Bridging the Gap: Finding a Valkyrie in a Riddle
Culver, Jennifer (University of North Texas)
M.A. Thesis, University of North Texas, May (2007)
While many riddles exist in the Anglo-Saxon Exeter Book containing female characters, both as actual human females and personified objects and aspects of nature, few scholars have discussed how the anthropomorphized “females” of the riddles challenge and broaden more conventional portrayals of what it meant to be “female” in Anglo-Saxon literature. True understanding of these riddles, however, comes only with this broader view of female, a view including a mixture of ferocity and nobility of purpose and character very reminiscent of the valkyrie (OE wælcyrige), a figure mentioned only slightly in Anglo-Saxon literature, but one who deserves more prominence, particularly when evaluating the riddles of the Exeter Book and two poems textually close to the riddles, The Wife’s Lament and Wulf and Eadwacer, the only two poems with a female voice in the entire Old English corpus. Riddles represent culture from a unique angle. Because of their heavy dependence upon metaphor as a vehicle or disguise for the true subject of the riddle, the poet must employ a metaphor with similar characteristics to the true riddle subject, or the tenor of the riddle. As the riddle progresses, similarities between the vehicle and the tenor are listed for the reader. Within these similarities lie the common ground between the two objects, but the riddle changes course at some point and presents a characteristic the vehicle and tenor do not have in common, which creates a gap. This gap of similarities must be wide enough for the true solution to appear, but not so wide so that the reader cannot hope to solve the mental puzzle. Because many of the riddles of the Exeter Book involve women and portrayal of objects as “female,” it is important to analyze the use of “female” as a vehicle to see what similarities arise.