From the eighth to the fourteenth century, places of wonder and dread appear in a wide variety of genres in Old and Middle English: epics, lays, romances, saints' lives, travel narratives, marvel collections, visions of the afterlife. These places appear in narratives of the other world, a term which in Old and Middle English texts refers to the Christian afterlife: Hell, Purgatory, even Paradise can be fraught with wonder, danger, and the possibility of harm. But in addition to the other world, there are places that are not theologically separate from the human world, but that are nevertheless both marvellous and horrifying: the monster-mere in Beowulf, the Faerie kingdom of Sir Orfeo, the demon-ridden Vale Perilous in Mandeville's Travels, or the fearful landscape of the Green Chapel in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Fraught with horror or the possibility of harm, these places are profoundly different from the presented or implied home world of the text.
I argue that the heart of this poetics of marvellous spaces is displacement. Their wonder and dread comes from boundaries that these places blur and cross, from the resistance of these places to being known or mapped, and from the deliberate distancing between these places and the home of their texts. This overarching concern with displacement encourages the migration of iconographic motifs, tropes, and themes across genre boundaries and theological categories.
My dissertation investigates how Old and Middle English narratives create places of wonder and dread; how they situate these places metaphysically between the world of living mortals and the world of the afterlife; how they furnish these places with dangerous topography and monstrous inhabitants, as well as with motifs, with tropes, and with thematic concerns that signal their marvellous and fearful nature.