BLOG: Reading Runes in the Exeter Book Riddles

BLOG: Reading Runes in the Exeter Book Riddles

3rd March 2017

Riddles and runes go together, at least in some of those found in the medieval codex known as the Exeter Book of Old English poetry (Exeter Cathedral Library MS 3501).

J. R. R. Tolkien puts their cryptic association to creative use when, in The Hobbit, the dwarves’ map reveals to Elrond in runic ‘moon-letters” a riddle describing how King Thorin Oakenshield’s company will discover the secret door and enter the Lonely Mountain of Erebor once they arrive to reclaim their stolen treasure-hoard from the dragon Smaug.

As with Tolkien’s moon-letters, runes found in the Exeter Book riddles serve to both obscure and illuminate their riddle and its solution. This is to say—if you are literate and can read the runic alphabet—you have an important clue to solving the puzzle. If not, the riddle’s solution is even further obscured from the solver.

READ MORE over at the University of Notre Dame's Manuscript Studies Blog

About the author

Richard Fahey specializes in Anglo-Saxon literature and the complex relationship between Old English, Old Norse and Anglo-Latin literature. He is interested in characterizations of monstrosity (especially in the elegiac-heroic poem, Beowulf), issues of orality and literacy, poetic styles and traditions. Richard is also a contributor to Notre Dame’s medievalist hub, The Chequered Board, and editor for the “North Seas” projects, including one featuring translations and recitations of Old English poetry, and has worked as an editorial assistant for Spenser Studies journal. Additionally, Richard is contributing a chapter to a collection of essays on teaching Beowulf in the 21st century, resulting from an NEH summer institute “Teaching Beowulf in the Context of Old Norse-Icelandic Literature” which Richard attended at Western Michigan University in 2016.  In addition to his studies, Richard is currently working on an avante-garde theatre project titled Monsterbane, which is a modern and multimedia rendition of Beowulf.

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