Riddles Wisely Expounded

Riddles Wisely Expounded


By Jennifer St. Clair Bush
Poetry Moderator


©2001, Jennifer St. Clair Bush 



I didn't realize how much I missed rhyming until I had to make up three riddles for my WIP (Work In Progress) the other day. I broke out my old beat-up copy of Clement Wood's Rhyming Dictionary and spent the better part of two hours creating three riddles that my characters had to solve. I'm sure my husband thought I was acting especially odd that night, since I walked around the house muttering 'key' and 'plea' and 'see' under my breath until they were finished.


While riddling the night away, I realized that riddles are a really ancient form of poetry.  Spells and charms are usually rhymed for greater potency. One of the oldest riddles is that of the Sphinx: "What walks on four legs in the morning, on two in the afternoon, and on three in the evening?"  This is just one example of a form of poetry that has been around for thousands of years.


Riddles have been used to trick the unwary, to entice a lover, and to save a life. Riddles have been found in the cultures of nearly every land, and some are largely unchanged throughout history. Compilations of riddles were also among the first printed books in the Middle Ages.


For example, in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, Bilbo Baggins not only riddles with Gollum, but also with Smaug the dragon during his Quest. In the ever-popular Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy has to solve a riddle to find the Holy Grail. And in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Harry has to solve a complicated riddle to win the day.


The next time you have a hero who needs to save the day, consider forcing him (or her) to use brain instead of brawn, and join the ranks of so many other brave souls. Not only will your characters come out smarter, you'll have fun creating the riddles to go with your story.




Some online riddles:






(hint: the answers are between the arrows; highlight the space between the arrows to see them. Cute! I'll admit it took me a little while to figure it out.)






Ancient Riddles: http://telacommunications.com/misc/riddles.htm




And a folksong:


The Riddle Song




I gave my love a cherry that has no stone,


I gave my love a chicken that has no bone.


I gave my love a ring that has no end,


I gave my love a baby that's no cryin'.




How can there be a cherry without a stone?


How can there be a chicken without a bone?


How can there be a ring that has no end?


How can there be a baby with no cryin'?




A cherry when it's bloomin', it has no stone


A chicken when it's pippin', it has no bone.


A ring when it's rollin', it has no end.


A baby when it's sleepin', it's no cryin'.








Brunvand, Jan Harold, The Study of American Folklore, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, 1968

Wood, Clement C., Rhyming Dictionary, World Publishing Company, 1943