chapter  3
Wonder, fear, orality and community
Pages 33

Wonder and fear are anatomically related as both rely heavily on the amygdala, which governs memory and is important in the process of these two emotions.1 In support of this idea, some languages, like Greek, have terms that encompass both English fear and wonder.2 Indeed, contemporary English itself betrays this relationship in the interchangeability of terms like awful and terrible (awe-ful and terror-ble). If this link is anatomical, it should come as little surprise that wonder and fear are closely linked in medieval texts. In particular, medieval fears revolved around perceived supernatural phenomena (demons, devils, spirits, ghosts and revenants), notions of hybridity, monstrosity, pollution and bodily corruption, and at times around the idea of an impending apocalypse.3 Two further arguments are made here: that fear was increased by a set of structural conditions, including rurality, monasticism and religiosity, and that fearful phenomena acted as a form of entertainment, possessing the same sort of attractive force for medieval audiences that literature’s horror genre would have in the writings of the likes of Edgar Allen Poe.4 Fearful stories therefore acted as a form of social oral entertainment blending wonder and fear, delight and consternation.