The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #120379   Message #2619149
Posted By: GUEST,Brian Peters
26-Apr-09 - 02:52 PM
Thread Name: Riddle Songs??
Subject: RE: Riddle Songs??
Sinister Supporter wrote:
> I might add that when I say Child#1 in my above post I'm referring specifically to 1A which isn't in the least bit supernatural. 1C has a cosy demonic glow to it, but I've never been too convinced by 1E - specially the six / Nick's rhyme. <

Child's analysis of 'Riddles Wisely Expounded' was not one of his happier efforts. Unaware, at the time he wrote his notes on the ballad, of the existence of 1E - with it's reference to 'Old Nick' - and the Pollard (1445) copy featuring the 'foul fiend' that Jim referred to, he declared that the devilish 'Unco Knight' in 1C was a "departure from the proper story". By the time he'd been made aware of the 1445 lyric (just in time to include it in his final set of 'Additions and Corrections'), he'd revised that earlier opinion and now stated that "the 'good ending' of A and B is manifestily a modern perversion".

After Child's death, Alfred Williams turned up a further Devil version which he published in 'Folk Songs of the Upper Thames', and 'The Devil's Nine Questions' was collected in Virginia in 1922.

I've heard both the 'magical plants' and 'euphemism for sex' explanations for the refrain before, but the unmistakeable shadow of Beelzebub looming over Child 1 does suggest deeper levels of meaning than mere 'shagging'. The broom is also mentioned in alternative refrains collected with this ballad (e.g. 'Lay the bank with the bonny broom'), that don't lend themselves so easily to the carnal act.

For another riddle ballad, look at 'Proud Lady Margaret' (Child 47).