“an almost obsessive concern with measuring distance and mapping location. The distances to and from the reader’s stops on this strange journey through a fabulous eastern landscape are carefully measured out on two different scales, by direction (south of), or topography (near a river; on an island). The effect of these descriptive directions is to paint a mental map of the east, with location, distance, and landmarks all clearly located.” (48)
This notion is somewhat similar to that espoused by Lisa Verner in The Epistemology of the Monstrous in the Middle Ages (New York: Routledge, 2005), who refers to the Wonders as “geographically linear.” (65) Both of these texts are right to note the obsessive focus on geography in the Wonders, but if carefully observed, the directions are seen not to locate the monsters clearly but rather, to dislocate them, and to confuse and muddy our understanding of eastern geography, rather than to clarify it. If we were to actually follow the directions (those which can be followed—some are complete non sequiturs and others are so vague that they only confuse, such as those that being “[O]n summon lande,” or “In a certain land…”), we would have to travel, it seems west, east, south, west, east, north, west, south and finally north again. This image (click it for a larger and more legible version) shows my very loose and intentionally quixotic attempt to map the journey described by the Wonders on the Cotton Map, the earliest medieval mappaemundi, and that closest in date to the Wonders (and bound with an illustrated copy of the Marvels of the East, a bilingual work derived from the Wonders). This journey is by no means “linear,” nor does it really help us to get a good sense of location. Instead, these vaguely described and depicted beings seem to exist in a land where boundaries are fluid. The result is that here, unlike on the Psalter Map, the giant, anthropophagous monsters are not contained, not locked into tidy boxes in distant Africa and India, but rather, like the promised post-Apocalyptic hordes of Gog and Magog, they have been loosened upon the world.
Blurton is interested more in identity than diet, really, as am I. In her discussion of the Mermedonias, she raises an excellent question related to this topic: The description of the “sylfætan,” or “self-eaters” “contains an inner contradiction … they only eat strangers.” (32) This, she notes, serves “as a locus for the consideration of the relationship between self and other.” (33) If Mermedonia is confused with Britain, if the English are cannibals, if monsters are human, and if the Wonders are not clearly delineated and contained, what remains to articulate the boundaries of humanity?