The Variety of Riddles

The variety of riddles may be analyzed in a number of ways.

Charles W. Kennedy, for example, concentrates on

the identity of unmasked riddle subjects.

He says of the riddles:

They constitute a mosaic of the actualities of daily experience:
a record of man's observing companionship with bird and beast,
a listing of the things of which his daily life was woven,
the food and drink that assuaged his hunger and thirst,
the tools with which he toiled, his instruments of music,
and the weapons and armor with which he fought.

The range of subjects drawn from Old English life is notable.

Among familiar birds we find
the cuckoo, hawk, jay, nightingale, owl, swallow, and swan.
The animals of country life are represented
by the bullock, cock and hen, dog, hedge-hog, ox, sow, badger, wolf.
The list of implements and utensils of rustic life is especially wide-ranging, including
the bucket, churn, flail, lock and key, loom, millstone, plow, poker, wine-cask, and wagon.
Various food stuffs are mentioned,
as are also ale, beer, mead, and wine.
Fishery and the sea are represented
by the anchor, boat, fish, oyster, a storm at sea, the wake of a ship.
The ever-present threat of violence and war is reflected
in the many descriptions of weapons and items of armor:
the bow, dagger, helmet, lance, coat of mail, scabbard, shield, sword, and sword-rack24.

. .

Kennedy's list of subjects gives us an insight into the scope of riddlic mimesis, but it ignores the literary masks. The record of subjects is real, but the parade of disguises is surreal. The bagpipe is a bird that sings through its foot, the rake scruffs like a dog along walls, the wine-cup sings a seductress's song, and the bookworm is a plundering beast that wolfs down a tribal heritage 25. Baum classifies riddles according to both subject (e.g., "Natural Phenomena," "Birds," "Music," "Weapons") and technique (e.g., "Chiefly Christian," "Runic," "Obscene"),26 but the problem with this is that riddles often cross categories. The horn, for example, is both battle-weapon and musical instrument; the magpie is a runically riddled bird; the sun is a heavenly body portrayed as the thane of Christ; and the sword is a weapon that refers obscenely to its phallic double. Also, since the Old English riddles, unlike their Latin cousins, contain no entitled solutions, the hidden subjects change over the years with editorial judgments and shifting critical perceptions. Since 1943, nearly half of Kennedy's solutions have been challenged by various critics.27