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Enigmas and Riddles in Literature Hardcover – March 6, 2006

ISBN-13: 978-0521855105 ISBN-10: 0521855101

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Editorial Reviews


"This is one of the most resourceful and attractive works of constructive speculation since Anatomy of Criticism. Initially, riddle seems a far smaller subject than Frye's. But as riddle enlarges to enigma, and enigma emerges as a major trope - emerges, indeed, as trope itself, almost all literature - the inquiry seems ambitious enough. Even literature itself will not suffice. Cook's masterplots embrace philosophy and life, with a humorous tolerance toward contrary schools of thought. . . . If she seldom reaches Frye's heights of lucid madness, she is more reliable - a better theorist and more acute reader. Too honest for mythmaking, she freely shows the wrong side of her work. . . . Very seldom is an important book so enjoyable."
Alastair Fowler, Yale Review

" . . . a great contribution to the theory of literature and a new lens on Stevens. . . . Cook presents exactly what has been missing: a rich study of riddle and enigma from classical literature to the present. . . . enormously suggestive and will, no doubt, inspire future studies. Now that she has shown us the designs that literary riddles and enigmas take, we might use her theoretical types to open up the more puzzling aspects of a particular poet's work."
Lisa Goldfarb, Wallace Stevens Journal

". . . this beautifully organized and detailed analysis . . . . informative case studies on Dante, Lewis Carroll and Wallace Stevens . . . . she defines terms and provides a wonderfully wide range of examples from Aristotle to Josephine Tey. Thus, both the topic and the treatment should have wide appeal. . . . Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty."
- Choice, March 2007

"Eleanor Cook's magnificent book ranges widely across the territory and goes a long way toward her goal of making up for the lack of explicit attention from literary critics and tehorists in recent centuries. Unlike the answer to the Uraon riddle, her book comes with open hands, linking a wealth of references and ideas without trying to reduce them to a Procrustean bed of argument."
- Curtis Gruenler, Hope College, Christianity and Literature

"As Eleanor Cook points out in this original study, riddling illuminates the greatest mysteries through the smallest things. . . . Her mission is twofold: first, to rehabilitate the riddle as a significant literary device, and second, to bring back the discipline of rhetoric. . . . A late poem by James Merrill . . . receives a brilliant and enjoyable decoding here . . . . the ancient discipline of rhetoric might be due for a comeback. . . . as Cook points out, when Shakespeare went to school . . . he was probably taught how to declaim and blazon and vituperate, and how to perform other versatile acts of rhetoric, such as punning, fooling and riddling, and the instruction would stand him in good stead. . . . In an era when lovers of books want to write far more than they want to read . . . the old tools and methods of the rhetor's art might be worth dusting off." -
Marina Warner, London Review of Books

"This is an extraordinary book. Its scholarship is dense and wide-ranging (over eras, literatures, countries, languages), its conceptual and theoretical frame and focus are developed carefully and precisely, and (what makes it extraordinary) its evocation of the many poems and texts it speaks to and through is light and clear and illuminating. . . . The book is a feast for the ear, eye, and mind. One learns so much and watches its author learning, too."
Judith Scherer Herz, University of Toronto Quarterly

". . . a brilliant chapter on Lewis Carroll and the Alice books. . . . A useful new (or old) coinage, griph (as in logogriph), is proposed for such pastime puzzles, which might be useful in particular for those interested in children's games. There is another section covering 'innocent amusement' and 'other functions of enigma' that is also of direct relevance to folklorists. . . . A short review cannot do justice to the meticulous scholarship of this work."
-Katherine Knight, Folklore

Book Description

How do enigmas and riddles work in literature? Using examples and readings of literature from classical to modern, including Dante and Lewis Carroll, Cook offers an original and wide-ranging study into how to read enigmas and riddles. An important contribution to studies of poetic thought and metaphor.

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