Riddles: Sherlockian, Joycean, Freudian "Eye"

Word Ways, November 2011 | Go to article overview

Riddles: Sherlockian, Joycean, Freudian "Eye"


"Why is a raven like a writing desk?" I love hard riddles. Even if a riddle was designed to have no solution, we can often think of good answers anyway (e.g., Poe wrote on both).

Working on an old, quaint riddle is interesting enough. And it's just so surprising and special to find that I've actually solved an old, unsolved riddle. One such riddle I solved was a Sherlockian crux. In The Man with the Twisted Lip, Mrs. Watson says to a visitor, "Or should you rather that I sent James off to bed?" Why was Dr. John H. Watson called "James"? The "James" Watson puzzle had been a subject of much speculation, since first pointed out in 1911.

For my solution, see Tomoyuki Tanaka, "Holmes is Box; Watson is 'James' Cox." Sherlock Holmes Journal (London: Sherlock Holmes Society, December 2007). Tomoyuki Tanaka, "Box and Cox, the Homeric Sherlock Holmes, and Joyce's Ulysses" Hypermedia Joyce Studies, http://hjs.ff.cuni.cz/archives/v9_1/essays/tanaka.htm (Feb. 2008).

James Joyce's stories and novels are full of hard and impossible riddles. A great introduction is Martin Gardner's article "Puzzles in Ulysses" in his collection The Night Is Large (1997).

In Joyce's Dubliners, Eveline remembers her mother repeating on her deathbed: "Derevaun Seraun! Derevaun Seraun!" (a dozen Irish-Gaelic readings have been proposed) Could it be bad French? Devrons serons! (We ought to be what we will be) Or mumbled English? (Dare advance, or run; The reverends are wrong; ... ...)

"In the morn when I rise, / I open my eyes, / Tho' I ne'er sleep a wink all night"

--I enjoyed the old riddle (from 1782, 1801, ...) reprinted in WW (Feb. 2010). I thought about several possibilities, including Mr. Eckler's proposed answer of "fame in the short-lived sense of 'notoriety' ...".

Many a stripe suggested a grooved rifle bullet (You will be in danger), and also a striped bee or wasp, which might lament: "I live a short time, I die in my prime". (I see that this "Plan Bee" was anticipated by Jim Puder in WW, Feb. 2011.)

Then, I saw Ronnie B. Kon's answer "the Stars and Stripes" (WW, Nov. 2010), and was ready to give up, when I thought of the stock market. (Back then, did they have the notion that money or the stock market never sleeps?)

(1) NYSE (The first central location of the Exchange was a room, rented in 1792 for $200 a month, located at 40 Wall Street. ) ...... It burns many people (investors) ...... ends "with a pipe" ??? (not today's Closing Bell?) ...... loss, gain ... lusty ..... ...... "my habit oft change in a day"--fluctuating market trends

To which Mr. Eckler comments: "The riddle first appeared in the 1782 issue of The Ladies' Diary or Women's Almanac, [...] Furthermore, it is unlikely that Eliza Hurst, a British woman, would base a puzzle on an American institution."

Ok, I have two responses: The stock exchange in London was thriving by the South Sea Bubble of 1720; and How about my second, related answer ...

(2) Greed (for money) (or the 1 dollar bill), which is similar to "stock market", in that it bums many people (investors), loss, gain, lusty ... habit(s) "change in a day" (Did British paper money have stripes? The grooves at coin edges look like stripes.)

--The person may sleep, but his (or her) Greed doesn't.

--"And pay no regard to the light" ... shy of righteousness.

--"punished with many a stripe" ... money crimes, leading to striped prison uniform

--"I end with a pipe" ... Greed dies only when the person dies (bag-pipe at the funeral)

My "Greed" answer is awfully abstract. Most of the Seven Deadly Sins would work too. "Greed for fame" is another way to describe Mr. Eckler's answer.

((( One aspect that especially interests me about this "Greed" answer is that the first person 'T' of the poem is actually a part of the mind which it inhabits. The Greed inside this person is like a parasite living within his brain, and it's speaking with the first person "I". …

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Riddles: Sherlockian, Joycean, Freudian "Eye"
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