In The Hobbit chapter 5, Riddles in the Dark, were the riddles composed by Tolkien himself? I always assumed either that they were, since he seemed to have a knack for writing poetry, or that they were already well-known classics. I've just been told someone else wrote them, but couldn't find who or a reference for this.

I'm only asking about the riddles in the book, not the ones in the film (for which I've already found this link).


2 Answers 2


Tolkien (in his letter 110 to his Publisher) seems happy to admit that although several of the "Riddles in the Dark" were traditional (and were therefore adapted by him rather than being fully original works of fiction), all of the others were his own work and that none of them required any additional attribution since the authors were historical/ unknown:

110 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 20 September 1947

[Tolkien's American publishers, the Houghton Mifflin Co., applied to Allen & Unwin for permission to use several riddles from The Hobbit in an anthology of poetry. Allen & Unwin suggested to Tolkien that 'the riddles were taken from common folk lore and were not invented by you'.]

As for the Riddles: they are 'all my own work' except for 'Thirty White Horses' which is traditional, and 'No-legs'. The remainder, though their style and method is that of old literary (but not 'folk-lore') riddles, have no models as far as I am aware, save only the egg-riddle which is a reduction to a couplet (my own) of a longer literary riddle which appears in some 'Nursery Rhyme' books, notably American ones. So I feel that to try and use them without fee would be about as just as walking off with somebody's chair because it was a Chippendale copy, or drinking his wine because it was labelled 'port-type'. I feel also constrained to remark that 'Sun on the Daisies' is not in verse (any more than 'No-legs') being but the etymology of the word 'daisy', expressed in riddleform

  • 5
    Excellent answer, thanks! I knew there'd be a canon answer to this somewhere. Congrats on beating Darth Satan to it :-p
    – Rand al'Thor
    Feb 7, 2015 at 15:17
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    @randal'thor - I blame beer and 6 Nations Rugby.
    – user8719
    Feb 7, 2015 at 16:32
  • I'm not sure I like the use of the word "accepted" here. That suggests he had somehow needed convincing of that. Additionally he's saying is that two are traditional, one is adapted. That would leave 6 as being his own work
    – Tim B
    Feb 8, 2015 at 21:38
  • @TimB - Confirmed? Attributed?
    – Valorum
    Feb 8, 2015 at 22:03
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    @Richard Confirmed sounds better to me. :) Might be worth mentioning the numbers as well. (I.e. 2 traditional, one adapted to a couplet, X (6?) of his own work).
    – Tim B
    Feb 8, 2015 at 22:36

As a medievalist Tolkien would certainly have been aware of and may have been influenced by collections of riddles such as the ones from the Exeter Book: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Saxon_riddles

If you read some of the examples I think you can see a similarity of tone.

  • Interesting stuff. Upvoted.
    – Valorum
    Feb 8, 2015 at 22:02

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