Even when reading thousand page tomes, I don’t give “in progress” reports. I’m making an exception because I’m taking a break from this book.
While you probably recognize the author, you probably don’t recognize the title, even though this book published eighty years ago made Lewis’ reputation as an authority on Medieval and Renaissance literature–his “day job” at Oxford then Cambridge for much of his life.
Why not? Dry. It reads like the scholarly work it is. Dense. Works are quoted in their original language. Opaque. The explanatory notes are often in French, Latin or Old English. This is probably the worst work by Lewis still in print, but it is still in print because it is such a masterpiece of scholarship.
Why read it at all? Aside from bragging rights about reading an often-unread work by Lewis, this work opens a world as different to us as the wildest science fiction or fantasy from to later flow from the pens of Lewis or his friend and colleague, J. R. R. Tolkien. A world where people believed, thought and acted differently than ours. “The deepest of worldly emotions in this period is the love of man for man, the mutual love of warriors who die together fighting against odds, and the affection between vassal and lord.” Lewis directly addressed the differences in his The Discarded Image, well worth the reader’s time and imminently readable.
The modern reader will be repelled, but rewarded by wading through the swamps of scholarly prose. “If there is any safe generalization in literary history it is this: that the desire for a certain kind of product does not necessarily beget the power to produce it, while it does tend to beget the illusion that it has been produced.”
I’ve learned more than I wanted to learn. Among which is that Lewis at his worst is better than many moderns at their best.