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Eco-Critical and Eco-Theological Approaches to the Exeter Book Riddles
Man is a dominant presence in the Exeter Book riddle collection and he is shown actively shaping, changing, and interacting with the physical world around him. Much scholarly attention has been given to what the riddles have to say about human culture, about heroism, service, sex and war, but, until very recently, little has been said regarding the point-of-view of the natural world. In this paper, I discuss ways of exploring the depiction of the non-human world in the Exeter Book riddle collection and consider how we might reconcile ecological readings of the riddles with previous scholarship on the collection. I discuss the apparently human-centred nature of the texts and offer ways of negotiating their inherent anthropocentrism using the fields of eco-criticism and eco-theology. I argue that there is a programme of resistance to anthropocentrism at work in the Exeter Book Riddle collection, whereby the riddles challenge human-centred ways of depicting non-human entities. The Exeter Book riddles engage with ecological and theological issues of exploitation, accountability, degradation and suffering and use their playful literary context to portray and, at times, reassess the roles of mastery and servitude that man and nature have assumed in the post-lapsarian world.