From The Blog

Riddles in the Dark: Episode 12

It’s time to talk “Riddles” on Riddles in the Dark!

In this episode of Riddles in the Dark from the Mythgard Institute, Prof. Corey Olsen and Dave Kale wrap up their Bilbo/Gollum story arc series by talking about one of the most famous scenes and chapters in all of Middle-earth (and our podcast’s namesake), Riddles in the Dark.  Prof. Olsen tells Dave and live listeners about the history of the riddles used in the game (and of riddle games in general) and their grounding in traditional riddles and rhymes with which Tolkien was familiar, as well as hitting upon Frodo’s and Gandalf’s discussion about Bilbo’s and Gollum’s “kinship” and shared cultural roots.  They also discuss the various dilemmas that Peter Jackson and company face with the Riddle Game, particularly its length and the detailed description given of Gollum’s and Bilbo’s unspoken thoughts.  The Riddle Game is one of the most iconic scenes in all of Tolkien, so fans will expect a faithful adaptation; however, the film will be quite packed, and the old-fashioned riddles may not connect with the average modern movie-goer.  What will they do?  Prof. Olsen and Dave worry that many Riddles will be removed or altered…!

The prediction question is below, but first we have a few notes.  For one, listeners will notice that this was one of the most interactive episodes of RITD yet, so thank you to our very insightful live audience!  Others interested in participating live should watch out for announcements on the Tolkien Professor Facebook Page.  For another, listeners who cannot get enough Gollum discussions should tune into RITD Digest 2 for a surprise conversation!  Finally, we’d like to acknowledge listener Robert Brown for pointing out that in September of 1947, Tolkien rejected a suggestion by Allen & Unwin that the riddles in The Hobbit were based on folk lore and not invented by him; indeed, he created all of the Riddles except Thirty White Horses, No-legs, and the egg-riddle (which was a novel paraphrase of an old nursery rhyme).  Listeners can read the entire letter (#110) in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien by Humphrey Carpenter.

Prediction: How will Bilbo’s and Gollum’s Riddle Game be adapted for the big screen?

A. Complete: they will not omit a single riddle (much like Bilbo’s account during The Council of Elrond).
B. Partial: They’ll omit some riddles, but those that they keep will be straight from the book.
C. Reinvented: they’ll alter some of the riddles or add new ones entirely.
D. Stripped down: they’ll show only a montage of fragments of riddles

Download: .mp3 (right click and choose “Save As…” to download)


  1. Michael July 13, 2012 at 9:07 pm #

    Like you guys said in the podcast, it’s entirely possible that they could end up cutting some of the material they filmed, but I just read an interview with Andy Serkis on ( that said the scene they shot was 13 minutes long. Interestingly, it seems they shot it from beginning to end without any cuts. The fact that they probably have to have a couple minutes of Bilbo and Gollum meeting and deciding on the rules of the game, as well as Bilbo following him out of the caverns, suggests that the actual riddle portion of the 13 minutes is going to be very short.

  2. Kate Neville July 13, 2012 at 9:14 pm #

    OK, here’s a guess. Bilbo wakes up after being dropped by Dori, discovers that his sword glimmers, and notices ring by the light of his sword. Pockets the ring, wanders down the tunnel, meets Gollum and the Riddle Game is agreed upon and the first riddle is asked. Cut to — Gandalf & Dwarves fighting their way out of the back door, escaping down the mountain, and Gandalf saying “Where’s Bilbo?” Cut back to — Bilbo and Gollum, in the middle of the game, with Bilbo saying something like, “Oh, I thought that daisy one would stump you!” Then we get a few more riddles, including the fish one, ending with “what’s in my pocket?” and the escape of Bilbo.

    I too hope that he loses at least a few of his buttons.

    And I’m glad Dr. Olsen has discovered Sherlock.

  3. Michael Lucero July 13, 2012 at 10:15 pm #

    Yes, Sherlock is amazing. I love that show.

    I don’t see them cutting back and forth between the two scenes; as Corey and Dave discussed, it’d take away from the dramatic tension of the moment. However, if they do, Kate, then that’s a really genius way to work in a reference to the daisy riddle without actually having them say it aloud onscreen!

  4. San Diego Dave July 14, 2012 at 12:29 am #

    I agree that they will want this scene to be somewhat long, just because Gollum is such a popular character and they will want to give him as much screen time as possible. I think they will count on Gollum’s performance (and the improved CGI) to keep people’s interest and carry the long scene.

    That said, I think they will definitely cut to Gandalf and the Dwarves once or twice, for two reasons. (1) It will help to keep the riddle scene from getting too long and boring. (2) On film, it simply doesn’t work to have all 13 characters off screen for 15 minutes or more with no idea where they are and what they’re doing, and then suddenly we see them outside of the mountain saying, “oh yeah, we escaped, it was very exciting, you should have seen it.” It’s almost the equivalent of having Bilbo knocked unconscious during the battle. It’s ok in a book to have characters sit around and talk about a battle afterwards, but in a movie you need to actually see the battle. So they almost certainly will show Gandalf and the Dwarves escaping.

  5. San Diego Dave July 14, 2012 at 12:34 am #

    And my answer is B. I agree with Dave that the riddles in the book are short enough that they don’t really need to be altered. As for the more “difficult” riddles (old language, strange composition, etc), those are likely to be the ones that get cut.

    And keep in mind, this is actually quite a bit different from the songs in LOTR, because the riddles are central to the scene and, unlike songs in LOTR, can’t be cut without significantly altering the scene.

  6. The_Least_of_Rings July 16, 2012 at 6:50 am #

    I realise this isn’t directly related to this episode of the Podcast although it does relate to comments that Corey and Dave made in an earlier episode when they noted that there really seems to be too much “stuff” for just two films. It would seem that their words may have been heard.


  7. Harry J July 16, 2012 at 2:52 pm #

    Going with “B” also myself. We need to be a little honest here. Gollum is going to kill and eat Bilbo either way. We know it, the audience knows it. It won’t take 9 riddles to get us there… It’s like the overused scene where a guy has X bullets in his gun, and the shot that finally kills the bad guy is -always- the last one. If you give that guy 9 bullets, by the end the tension is gone and you’ve bored the audience to tears with filler. I think a couple by either, interspliced with flashbacks & tension-building silences & grumbles, will be plenty. “C” doesn’t make much sense to me. Yes, some of the songs were changed in LOTR, but those songs were always additional to the main story arc. They colored it, but they weren’t key, IMHO. On the other hand, these riddles are -central- to this scene. They’re known & remembered. It would be like Merry & Pippin entering Fangorn Forest and finding IronMan instead of Treebeard! Just not gonna happen.

  8. The_Least_of_Rings July 16, 2012 at 3:17 pm #

    As to the concerns about the “puppy dog Gollum” photo I think it may come from right at the beginning of their encounter. Bilbo describes Sting (although not yet named) as a blade out of Gondolin and Gollum becomes “anxious to appear friendly, at any rate for the moment.” – such a look as we see in that photo may not be out of keeping with such a stance.

  9. Andrea July 16, 2012 at 11:50 pm #

    Having listened to this, I know that there was mention of lack of ability to show internal monologues from the characters. One option that they writers could have taken was that they will have Bilbo “telling” Frodo this story/scene, and then that this will give us a bit more into the mind of how Bilbo felt or was thinking. Another way that it could be done was in voice overs of “thoughts” from the characters. I don’t like either idea very much, but they are possibilities to consider. I’m hoping this scene is a prominent player of the movie, as it is influential to both character’s developments.

  10. Brent Sprinkle July 17, 2012 at 6:49 pm #

    So much to say after listening to this episode but I’ll try to keep it short. As we now know from the comments of Peter Jackson at Comic-Con, the Riddle scene was shot from start to finish without any stops resulting in a 13 minute scene. An aside here, I’m very glad to hear that, because if you remember in the extra material of the behind the scenes stuff in LOTR, I believe they shot the scene when Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimili first meet Eomer in the same manner. I thought it made for a very high quality scene with a lot of emotion being captured in the actors faces. It allows the actors to be fully absorbed into their role without any breaks. This being one of the scenes I look forward to most, I am comforted to know that is how they shot this scene. Why this actually pertains to the topic at hand is that I believe that shows the intent of the scene; wanting to capture emotion from both Gollum and Bilbo.
    In regards to what actual riddles will be involved in the film, I have to say as much as I don’t like to that less is more. Like both Corey and Dave said, it is easier to show time passing in the book than on a movie screen. I believe that the audience would be bored to tears if we had to sit through all 9 riddles. The whole montage idea is completely corny and would ruin the suspense of the scene. So it leaves me no choice but to think that we will get only like 3 or 4 riddles. Which ones? Well, I think they would decide that based on which riddles will show what kind of character Bilbo and Gollum are the most.
    Now, I do have to say I am a little more optimistic about this scene than Corey and Dave. I feel as though sometimes they can play off of each others fears and become slightly more pessimistic than intended. Trish, be the positive element and help me balance out these guys! :) I think that PJ and Co. try to the best of their ability to pay homage to Tolkien’s original words and thoughts and I think that in such an iconic scene as this one, they would want to keep Tolkien’s original wording of the riddles. Also, I think fear of the fans and purists unrelenting dissatisfaction with changing the wording of the riddles is enough to ensure it will be preserved. Therefore, my guess is B. 13 minutes of time is enough for several riddles plus some suspense and close up face shots of thinking, confusion, and nostalgia from Gollum.

  11. Timdalf July 17, 2012 at 7:08 pm #

    Well, the EW photo through you both rather. At ComiCon it was revealed that they want to stress and keep the schizoid dual personality of Gollum/Smeagol. So there will be the latter. I wonder if the 13 minutes is just the riddle sequence or the whole incident from Bilbo finding the Ring to his escape out the door… I suspect the former, but I don’t know if there is real evidence one way or the other.
    By the way, I vote for B.

  12. Timdalf July 17, 2012 at 7:09 pm #

    Whoops… change that “through” to “threw”!!! ouch!

  13. Brent Sprinkle July 17, 2012 at 10:36 pm #

    Alright, so on the Riddles in the Dark portion of the Mythgard site there has been many a comment about how to pronounce Dwarvish names, especially Thrain and Dain. Just when it seemed that the discussion had faded out, here I am being a bad little listener of RITD and bringing it up again! I wasn’t sure where to post it so I just posted it on the newest thread. Sorry if you were expecting a comment on Gollum and riddles. If you were just ignore this.

    So, recently I was listening to Brent Landon on his podcast series Tolkien and Old Norse where he discusses how Old Norse influenced Tolkien in his writings. It is a great podcast and should be on your ipod if you consider yourself a Tolkien enthusiast.
    In one episode in particular he talks about how the Dwarve’s names in the Hobbit were all derived from the Old Norse Dvergatal. He then goes on to speak with Jackson Crawford who is a professor of Old Norse at UCLA about the correct pronunciation of the Dwarve’s names.

    Here is what was said in brief. The “ai” vowel should have two distinct sounds so Thrain pronounced like the English word “rain” is wrong, as well as pronounced like rhyming with “shrine,” or like rhyming with “ran.” All three of these are wrong.
    Instead, Brent and Jackson said, according to Old Norse pronunciation (which Tolkien got the name Thrain from so almost assuredly would want it pronounced according to the rules in the Old Norse language) it should be pronounced with two sounds. In modern Icelandic the “ai” vowel would be pronounced like you would pronounce “ow” in the word “town” or “owl.” But, Jackson said that in older Icelandic it was pronounced slightly different and over the years has changed slightly just like the word “dog” changed slightly in the southern accent to “dawg”. In older Icelandic, the time period of when the Dvergatal was written it was pronounced like rhyming with throwin’. So “ai” is pronounced like “oh” (the expression of surprise). I remember when Corey was commenting on an event when they were making fun of the Dwarven names using words like Throwin’. In fact, that wouldn’t be a joke at all but the actual pronunciation!
    I hope this info helps and isn’t completely confusing. It took a while for me to understand it. Of course, it comes down to the fact that we don’t have any way of knowing how Tolkien wanted it pronounced, but taking into consideration the language from which the name was derived should get us, at any rate, closer to the mark. I would like to get some feedback on this from anyone.

  14. CJ Keddy July 18, 2012 at 11:37 pm #

    Hey guys! Just writing to say I hope you can post your latest podcast for download tomorrow. I purposely avoided listening to it live this time in the hopes that I could have it for tomorrow to help me pass the time waiting in line for The Dark Knight Rises. Anyway – I love you guys and I love this podcast and I just wanted to say keep it up and God bless!

  15. The Dwarrow Scholar July 19, 2012 at 2:26 am #

    You mentioned at a specific point that Thorin would look older and have a white beard.
    Feel free to correct, but as far as I recall, the only one (dwarf) with the white beard in the entire story is Balin, in addition to Gandalf who also has a white beard. I checked it again and couldn’t find any mention of Thorin having a white beard, which in fact would make sence. As I believe we should remember that Dwarves age differently then men and look more or less the same when they are 40 or 240 (- from History of Middle Earth XII), untill they reach 250 years old when they age very quickly and die soon after of old age. So, I think, remembering the fact that Thorin was “only” 195 during the events of the Hobbit, according to lore, he should not look old at all.

  16. Jack July 19, 2012 at 4:24 am #

    If you get sick while watching 3D movies; you can buy some of these
    They have the same polarisation in both lenses so it’s just like a normal movie!


  1. Riddles in the Dark:Digest 6 | Mythgard Institute - August 23, 2012

    […] Riddles in the Dark Digest co-hosts Dave Kale (of the Dave Kale World Domination Network) and Trish Lambert talk Gollum, first talking about the now-answered-by-Andy-Serkis riddle presented in Riddles in the Dark episode 11, then sharing analyst, listener, and their own opinions about the actual riddle game that Dave and Corey talked about in Riddles in the Dark episode 12. […]

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