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Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban

Riddley Walker (1980)

by Russell Hoban

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,943563,509 (4.2)152
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Showing 1-5 of 56 (next | show all)
The tale itself is a short and slender one, but the way its told is an extraordinary literary achievement. The events of the book take place thousands of years after a nuclear war has destroyed civilization, and humans are living in a kind of Iron Age, dimly aware that mankind was once much greater, and trying to puzzle out the connections between that lost world and their own mucky one. The author immerses you in the look, feel and smell of this place. What is extraordinary is, the entire story is written in the dialect of the time--a kind of smashed English in which words have been broken and put back together many times, like bones that have been fractured and imperfectly set by someone over and over. Some of it will come to you from sounding the words phonetically, and some will come from repetition of the same phrases in different contexts. The hardest part for me were proper and place names-- I'm not overly familiar with the geography or proper names of England, which is where the story takes place. ( I had to look in the glossary to find out "rizlas" were cigarette papers.) The constant repetition wore me down after awhile, and sometimes it seemed like nothing was happening, the characters were just turning things over (and over and over) in their heads. Something truly momentous occurs at the end of chapter 16, and that was an "Aha!" moment for me. There were two Afterwords, a glossary and some notes at the end, and I might have had an easier time if I'd read them first, but I'm kind of glad I muddled through on my own. I will read it again now, and I'm sure I''ll pick up on things I missed the first time. Because the story is told first person by the title character, you really get to know him well and care about him--not so much the other characters. Strangely enough, the only secondary character I really felt anything for was a dog. This isn't an easy book to get through, but well worth the effort as I've never read anything like it. ( )
  unclebob53703 | Nov 2, 2016 |
Coincidentally, I found this book because it was quoted in in a math text. I'm glad I found it because it’s unlike anything I’ve read from the standpoint of language, subject, and imagination. In some ways, it reminded me of Lord of the Flies because it similarly places children in a dystopian and cultish environment. However, the humor and British flair make it stand out; I had never heard of Punch and Judy until finding this book.

Before commenting on the themes of the book, I’ll give my take on the language in this book since it’s so prominent from the moment you start reading. First, it took me a couple attempts to get into the flow of reading Riddleyspeak. It’s not that it’s very difficult, but it does take effort and can be frustrating when you can’t move through pages very quickly because of pauses to decipher a new phrase. Slowly, each page builds a little Riddley voice in your mind and it becomes much easier to flow. In my first attempts, I tried to find an audiobook, but none is publicly available. This helped push me to read and I’m better for it. I would still love to hear the book along the lines of this video: https://youtu.be/5WX3hIeeJfI. It would be a treat.

Aside from the language, the rhythm of Riddley's storytelling is abrupt and sometimes non sequitur. This can be disorienting, attention grabbing and comedic at different times. Violence and “crude” details are brought up at moments you wouldn’t expect in a casual manner. Nursery rhymes are thrown into the storytelling, as are “mythological” tales from Riddley’s culture.

The themes of the book are various:

*Nursery rhymes/Mythology
*Coming of age
*Cult behavior/Origin stories and religion/Mysticism
*Death and destruction of civilization
*Computer elites
*Imagery related to the body

The most relevant theme, even/especially today, is the idea of computer elites that have gone too far and brought upon destruction from technological advancement. It is a fun journey to walk through Riddley’s partial enlightenment of the past (our present) and to view the modern world from the eyes of a person removed from it in a primordial, dark ages world of mud, smoke, bone, (yellowboy) stones, and blood.

There are a few knocks against this book. Riddley’s thought patterns get fairly repetitious. While the ending feels right, it also feels very abrupt and open ended. I also didn’t make a connection or care about any of the characters other than Riddley. However, I loved the imagery of the landscape and felt a very immersed in the setting, especially when Riddley is sneaking around like an outlaw. It's a fun read and worth the time. ( )
  danrk | Sep 11, 2016 |
Brilliant creation of a world, a language, a culture. Not so good on plot management, and the newageish world view wore me down after a while. It was interesting at first but they go on and on about it. It makes sense in a way, as their belief system is how they (and all of us) make sense of the madness they're in the midst of. I just wished Riddley wouldn't keep writing about it after he ran out of something new to say. ( )
  ChrisNewton | Mar 18, 2016 |
I don't know why I bought this book. Not in the mood to puzzle out dialects right now.
  etrainer | Jan 31, 2016 |
## Ful of the Moon Ful of the Moon,
## Ful of the Moon nor dont look back
## Folleree Folleroo on your track
## Oo hoo hoo Yoop yaroo
## Folleree Folleroo follering you
## If they catch you in the darga,
## Arga Warga

Reading Riddley Walker has been one of the most profound and moving experiences I've ever had with literature. Every sentence and every word stuck to me, and I couldn't help but want to get lost in the corrupted language.

[N.B. This review includes images, and was formatted for my site, dendrobibliography -- located here.]

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.

## Arga Warga. ( )
2 vote alaskayo | Dec 1, 2015 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hoban, Russellprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gary, Kelli M.secondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Harman, DominicCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marcellino, FredCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mitchell, DavidAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Richard, NicolasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roberts, AdamIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Self, WillIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Jesus has said:
Blessed is the lion that
the man will devour, and the lion
will become man. And loathsome is the
man that the lion will devour,
and the lion will become man.

Gospel of Thomas, Logion 7
Translated by George Ogg
To Wieland
First words
On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly ben the las wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadnt ben none for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see none agen.
O what we ben! And what we come to!
(p. 100)
Im so old you know my memberment is mosly gone I jus have bits of this and that in my head like meat and vedgerbels in a stew Im jus a old stew head is all I am.
(p. 149)
I dont have nothing only words to put down on paper. Its so hard. Some times theres mor in the emty paper nor there is when you get the writing down on it.
(p. 158)
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Blurb of the 20th Anniversary paperback edition:
Walker is my name and I am the same. Riddley Walker. Walking my riddels where ever theyve took me and walking them now on this paper the same.
Composed in an English which has never been spoken and laced with a story-telling tradition that predates the written word, Riddley Walker is the world waiting for us at the bitter end of the nuclear road. Desolate, dangerous and harrowing, it is a modern masterpiece.
Haiku summary
His story, telling
of his story, is telling -
and makes history.

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Set in a remote future in a post-nuclear holocaust England (Inland), Hoban has imagined a humanity regressed to an iron-age, semi-literate state--and invented a language to represent it. Riddley is at once the Huck Finn and the Stephen Dedalus of his culture--rebel, change agent, and artist. Read again or for the first time this masterpiece of 20th-century literature with new material by the author.--From publisher description.… (more)

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