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Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban
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Riddley Walker (1980)

by Russell Hoban

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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» See also 154 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 62 (next | show all)
"People ask me how I got from St. Eustace to Riddley Walker and all I can say is that it's a matter of being friends with your head. Things come into the mind and wait to hook up with other things; there are places that can heighten your responses, and if you let your head go its own way it might, with luck, make interesting connections."

in "Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban

I was initially a doubter, even a hater of “Riddley Walker.” Thanks to this great RG and many friends from TLS, I was converted to a great admirer of Hoban and a mega fan of this extraordinary book. In the end, it has worked for me on every level. But I shall only comment on its spirituality from the angle of eastern mysticism, the most satisfying aspect for me.

The first major influence for our 12-year old hero is tel-woman Lorna. Her teaching is the 1st Knowing, the pure awareness at the background of all sense perceptions, thoughts and emotions. Riddley becomes in tune with this force of nature, that is generally obsured in humans by the over-busy mynding, programing, trying to outmanoeuvre the others, eg Goodparley for the Big Power. Riddley is able to tune out, of the human mind, to listen for directions from the 1st Knowing. He can be dog friendly, and later, is chosen by the dog leader, his nexters and the pack who eventually follow him and become his hevvys, while Ardship of Cambry is dropped. This is the great indicator that the Force is with Riddley.

But he is also almost lost to the resistible pull of the dark force when he senses the past Big Power at the now ruined Power Ring. There is a most powerful scene summarized like this: 'Not jus my coc* but all of me it wer like all of me wer coc* and all the worl a cun* and open to me.' That's the Power all the players succumb to: look at Abel, after losing everything and his eyes, once he knows Granser can make 1 Littl 1 happen, he forgets all and wants a piece of that Power again. But not Riddley, it is meant to be he cudnt hol it at the Power Ring, and he discovers the True meaning of the hart of the wud in the hart of the stoan: 'Onlyes Power if No Power'. Later he realises more: 'Its the not struggling for Power that’s where the Power is.' He stays away from Granser's experiment when they gone bang.

But the most important spiritual teaching is here when Riddley contemplates his one connexion experience: 'I begun with trying to pul it to gether poal by poal only my reveal dint come that way it snuck me woaly...Ready to cry ready to dy ready for any thing is how I come to it now. In fear and tremmering only not running a way. In emtyness and ready to be fult. Not to lern no body nothing I cant even lern my oan self all I can do is try not to get in front of whats coming. Jus trying to keep out of the way of it.'

And the final realization that: ' Or may be there aint no such thing as a 1 Big 1 or a Littl 1 its jus only all 1 and what diffrent things you see in the chayjing lites of the diffrent times of the girt dants of the every thing. Sum tyms bytin sum tyms bit.' In this light, what does it matter if Walker & Orfing are roading the New Show - the awful Punch show, them dogs are following, and new followers are attracted like Rightway and his brother, 'They boath of them have wives and childer the woal lot roadit out with us they jus slung ther bundels and a way.' I know I will if I wer there.

I think RW is like concentrated juice. You have to gradually dilute it to see all the intertwined themes and images it contains. Hoban has boiled down his original five hundred pages without losing any of the vitamins.

In Riddley's culture he is a young adult: we learn on page 1 that "my naming day when I come 12" is "the day I come a man". More importantly, Riddley's language is not badly-written modern English. Spelling, grammar, punctuation and word usage are completely consistent, except when Riddley is accurately reproducing what (to him) are ancient texts. You might ask whether it's realistic that a twelve-year old in any society could pull this off, but it's a literary convention that young protagonists tell their story without committing childish errors of language. Besides, Riddley is unusually smart. As Fister Crunchman tells him: "I aint no where near as qwick as you. Your myndy dont you see." The rest of this conversation shows us that despite his own protests Fister himself is pretty sharp.

The language is what makes this book, working at multiple levels. For a start, it gives the reader an instant sense of estrangement, telling us from the first line, at a gut level, that we are in a world very different from ours. Then, as Hoban has said, the difficulty of reading it slows the reader down to Riddley's own speed, and it makes you read unusually carefully. Like many science fiction novels, Riddley Walker has to tell many stories at once: as well as the surface plot, it has to describe Riddley's world and how it came to be. While some of this is done by the traditional stories Riddley tells us, a lot is told by the language itself. We don't need Lorna to tell us that "bint no writing for 100s and 100s of years" because it's obvious that spelling has been lost and re-invented. The fact that the language is full of computing metaphors tells us that the 1 Big 1 happened quite a long time in the future of the mid-'70s when it was written. Words like "crowd" for tribe and "hevvy" for warrior clue us in to how this society emerged from ours in the Bad Time.

The language of Riddley Walker is often described as broken or degenerate, but I think it has just evolved. Words have shifted and changed their meaning due to creative misunderstanding, but that's what drives language change all the time. Of course, with the loss of written literature, a lot of vocabulary have been lost ("I dont even know 1/2 these words" says Riddley, and neither does Goodparley, despite having access to all the Mincery's records). In modern English we usually have several words for a concept, each with its own overtones. For Riddley, it's the other way round: each word is overloaded with different meanings. No doubt this encourages his mystical bent. It also makes the text deeply poetic (along with Riddley's (or Hoban's) natural bent) which is why for many readers it lingers long in the mind.

NB: Review written a la Hoban. ( )
  antao | Sep 25, 2018 |
Breathtaking - on reflection I might have to upgrade with another star. I love books written in dialect and while Hoban has created the language of Riddley Walker's far future time, he's done such a great job that it has all the depth of a real language. I also love that I had no idea where the book was going from the start right to the end. While the narrator becomes a man on the first page he's only 12 and no more than a few weeks older by the end, but the book never for a moment slips into Young Adult mode. Brilliant. ( )
  Ma_Washigeri | May 27, 2018 |
This book is written in not just the "voice" but the spelling and language of a boy growing up in a unique, apparently post-apocalyptic culture in the region around what in our world is Canterbury in England. It is very cleverly done, and develops the culture and mythology of the culture very effectively, but I find it too depressing to enjoy reading. ( )
  antiquary | Dec 23, 2017 |
A frustrating book. A postapocalyptic "story" mainly concerned with language: the broken, caveman-like English of its world; the way today's words morph into future misinterpretations; the poetic run-on sentences that swirl hypnotically.

Some of this is entrancing—the short stories the protagonists tell are spooky little oddities. But the book as a whole is very poorly plotted and redundant. It's hard to parse out how B follows from A in it, and when it all ends, it doesn't accomplish much.

The language is fun to figure out about 5% of the time. For the rest of the book, it just feels like work to sound it out and decide what each phonetic name stands for. The answer is sometimes clever, sometimes overclever.

Halfway through the book, I wished for a modern-English "translation" of it. By the end, I didn't think it would quite be worth the trouble to produce one.

I'd suggest reading chapter one of Alan Moore's 'Voice of The Fire' instead—it does more and says more with an even simpler English and a world even more bare. ( )
1 vote mrgan | Oct 30, 2017 |
Read this book ages ago. It popped up as a suggesstion on Goodreads because I am currently reading The Cloud Atlas. Both books are amazing feats of imagination, and both take us into a post apocalyptic future where English has evolved into something quite different from what we know today. ( )
  Eye_Gee | May 8, 2017 |
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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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Epigraph
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
Dedication
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.
Quotations
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.)
Disambiguation notice
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Canonical DDC/MDS

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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.
(mekonista)

No descriptions found.

(see all 2 descriptions)

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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