Memory and transformative fear in the Exeter Book riddles
in Riddles at work in the early medieval tradition
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Fear and memory are connected to ideas that are essential to riddles: to what initially appears unknown, shadowy and uncertain, as well as to the experience of recognition and the relief stemming from it. This chapter argues that, because of the nature of the poetic riddle and of Old English riddles in particular, memory and fear are their intrinsic sine qua non. It begins by discussing the ways in which memory and fear are related to the riddle on structural, narrative and meta-textually affective levels, before offering a broad overview of the ways in which fear was understood in medieval Christian thought. Finally, it discusses transformative fear in three Exeter Book riddles: XII Hund Heafda (R.86), solved as ‘One-Eyed Seller of Garlic’; Gryrelic Hleahtor (R.33), solved as ‘Iceberg’; and Nama Min is Mære (R.26), solved as ‘Bible’. Ultimately, the types of fear operating within the Old English riddles lend them a particular capacity to corroborate the early Christian view of seemingly negative experiences that must be understood as positively transformative. Thus at least some of the Old English riddles may be read as miniature lessons and parables of Christian thinking.

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