This first chapter introduces how riddles work in the tradition of early
medieval England and its neighbours. It argues that the balance between the
communal and individual, struck by Aldhelm in the preface to his Enigmata,
lies at the heart of the early medieval riddling tradition and underlies its
current popularity. A brief reading of Heanmode Twa (Exeter Book Riddle 42)
illustrates the interplay between the demand for solution and the other
kinds of work—on value, literacy, sex, interpretation—that these texts
initiate. An overview of scholarship, from 1857 to the present day, follows.
The chapter notes particularly the past focus on solution-hunting, questions
about genre, different contexts for interpretation, linguistic play, and
categorisation. Above all it stresses the multifarious nature of the riddles
themselves and the scholarship this has inspired. Finally the General
Introduction summarises the book’s chapters, divided into three sections.
Part I, ‘Words’, exemplifies interpretations based on close readings of
texts. Part II, ‘Ideas’, engages with theory to examine how the riddles
invite new ways of thinking about objects, relationships, and experiences.
Part III, ‘Interactions’, showcases the ways in which the riddles lead us to
make connections with other fields, languages, times, and places.