Riddle Mastery

OK, so maybe this is not all I have to say on the ancient art of Riddle Mastery...but hey, any true Riddle-Maker worth their salt always keeps an ace or two up her/his sleeve (or, in my case, in a hidden pocket). Look sharp now.

Ancient Greek Sphinx from Delphi

Actual History:
Tis a wonderful thing when a Greek philosopher (whose tomb was just uncovered) speaks fondly of a passion of mine.

"Good riddles do, in general, provide us with satisfactory metaphors; for metaphors imply riddles, and therefore a good riddle can furnish a good metaphor." - Aristotle

Indeed, riddles and Riddle Games are not mere tools, mere elements, of mythology and Fantasy literature alone. Professor Archer Taylor of Pennsylvania, a seminal proverb and riddle scholar and folklorist, says that "we can probably say that riddling is a universal art" and cites riddles from hundreds of different cultures including Finnish, Hungarian, Native American, Chinese, Russian, Dutch and Filipino sources amongst many others. Riddles have been characterized as one of the most important forms of oral art in Africa. 
In the assessment of Elli Köngas Maranda (originally writing about Malaitian riddles, but with an insight that has been taken up more widely), whereas myths serve to encode and establish social norms, "riddles make a point of playing with conceptual boundaries and crossing them for the intellectual pleasure of showing that things are not quite as stable as they seem" though the point of doing so may still ultimately be to "play with boundaries, but ultimately to affirm them." A perfect example of this is the Riddle of the Sphinx, arguably the world's most famous riddle (indeed, I cannot begin to tell you how many times children have given it in an attempt to stump me). 
The Riddle of the Sphinx is: What is the creature that walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three in the evening?
The answer is a human, because a human being walks on all fours in early life, on two legs as an adult and with a walking stick in old age. Of course, arms and canes are hardly legs, but they functionally act like them, thus proving Elli Köngas Maranda's point. Also and on a side note, Sphinxes are famous in world mythology for their riddles – as well as their annoying habit of killing those who fail to answer – making them a sort of mascot for the art of riddlery.

When people ask how I fashion riddles, this is the answer

According to Archer Taylor, "the oldest recorded riddles are Babylonian school texts which show no literary polish," such as the riddle:
My knees hasten, my feet do not rest, a shepherd without pity drives me to pasture = ? 

I, personally, disagree with him as, per my own Riddle Maker mind, I judge the above riddle as perfectly respectable. My only grievance is that the answer was not preserved! AUGH!!

Riddles in Fantasy: 
Anyway, in regards to Fantasy books, many authors put concept of riddles and Riddle Games to use. J.R.R. Tolkien hosts a famous one between Bilbo and Gollum in The Hobbit, the stake being Bilbo's life and freedom.
In The Grey King, the third book of Susan Cooper's fantasy sequence The Dark is Rising, Will and Bran must win a riddle game to gain a...special power necessary for the Light in their war against the Dark.
A sphinx appeared in the third task in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, guarding the final trophy. To get past, one must answer a riddle about a spider.
In Stephen King's The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands and The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass, the ka-tet must riddle against Blaine the Mono in order to save their lives. (Of course, seeing as I have read neither of these books, this is only a secondhand account).

But, in my not entirely humble opinion, no Fantasy author makes better use of riddles than Patricia A. McKillip in her books The Forgotten Beasts of Eld and The Riddle-Master trilogy.
In the latter, the ancient art of riddlery is taught at the College of Caithnard - the study based on books recovered from the ruins of the School of Wizards. The riddles in the series are composed of three parts - the question, the answer, and the stricture - and are both a way of recording history and a guide to living life. Riddles play a crucial role in the series, the main protagonist, Morgon of Hed, beginning his journey by winning the crown of the kings of Aum in a Riddle Game with the ancient ghost of Peven of Aum; Peven had a standing wager going that no one could win a riddle-game with him, and those who lost against him forfeited their lives. (This is not a real spoiler, as the reader learns all this and more within the first chapter or two)
"Beware the unanswered riddle."

Here is an (easy) riddle I created:
What plays with words and logic, yet never tells a lie = ?

Types of Riddles:
Experience has led me to the conclusion that there are four basic types of riddles: Logic, Wordplay, Scenario, and Combination.

Logic - The most common form of riddle; generally describes something in a new way that, while telling the truth, makes it difficult to guess what the thing is.
Example: A box without hinges, key, or lid, yet golden treasure inside is hid = egg

Wordplay - Less common but still widely used (and very hard to make), wordplay riddles are generally words puzzles that often have the answer somehow concealed within the riddle.
Example: When you take away some of me, I remain whole = Wholesome

Scenario - Still common, at least among kids, but of a very different makeup. Typically they are a description of a puzzling situation and the person trying to solve it must figure out how and why it occurred. (This is the one type of riddle I do not deal in; too cumbersome to make and solve, in my opinion).
Example: A man leaves home. He makes three left turns. He returns home and finds two masked men. Who are the masked men? Answer = The umpire and the catcher (i.e. the man is playing baseball)

Combination - A riddle that combines the principles of any of the aforementioned types.
Example (Wordplay/Scenario): One night, a king and a queen went to bed in their room. No one came in and no one went out. In the morning the king and the queen were tied up. Who tied them up? Answer = The knight (admittedly, this riddle works better told aloud as opposed to written, because then there is no question of spelling)
Example (Logic/Wordplay): ---- (Sorry, but I am going to keep these to myself. Torturing people with them is too much fun to spoil by posting the answers here.)

? - There is, actually, a fifth (and not so basic) kind of riddle; but you will to visit the College of Caithnard if you want to learn it.

 Riddle Mastery:
Now, one often hears the term Riddle Master used to describe those who excel in the art of Riddle Games. But I judge the title differently as I have often been called a Riddle Master and yet, paradoxically, am atrocious at answering riddles myself.

Hence I say that there are two kinds of Riddle Masters: the riddle-solver and the riddle-maker, the latter of whom creates riddles. One can be both, of course, but if not, then it is the riddle-makers' task to train the riddle-solvers' in answering, and the riddle-solvers' task to challenge the riddle-makers' in creating.

I, of course, am a riddle-maker, and have trained all those interested in both the skills of answering and and creating - for to be one allows a unique perspective as to the other and, in my experience, riddle-makers are the rarer of the two kinds of Masters.

How might a ferryman leave his boat, yet leave the ferry operating = ?

Here is a hint, provided by Neil Gaiman: only tell the ferryman the answer from a safe distance.

Riddle-Maker Philosophy
It occurs to me that Inquiry Teaching is synonymous with my Riddle-Maker Philosophy. To expand young minds, those minds must find the answer themselves and with limited hints.
It can either be found by, or given to you, when found you understand it, when given you might not = ?

Designing a curriculum is also akin to making a Riddle; working backwards, first you think of what you want to teach and then how to teach it.
As Patricia A. McKillip, author of The Forgotten Beasts of Eld and The Riddle-Master trilogy says, "When caught between the riddle and its answer there is no freedom," which is exactly why Inquiry Teaching has proven to be such an effective method of teaching children (who, in my experience, are the best riddle-solvers). Furthermore, not only are children typically the best riddle-solvers, they, at least in my experience, more often than not become addicted to them and subsequently develop great respect for the riddle-maker.

Beware another Riddle Master

P.S. The reason why I do not post the riddles I make is because the whole reason I create them in the first place is so riddle-solvers cannot look up the answers on the internet. As such, to post them on Stars Uncounted would be counterintuitive.

No comments:

Post a Comment