Controlling the Uncontrollable: Estrangement and Appropriation in the First Riddle of the Exeter Book

Karin E. Olsen*

*Corresponding author for this work

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This article examines the twofold process involving the conceptual estrangement and appropriation of the natural world in the first 104 lines of the Exeter Book riddles. Reading these lines as part of one composite three-section riddle, the author demonstrates how nature’s otherness is made more accessible by means of apperception. The speaking subject (i.e. the wind), though not controllable by humans and creating much discomfort for them, is conceptualized as God’s powerful servant who carries out the orders of his master in God’s universe. At the same time, the imposition of human structures on the natural world defamiliarizes the latter, thus contributing to the obfuscation of the context and solution of the riddle. A close examination of the nature imagery in the riddle shows that, although the manner and extent of the alienation and appropriation of the natural elements vary from section to section, the two processes are used to conceptually intensify and disarm the dangers posed by the natural world.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)513-526
Number of pages14
JournalEnglish Studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1-Mar-2022


  • Old English literature
  • Exeter Book
  • Riddle 1
  • alterity
  • apperception

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