fairies, elves, sylphs, etc.) to the chain. The medieval opinion on these beings ranged from them being a third rational species besides men and angels, the ghosts of dead women, those angels who did not choose a side during the War in Heaven and were banished to the earth, to just plain demons. The last view led to the end of the vitality of fairy tales as may well be imagined.
Link to Medieval Otaku: As a fantasy author, I cannot but add some Longaevi to the stories set in my fantasy world. I call them yoshen, and they bear a stronger resemblance to the youkai found in Japanese folklore and anime. Hopefully, you’ll get to read about them when my novel sees the light of day.
Before Lewis wraps up the work, he describes many theories held by the medievals on nature–both human nature and the nature of the universe. Rather than reading another five hundred words of mine, you should pick up the book to learn Lewis’s erudite explanations. He ends the work by discussing how the prevailing mindset influences the discoveries made in both science and philosophy. After all, do you think that the theory of evolution could have come about outside of the worldview of the Industrial Revolution? Do moderns not see nature as working like technology and capitalism? That’s something to think about! At any rate, be sure to read this book whether you’re a neophyte or more experienced in the study of the Middle Ages. The prose is quite fluid and readable to boot–as one might expect from the author of so many beloved stories!