travelling together; their tracks were swart,
each imprint very black. The birds’ support
moved swiftly; it flew in the air,
dived under the wave. The toiling warrior
worked without pause, pointing the paths
to all four over beaten gold."
The Exeter Book Riddles (translated by Kevin Crossley-Holland)
I am wrestling with riddles. The ultimate obscure metaphors. Ancient and largely forgotten by most but children love them.
I am researching riddles for my next book, whilst waiting for my editor to get back to me about Mortlock (those of you who think the waiting ends once the deal is made take note). When I opened ‘A World Treasury of Riddles’ by Phil Cousineau and read:
‘What goes up a mountain and down a mountain but never moves?’
My second son snapped the answer out straight away: A path.
Riddles are old, very old. Oedipus staked his life on a riddle. There are riddles in the Rig Veda, the Bible, and the Koran. There are hundreds of Riddle Songs, purported to be love songs but as you travel in time through the collections from Alan Lomax, back through Vaughan Williams, and Child, you find them twisting into their original form: tales of innocent children pitting their wits against demons they meet on the highway. A slip of the tongue, one wrong answer will see them in Hell.
They come from an age before instant feedback, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, mobile phones. A time when people waited. For the seasons, for a story to unfold, for a song to finish.
Our children pounce on these echoes of older times, the riddles the songs and stories, and devour them hungrily but too often we adults dismiss or misunderstand them. We see them as children’s pastimes when in truth, they are for everyone.
These are the inspiration for my stories. Mortlock came from The Twa Corbies, the Second Book, The Demon Collector, from Riddles Wisely Expounded.
And the answer to the above riddle? Apparently it is a hand writing with a feather quill on a parchment.
Take ten minutes out, mull it over.