“…I’m actually more interested in how our minds use language as a way to organize the world—that is, the way the mind searches for stability by creating categories and classifications, and the way it makes meaning. I’m quite serious in saying that the study of riddles—their long history, their presence in nearly every culture of the world in every age, their subversive nature—affects our mode of thinking. Riddles interrupt our human inclination to stash things in well-defined cubby holes, to insist upon order and to find ‘solutions’ to things that puzzle us. Riddles ask us sometimes to live comfortably without firm solutions. At their best they can each us to think metaphorically, to find fresh ways to say things, to think about indirection as a writing strategy, to build a tolerance for alternative meanings and contradictory truths, to turn away from infallibility and learn to live with our own stupidities, and to question assumptions—something every writer, not to mention every good citizen in a participatory democracy, should know how to do. For example, here’s a riddle, which is not poetry but which I do like:
A bus driver was heading down a street in Colorado. He went right past a stop sign without stopping, he turned left where there was a ‘Not left Turn’ sign and he went the wrong way on a one-way street past a cop car. Still—he didn’t break any traffic laws and didn’t get a ticket. Why not?
(Because he was walking.)
“Our assumptions are wrong from the beginning, and the person who framed this riddle understood how to manipulate the reader into believing one thing (a bus driver only drives) while many alternative things about a bus driver are true—for example, a bus driver can walk. Riddles obstruct our desire to pigeon-hole people, objects and events, and to keep things neatly organized in categories. They make us rethink our assumptions.
“I’m interested in that. I’m interested in the interruption of assumptions. as a technique of fiction. We lead people to believe something, based on the preconceptions they come into the story with. Then we turn those preconceptions on their head, and we take our readers someplace unexpected.”
— an excerpt from Who Am I ? What the Lowly Riddle Reveals, by Julie Larios.