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Riddley Walker, Expanded Edition Paperback – Illustrated, September 22, 1998
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Riddley Walker deserves its cult status for making us feel spectral in the midst of life: it confronts us with a posterity that looks back at us as blankly as we peer at it.― Public Books
Russell Hoban's 'Riddley Walker' is that rare novel that can be loved by doomster geeks and literary readers alike. It's narrated in a language burnt to its rudiments by nuclear holocaust and revived into new forms by survivors in England who live as hunters, and who believe in a past that's half history, half myth.Summer 2008-- Michael Helm ― Nuvo "Off the Shelf"
About the Author
Russell Hoban (1925-2011) is the author of numerous children's books, including The Mouse and His Child. Other adult novels include The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz, Kleinzeit, Turtle Diary, and Pilgermann.
- Publisher : Indiana University Press; Expanded edition (September 22, 1998)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 256 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0253212340
- ISBN-13 : 978-0253212344
- Item Weight : 11.2 ounces
- Dimensions : 8.46 x 5.5 x 0.67 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #77,157 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Some 2347 years, give or take, after a nuclear holocaust has wiped out our present civilization, the world's been stagnating in its earliest stages. Riddley Walker's is a text written by its eponymous connexion man after his naming day (i.e., 12th birthday), which means the text is written in a form of English quite transformed from our own. His short-lived role of connexion man ties him as a go-between to the ruling elite of the local Inland and Eusa folk. In a dead world with no electricity, communications, methods of transportation, science, literature, &c., he’s trained to translate the Mincery’s (‘Ministry’) puppet renditions of Punch & Pooty (‘Judy’) shows and the teachings of Eusa (‘St. Eustace,’ taken from the Cambry (‘Canterbury’) cathedral).
Eusa’s dynamic teachings are the foundation for moral authority across the Inland (present-day Kent). He was, once upon a time, a religious martyr responsible for the 1 Big 1--tricked by the devil (‘Mr Clevver’) into splitting the atom (‘Little Shynin Man the Addom’) and causing the final holocaust. His head is spoken of as still speaking law at the mysterious island of Ram, where the ruling elite presumably live and dole out the Mincery’s law through puppet theater. His guilt is a guilt of a society driven by knowledge and power to be self-destructive, and it’s a guilt carried by the Eusa folk of Riddley’s time. Like many religious followers, the Eusa folk carry the suffering of Eusa in both physical and psychological mutations--their emotions form a telepathic connection between one another, and often packs of wild dogs. Riddley, as part of his connexion duties, has one version of Eusa’s Story and its core teachings memorized. The memorized text he uses for his work reflects modern religions: Its teachings were written long after the existence of Eusa, but centuries before Riddley Walker recites them, and the language itself is slightly less corrupted compared to the language the current Inlanders speak.
Punch & Judy pop up with significant influence throughout the book. At times, the creepy rebelliousness of Mr Punch is literally channeled through Riddley, who carries a pre-war, rotten Punch doll as a charm. For the central conflict, we even get a full performance of Punch & Judy mythologized for the people of the Inland. (Despite its unoriginality, that ranks among my favorite passages from any novel. I highly recommend those unfamiliar to give Neil Gaiman’s Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr Punch a look-see first. I’d wager his creepy graphic novel knowingly takes a lot from Hoban’s use of the doll.)
Riddley Walker’s difficult at times, but is balanced enough between catchy lyricism and a Joycean nightmare that its messy style is more a boon than a distraction. Even though the language is of its own world, its vocabulary is as limited as the culture employing it. Keeping it simple, then, Hoban has riddled the language with as many layers and allusions as he could. You still have to slow down, but at least you'll want to--and ain't that a clear sign of great writing if ever there was one! (Indeed, the 1998 edition features an afterword by the author, with a sample from his first draft written in standard English. It carries little of the published novel's weight.)
While some guiding themes are built from typical Cold War fears, they're written in a way that effects a timelessness in this new mythology Hoban created. The corruption of language, and mythopoeic reconstruction of a moral belief system in this future Dark Age keeps Walker's text from feeling dated by Cold War ideology and its technological trappings. E.g., the Inland's folklore is often peppered with broken references to science and technology, but the backwards, '70s understanding of it benefits the backwards state of the Inland society. Puter Leat is Computer Elite; Belnot Phist is Nobel Physicist; 1stoan Phist is Einstein Physicist; and--a favorite--the sovereign galaxies and nebulae above are the sarvering gallack seas and flaming nebyul eye.
Knowledge is the currency of power in the Inland, particularly the lost knowledge of the industrial age. This is probably why no one ever seems to be headed anywhere in Riddley Walker: They’re fighting to take Eusa’s very steps and split the Little Shynin Man once again, taking equal movements forward and back with each Ful of the Moon. Kinda sucky world, but I really wanna go back.
If you've read the book and you liked it, by the way, the expanded edition is a nice reference. Hoban put in an essay explaining his thinking as he was writing the books, put in some of the notes that he wrote to build the novel around and gave a glossary of Ridleyspeak. Not sure if it's worth buying another copy of the book for but it is interesting to read if you liked the novel.
Top reviews from other countries
I've read some reviews that seem to analyze everything in the book. And you can do that. But some people sound like my English teachers in school who made us over analyze a poem, only for me to grow up and see an interview with the poet who said it was nothing like that. There was no hidden meaning.
This book is written in a way you could analyze everything, and if that's your thing, you'll love it. There is a lot of hidden meaning in this book, but I think some people take it a little too far.
...OR, the hardest of SF fans might find a great deal to enjoy here, deciphering the double-entendre wordplay, identifying the locations and interpreting the semiotics of this post-apocalyptic world (we *do* love a puzzle). This book had me running to Wikipedia several times to learn about saints, architecture, Punch-and-Judy...
The story? A great deal is written elsewhere, so I'll keep it brief; the fatefully-named Riddley Walker belongs to a hunter-gatherer society and at 12 years old, is becoming a man. His countrymen are insular and superstitious, and their society is run by the cult of "Eusa", presumably an amalgam of "USA" and "St. Eustace". Through a bizarre travelling puppet show, its ministers tell how "Eusa" became seduced by "clevverness" into unleashing the "1-big-1", causing the nuclear war that has thrown the world back to savagery. Riddley finds himself on the wrong side of this superstition, and on the run. His journeys then lead him to confront some of the truths about his world, even though he is doomed never to see them for what they truly are.
Full disclosure here; I was destined to enjoy "Riddley...", because it is set where I grew up (somewhere between "How Fents" and "Burnt A**e" on the map). As a kid, I imagined those downs, fields and woods as everything from a medieval kingdom, to the sort of bleak future described here, and this book was alive for me with a tapestry of mental pictures that not every reader has access to. But do not be discouraged if you don't know a Sandwich from a Devil's Kneading Trough; there are some great webpage companions if you want to interpret the names of the locations and all you *really* need to know is that it's set in small region of the UK, sometime in the far future.
A good read; it seems repetitious sometimes and the pace gets bogged down in the middle, but it's something completely different and thoroughly recommended to the SF fan looking to broaden their literary horizons a bit.
You see, it's written entirely in a degenerate pidgin English - Riddleyspeak. Right from the off, you can tell it'll be terribly difficult to read and require much concentration. For a novel of 220 pages plus intro and notes it has taken me ages to read, and I did breathe a sigh of relief at the end - but it was a strangely rewarding experience. I admit it took me about eighty pages to get into the Riddleyspeak. Before that, I was having to read everything two or three times to work it out (a short glossary at the back helps on occasion), later I could read it fairly fluently if I concentrated. It is also a novel steeped in the ancient storytelling tradition, and we frequently break off for a tale handed down and mutated through generations of post-apocalpytic folk.
Set in Kent way in the future, mankind has returned to an Iron Age existence after the 1 big 1 wiped out any normal way of life. Those that remain have to scrimp out their existence by hunting and foraging, and wild dogs make the forests unsafe for lone travellers. Although they have a simple life, the villagers and travelling gangs who put on shows are desperate to regain their clevverness; they search the dumps and ruins for clues. Rare ancient artifacts unearthed take on religious and cultural significance and are interpreted in a way that takes account of all the legends and superstitions that have grown up after the apocalypse.
Riddley is just twelve. His Dad is a connexion man in their village; a shamanistic even clerical role to summon up words of wisdom from his sixth sense to help them make sense of this strange new world. His Dad dies in an accident and Riddley, newly initiated into manhood, takes on his role, but soon wonders that there must be more to life than this after the Eusa show arrives. He runs away, and we follow his adventures with him on his oansome and celebrate his coming of age.
Now I've finished the book, my first reaction after that initial sigh of relief was that I definitely need to read it again. I'm sure I'll get so much more out of it on a second reading as it's chock full of symbolism. The myths of the Green Man, which as a pagan symbol is scattered throughout Canterbury cathedral where Hoban got his inspiration for the book, and Punch and Judy shows in particular resonate through the book - this was fascinating, but it'll have to wait though. It is a daunting yet rewarding read and also an important novel. The edition I read, had an interesting introduction by Will Self whose Book of Dave also employs its own dialect, and also an afterword and notes by the author, which were useful and elucidating.