Space-Time Distortions and Narrow Lines of Communication in “Historia Meriadoci”

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Scholarly readers of the Latin prose romance Historia Meriadoci Regis Cambrie have often noted the text’s strange distortions of time, both in its plot and its narration. Roseanna Cross, for example, argues that the hero’s strange misadventures in a forest where time passes too quickly produce a comedic ‘heterochronia’ drawing attention to the natural world by contrast. Siân Echard, meanwhile, notes the author’s apparent enthusiasm for pausing the narrative to include seemingly random “realistic” details about practical details like the protagonists’ cooking methods, and theorizes that these moments may serve to deflate the genre conventions of romance. In this paper, I seek to offer a new reading of these temporal distortions in the text through their connections with space—specifically, Historia Meriadoci’s repetitive images of confined spaces and narrow openings, which both permit and prevent knowledge and humans from escaping. From the isolated grove in which King Caradoc is assassinated and from which knowledge of the murder spreads despite efforts to make it seem an accident, to the hollow tree whose narrow passage allows the huntsman Ivor to decapitate each of twenty would-be murderers one by one without resistance, to the pathway clogged with horses that delays Meriadoc’s escape from the magical “fast-forward” forest, the text repeatedly emphasizes the role of narrow spaces in containing and directing time, knowledge, and action. These narrow passageways and enclosed spaces, I argue, demonstrate the author’s efforts to highlight not only the ways in which landscape shapes and forestalls human action, but also the transmission and distortion of knowledge, underscoring the fallibility and deceptiveness of the “natural” lines by which the author transmits the “old text” of historical knowledge to his readers.