Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Riddley Walker

Rate this book
In the far distant future, the country laid waste by nuclear holocaust, twelve-year-old Riddley Walker tells his story in a language as fractured as the world in which he lives. As Riddley steps outside the confines of his small world, he finds himself caught up in intrigue and a frantic quest for power, desperately trying to make sense of things.

256 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1980

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Russell Hoban

161 books347 followers
Russell Conwell Hoban was an American expatriate writer. His works span many genres, including fantasy, science fiction, mainstream fiction, magical realism, poetry, and children's books. He lived in London, England, from 1969 until his death. (Wikipedia)

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
3,414 (43%)
4 stars
2,316 (29%)
3 stars
1,239 (15%)
2 stars
524 (6%)
1 star
334 (4%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 942 reviews
Profile Image for Fionnuala.
778 reviews
May 20, 2015
If ye lyke readen, if ye lyke a tchalinge, if yure tirt of all them comin of age books with predicable hinerd nerators, if yed as lief not be man pulated by the pubshing peoples as to what ye should be readin nex, then try this here buk. Ye mi not be able to buy it in shop as it was pubshed way back time back but meby your libryd hev it. An if ye do try it, yell relise dat peoples needs storys an if peoples lose all de storys, dey jus up an mek more storys, don dey?
Profile Image for Terry .
394 reviews2,146 followers
April 8, 2013
_Riddley Walker_ is the book that put Russell Hoban on the map (inasmuch as he is on the map…he is criminally neglected as an author) and will likely be the one work for which he will be remembered (sadly he passed away in late 2011). So far I have read three other Hoban novels and while I have thoroughly enjoyed all of them I must admit that I think this one is his very best.

Many, upon reading the first page, will dismiss the book as “gimmicky” (I am growing to hate that term as applied to books) due to the style in which Hoban writes. Admittedly his language isn’t easy to slip right into given that he has created his own broken, not quite phonetic, future version of English that is further complicated for many readers by being based on the Kentish dialect. Thus we have as our introduction to Riddley and his world:
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.
That’s definitely one of the easier passages and things get more complicated when words and phrases are elided or significantly changed when they refer to things from the deep past (our present), and concepts that people in Riddley’s day don’t fully comprehend or whose meaning has changed in their time. Still, for me _Riddley Walker_ is probably the non plus ultra of post-apocalyptic fiction. Sure there are many others out there that are excellent, and I have by no means read in the genre exhaustively (I still have to read classics like The Death of Grass and Earth Abides), but there is something about Hoban’s work that seems to define the genre for me. His ability to capture a world that is at the same time horrifying and homely, a world that shows humanity utterly changed and yet exactly the same as we’ve always been is superlative.

Our hero, the eponymous Riddley Walker, is a young boy just coming of age at a moment when his world stands at a crossroads, change is either going to sweep humanity forward or back into the dustbin of history. Riddley truly is the crux of the novel (both thematically through the role he plays in the plot and stylistically given that the narrative is his own first-person account), the centre around which it revolves and also the primary element upon which it succeeds or fails for the reader. For me his character is an unqualified success. He is an everyman who harbours within himself unknown potential. He is a realist not given to self-delusion and yet in him is a belief in the human spirit, a sense of the positive, that is uplifting without being cloying. Through Riddley we are given an effective melding of hopelessness and hopefulness: a picture of a world steeped in melancholy and loss that may be the dying gasp of humanity or its first step forward out of the ashes.

Riddley's world is a grey one, painted in the broad strokes of grizzled rain, decaying edifices of the past, and a hard life of scrounging amidst the muck and ruins in search of the bare necessities of survival. Despite this bleak setting Hoban still presents us with a fully realized world of warmth, humanity, danger, and loss. It is obviously a post-apocalyptic world that stands on the far edge of the fall: the ‘Bad Time’ of fire and destruction is now only a distant legend (as is the world that preceded it), as opposed to those ‘survivalist’ post-apocalyptic books that take place while the horror of loss and oblivion is still a fresh wound. As is to be expected Riddley’s world is not an easy one. He lives in an Iron Age society in an England that had been bombed back to the Stone Age and is slowly clawing its way back up the ladder. The old ways are starting to die out as the nomadic, foraging lifestyle is gradually being replaced by the more settled life of farming. The old tales and stories of our own lost time are perpetuated primarily through the existence of a modified Punch and Judy show. This puppet show is a government-sponsored propaganda machine wherein the main character is Eusa (a degraded and highly modified version of St. Eustace), a stand-in for the perpetrators of Armageddon, in which old knowledge and new superstition are mixed together to create a truly unique experience. Through the Eusa Show and the legends it spawned we come to see the hum drum aspects of our own age both through the eyes of wonder and awe, a sort of golden age when giants walked the earth, and through the lens of condemnation: how could those so wise have been so foolish? How could the god-like beings humans had once been have allowed Armageddon to have occurred? ”O what we ben! And what we come to!” laments Riddley at one point. These people are keenly aware of their loss. Whether it is through fluid medium of stories and legends or the more concrete witness of the ruins of burnt out cities and the hulks of dead machines, the ghost of the past lives on in Riddley’s present and is carried on the backs of those that remain as both a reminder and a deadly weight.

Government lackeys travel from place to place and perform their ‘Eusa Shows’ based on a memorized approved text, usually in order to give a government spin on recent events and enforce the accepted truths of what has been and what will be. In the midst of this endless round of ‘business as usual’ there is beginning to grow a renewed interest in the “cleverness” of the old ways and knowledge, especially that which revolves around power and destruction (known in Riddley’s vernacular as the “1 Little 1” and the ”1 Big 1”)…it’s a common theme in this type of literature: the human fascination with the worst side of our nature that seems inevitably to lead us to commit the same horrible mistakes time and time again no matter how harsh the lessons taught us (see Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz for another example of this; these two books would actually make for a good paired reading).
You can get jus as dead from a kick in the head as you can from the 1 Littl 1 but its tha natur of it gets people as cited. I mean your foot is all ways on the end of your leg innit. So if youre going to kick some 1 to death it aint all that thrilling is it. This other tho youve got to have the Nos. of the mixter then youve got to fynd your gready mints then youve got to do the mixing of the mixter and youve got to say the fissional seakerts of the act befor you kil some body its all that chemistery and fizzics of it you see. Its some thing new. Which ever way you look at it I dont think Aunty and her red eyed rat be too far from us.

Of course the huge stumbling block for this book is obvious, it jumps out at you once you flip to the first page: the language itself. Is this degraded form of English nothing more than a gimmick? There will I suppose always be those for whom the answer is “yes”, but for me that isn’t the case…or at least it could have been simply a gimmick if it didn’t work, if there wasn’t more to the text than a degraded phonetic spelling. Luckily the language is built around a great story with much thoughtfulness on the human condition and human nature. Who are we and why do we act as we do? What does it mean to be human at all? Why do we live, and what is the purpose of our seemingly unimportant little lives? How do we connect with each other, and what are the things in life that are truly worth cultivating? How much of our life is determined and how much is freely chosen? All of these questions and more are asked in the text and while precious few answers may be given the possibilities that are presented give much food for thought. The language also allows the required distance between our world and this one of the far off future to be built and emphasized. Perhaps most importantly it allows us to zero in on what matters as we are forced to pay close attention not only to what is said, but how it is said. The strangeness of the language forces you to look at the familiar in a new way, to see things with new eyes as you work your way towards an understanding of what exactly is being discussed or viewed. Finally it also lets us inhabit the mind of our narrator and protagonist Riddley (as well as his world) in a uniquely engaging way.

This book is one of my favourites and it is highly recommended. The labour expended in reading it will be amply repaid as we go “roading thru that rainy dark” with Riddley Walker.

Also posted at Shelf Inflicted
Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,081 reviews68.1k followers
December 17, 2020
Clevverness Counts Agenst

Nowhere in the Book of Genesis is there mention of the creation of the numbers. This is a serious matter. If God didn’t create the numbers, they’ve existed as long as he has. Maybe they are God. Some people say that it was human beings who created the numbers. And that would make human beings God... well sort of.

It’s numbers that makes human beings so clever, you see. “Counting clevverness is what it wer. When they had all them things and marvelsome they cudnt sleap realy they dint have no res. They wer stressing ther self and straining all the time with counting.” It turns out being God (and counting) is a pretty dangerous occupation that can really mess up night and day. Not ‘Fiat Lux,’ Let there be light; but ‘Fiat tenebræ horribiles,’ Let there be terrible darkness.

The numbers are part of the 2nd knowing. But before them was the 1st knowing. The 1st knowing didn’t have counting; so it didn’t breed technology, particularly the technology of domination of the primordial “Addom”. It also pre-dates the splitting of the human psyche into opposing halves - The Littl Shyning Man and Eusa.

The 1st knowing is not individual but social; it exists among people and feels like it comes entirely from elsewhere; it is instinctive and yet alien: “It puts us on like we put on our does. Some times we dont fit. Some times it cant fynd the arm hoals and it tears us a part.” The 1st knowing has been lost but commemorated in fragmentary myth. Riddley is the potential “connection” to the 1st knowing.

But there are others, the emerging government of the “Mincery” (as in ‘I’m from the Mincery; I’m here to help you’), based in Bernt Arse, a developing industrial centre. The “Pry Mincer” and his henchmen are keen to recover the capabilities of the 2nd knowing, that is, the the knowledge of power and control. They have established a cult of Eusa, as the other half of the alienated Littl Shyning Man.

The cult includes a standard scriptural text required to be memorised by the populace; and a traveling Punch & Judy show as liturgical drama. The cult promotes the idea of a ‘second chance’ for humanity with technology (that is to say, with numbers) through the discovery of the hidden secrets of the 2nd knowing.

Riddley is effectively a heretic and goes on the run. His prophetic revelation is that “EUSAS HEAD IS DREAMING US.” He discovers that the descendants of the Eusa people are living in Cambry, the old cathedral city. There he finds the essence of the 1st knowing: the most powerful are those who do not seek power at all. This is the force which creates us: “It thinks us but it dont think like us.” Numbers are a great temptation to power for people who don't remember this.

In sum: an entertaining but unexpectedly profound investigation of creation and the meaning of being human. It’s not a bad emendation at all to Genesis. And it’s easier to read than Finnegans Wake.
Profile Image for B0nnie.
136 reviews49 followers
November 21, 2012

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. He dint make the groun shake nor nothing like that when he come on to my spear he wernt all that big plus he lookit poorly. He done the reqwyrt he ternt and stood and clattert his teef and made his rush and there we wer then. Him on 1 end of the spear kicking his life out and me on the other end watching him dy. I said, "Your tern now my tern later." The other spears gone in then and he wer dead and the steam coming up off him in the rain and we all yelt, "Offert!"

The woal thing fealt jus that littl bit stupid. Us running that boar thru that las littl scrump of woodling with the forms all roun. Cows mooing sheap baaing cocks crowing and us foraging our las boar in a thin grey girzel on the day I come a man.

These are the opening lines of Riddley Walker and we jump right in, to a new world and a new language.

But look again - the language is not so new, nor is the speaker. It's still a world where a guy can sum up a situation by saying "the whole thing felt just that little bit stupid". We are reading the journal of Riddley Walker, a boy living more than 2000 years in the future, after a nuclear holocaust. Society has regressed to the iron age, yet this lad can advance a plot and condense information as neatly as Jane Austen. His spelling is slightly worse though, and there's a learning curve in figuring out the phonetic spelling and the slang. English culture is deeply embedded everywhere and in everything, but changed and often so distorted that we barely recognize it.

The odd mixture of text speak and Chaucer which Hoban uses in Riddley Walker hints at what might happen to our language after hundreds of years. A realistic change would of course render it unintelligible for us. Visually it adds a trace of an accent and slows us down as readers. It reminds us the speaking style is unhurried, with a primitive poetic beauty of its own.

Riddley Walker Annotations is very helpful on the language of the book, with lots of extra information.

I couldn't stop thinking of Bruegel's Hunters in the Snow (painted in 1565). It perfectly evokes the sort of world Riddley lives in, I think.
It is quite different however for a people to look back on a world of lost and forgotten technology, rather than forward to merely an imagined one (even if not yet realized) as those of the renaissance did. This brave new world knows that there had been things like boats in the air, the Puter Leat (the computer elite) and the "1 big 1". There is a movement within the primitive government to discover the old secrets.
Time back way way back befor peopl got clevver they had the 1st knowing. They los it when they got the clevverness and now the clevverness is gone as wel.

Goodparley, the "Prime Mincer" stages "Eusa shows" (cultural government propaganda, with puppets ) which are a wildly distorted version of the St. Eustace legend.
The legend of Saint Eustace is depicted in a painting at Canterbury Cathedral. This painting is central to the plot and theme. It inspired Hoban to write this myth of the future, with its tenacious grip on the myths of the past.

When Riddley finds an old Punch figure of Punch and Judy fame, he decides to put on his own show with an entirely different message.

His message is the exact opposite to the one that the world of politics holds, both then and now: the only power is no power.

Dear Riddley. I can't help but to love him. He is only 12 years old, yet that age is considered the beginning of adulthood in his world. As you can imagine, with a name like "Riddley Walker", there will be many riddles to ponder and much walking to do. I longed to answer all his questions and help him in his quest. Here is a book where the reader desperately wants to enter, to explain, to help, to atone for handing him this future. Alas, we can only enter as a long dead ghost - silent, sad and helpless.

the 1 Big 1 playlyst:
Littl Shyning Man http://youtu.be/DMgqXzkjD1Q
Gimme Shelter http://youtu.be/fvCG7kgxeCc
The Moon Sow http://youtu.be/GpMKqRbYJsU
It's Alright Ma http://youtu.be/dB9hQWTbtEg
Tabula Rasa, I http://youtu.be/vu1BcNeebMI
House of Cards http://youtu.be/8nTFjVm9sTQ

Profile Image for Cecily.
1,116 reviews3,958 followers
August 13, 2014
Set in a primitive future society and told in the imagined dialect of the time, involving malapropistic phoneticisms and accidental puns (and clearly an inspiration for one story of Mitchell's Cloud Atlas: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...), so not something you can read quickly - at least, not till you get used to it.

This is the story of a would-be story-teller, trying to make sense of the present in the light of (minimal) understanding of the past, tied in with versions of 20th century life/history (especially the atom bomb) mixed traditional legends such as St Eustace.

Oddly, I found the slang in this (based on mishearings of English) harder than Russian-based slang of Clockwork Orange (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...), despite the fact I speak English but not Russian. I think that is partly because Burgess is the better, or at least more careful, writer, but also because the whole of this book is written in dialect, whereas in Clockwork Orange, it's conventional English with a generous smattering of slang.

This book, and especially its dialect, were an inspiration to David Mitchell, when writing the central story of Cloud Atlas (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), Sloosha's Crossin', as he explains in this article: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2005...

A great book for earnest and intellectual group discussions, but overall, I think it's trying to be cleverer and deeper than it actually is.

Thanks to Jenne, I've discovered this resource: http://www.errorbar.net/rw/. I may have to reread the book!
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,867 reviews16.5k followers
December 16, 2015
I am not necessarily adverse to an author expanding his creative vision into an exploration of communicative styles. Anthony Burgess’ brilliant A Clockwork Orange comes to mind. Frank Herbert’s Dune also developed a vocabulary to further develop his vision.

Stream of consciousness tales, though, tend to lose me. Norman Mailer’s Why Are We in Vietnam? was a hot mess of syntax that left me gasping on the rails of my deep-sea literary vessel, wanting the swells to die down some. William Burroughs Naked Lunch was a thick as molasses alphabet soup of words, and vile to boot, lacking the quirky, gonzo charm of Hunter S. Thompson. Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury is a 900-page run on sentence that has eluded me and I have yet to scale that ascent.

And that leads to Riddley Walker, written entirely in a first person narrative in a language that resembles English, and I guess in a broad sense it still is, but is, to me at least, incomprehensible. Author Russell Hoban has created what very possibly may be a work of genius. This was no doubt a labor of inspired brilliance.

However, it is so difficult to read that its dystopian adventure, a storyline I would ordinarily enjoy, is simply unapproachable. Even the influence of Lord of the Flies and the post-apocalyptic vision is minimized in the mire of the language.

I am reminded of the Ben Stiller film Tropic Thunder. In that film, Stiller’s character had, earlier in his career, attempted a dramatic portrayal of a character named Simple Jack. The movie had been a box office failure despite its actor’s heartfelt and thorough endeavor. Robert Downey, Jr.’s character gives him this advice:

“Check it out. Dustin Hoffman, 'Rain Man,' look retarded, act retarded, not retarded. Counted toothpicks, cheated cards. Autistic, sho'. Not retarded. You know Tom Hanks, 'Forrest Gump.' Slow, yes. Retarded, maybe. Braces on his legs. But he charmed the pants off Nixon and won a ping-pong competition. That ain't retarded. Peter Sellers, "Being There." Infantile, yes. Retarded, no. You went full retard, man. Never go full retard. You don't buy that? Ask Sean Penn, 2001, "I Am Sam." Remember? Went full retard, went home empty handed...”

Hoban went full apocalypse.

Burgess and Herbert expanded the vocabulary, but allowed the reader a chance to take part in the culture, left breadcrumbs along the way to allow us to keep up. Hoban worked really hard to create a meticulous cacophony of language that is applauded by many, and probably rightfully so. I, however, like many readers, was left on the outside looking in and never bought into what was being sold.

Profile Image for Rod.
102 reviews58 followers
December 9, 2018
Riddley Walker has clear precedents, such as the postmodern invented language of A Clockwork Orange and the post-apocalyptic search for lost knowledge that drives A Canticle for Leibowitz, but Hoban's novel remains a singularly original work. The language is the most striking thing about it, of course. A pidgin mishmash of broken, phonetically-spelled English and familiar words deconstructed and reconstructed, Riddley's language at first seems like an attention-grabbing gimmick, but it is anything but. It requires extra attention and thought on the part of the reader, but ultimately it leads to a much more immersive experience than if the book were written in standard English. There's a bit of Huck Finn in it, Pogo & His Pals, and Cockney brogue. It takes getting used to, but once you settle into it, it reveals its poetry.

Looking at the moon all col and wite and oansome. Lorna said to me, 'You know Riddley theres something in us it don't have no name.'

I said, 'what thing is that?'

She said, 'Its some kynd of thing it aint us yet its in us. Its looking out thru our eye hoals. [...] Its all 1 girt thing bigger nor the worl and lorn and loan and oansome, Tremmering it is and feart. It puts us on like we put on our cloes. Some times we dont fit. Some times it cant fynd the arm hoals and it tears us a part. I dont think I took all that much noatis of it when I ben yung. Now Im old I noatis it mor. It don't realy like to put me on no mor. Every morning I can feal how its tiret of me and readying to throw me a way. Iwl tel you some thing Riddley and keap this in memberment. Whatever it is we dont come naturel to it.'[...]

I said, 'Lorna I dont know what you mean.'

She said, 'We aint a naturel part of it, We dint begin when it begun we dint begin where it begun. It ben here befor us nor I don't know what we are to it. May be weare jus only sickness and a feaver to it or boyls on the arse of it I don't know.'

Riddley takes place at an unspecified time in the future, but apparently it is a couple of thousand years after the "Bad Time" which ensued following a major cataclysm, which is intimated to have been a nuclear disaster. The setting is Kent, England (or "Inland," as it's called), among bands of people at an Iron Age level of technology that are shedding their nomadic ways and settling down into fenced communities. Storytelling and religion are a big part of their culture, and both of these aspects are overseen by traveling "Eusa men" who stage "Eusa shows," puppet shows telling and retelling the ever-evolving story of Eusa, the man who was responsible for bringing on the "Bad Time." Riddley's father is the "connexion man," the one who makes "connexions," or reveals the hidden meanings behind the Eusa show stories.

When his father dies, Riddley, who just turned 12 and is now considered a man, takes over for his father as connexion man. Then the chance finding of an ancient relic sends Riddley on the run, setting him on a course that uncovers several threads, all leading back to the efforts of the powers that be to recover one of the lost powers of the ones that came before. That's a simplistic plot synopsis—one that does the book very little justice—but this is not a book to be synopsized; it is to be experienced on its own terms.

After having read it once, I believe I can safely say that to read Riddley Walker is to re-read it. Often I found myself thinking, "I'm really going to get more out of this when I read it a second time." Its mythology and its mysteries are allusive and elusive, showing much but revealing little. (Psst. Some familiarity with the story of St. Eustace wouldn't hurt.) I was reminded a lot of A Canticle for Leibowitz, but where that book holds you at an ironic distance, Riddley just draws you down into the filth and the muck and the shit. It's as blackly funny in its own way as Miller Jr.'s venerable mytho-religious post-apocalyptic novel, but I just think Hoban did it better. It's wonderful, but I have no doubt its wonders will even better reveal themselves on the second go-round.

Update 10/4/15
It is richer and more rewarding upon a second read, but there are still depths to be plumbed that I still feel I only scratched the surface of. Not that anyone should look for "answers" to the book's "mysteries," because it isn't that kind of book and Hoban was not that facile an author, but I still feel there are "connexions" that can be made to achieve a richer understanding of the book. Rest assured that I'll be re-reading it again at some point in the future.
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,423 reviews3,375 followers
January 28, 2019
Riddley Walker isn’t just the strangest post-apocalyptic dystopia I‘ve ever read, it is also a fine linguistic puzzle…
A new post-nuclear era needs new myths and new myths are told in a modern iron age newfangled language…
There is the Hart of the Wud in the Eusa Story that wer a stag every 1 knows that. There is the hart of the wood meaning the veryes deap of it thats a nother thing. There is the hart of the wood where they bern the chard coal thats a nother thing agen innit. Thats a nother thing. Berning the chard coal in the hart of the wood. Thats what they call the stack of wood you see. The stack of wood in the shape they do it for chard coal berning. Why do they call it the hart tho? Thats what this here story tels of.
Every 1 knows about Bad Time and what come after. Bad Time 1st and bad times after. Not many come thru it a live.
There come a man and a woman and a chyld out of a berning town they sheltert in the woodlings and foraging the bes they cud. Starveling wer what they wer doing. Dint have no weapons nor dint know how to make a snare nor nothing. Snow on the groun and a grey sky overing and the black trees rubbing ther branches in the wind. Crows calling 1 to a nother waiting for the 3 of them to drop. The man the woman and the chyld digging thru the snow they wer eating maws and dead leaves which they vomitit them up agen. Freazing col they wer nor dint have nothing to make a fire with to get warm. Starveling they wer and near come to the end of ther strenth.

And like other post-apocalyptic novels Riddley Walker is also a crucial quest… When the protagonist unexpectedly finds a pre-nuclear catastrophe artifact, a quest of his adulthood commences…
I put my han in the muck I reachit down and come up with some thing it wer a show figger like the 1s in the Eusa show. Woodin head and hans and the res of it clof. All of it gone black and the show mans han stil in it. Cut off jus a littl way up the rist. A groan up han and a regler show man he ben becaws when I wipet off you cud see the callus roun the head finger same as all the Eusa show men have.
This here figger tho it wernt like no other figger I ever seen. It wer crookit. Had a hump on its back and parper sewt there in the clof. For a wyl I cudnt think what it myt be then when it come to me what it wer I cudnt hardly beleave it yet there it wer nor no mistaking it. It wer a hump and it wer meant to be a hump. The head wernt like no other head I ever seen in a show nyther. The face had a big nose what hookit down and a big chin what hookit up and a smyling mouf. Some kynd of littl poynty hat on the head it curvit over with a wagger on the end of it.

Whatever is an era, it may even be a post-apocalyptic one, folks must be entertained… Show must go on…
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,256 reviews49 followers
July 6, 2022
Reread in 2022 for a discussion in the Reading the 20th Century group

Original stub review written in 2014 from memories of my first read in 2004:

This book is unlike anything I have read before or since - a post-apocalyptic vision of a primitive culture with half lost folk memories of earlier civilisation, written in a consistent imaginary language strongly rooted in modern English but evolved and degraded. The plot follows the eponymous Walker on a trek around Kent, exploring the nature of myth and religion. Unforgettable.

Thoughts arising from my 2022 reread
I'll start with a couple of comments arising from my original short review. I stand by most of it as a brief introduction, but I was surprised how much of the book (over a third) covers the eponymous Riddley's last days before he sets out on the walk which was the part of the book that remained strongest in my memory. I had also forgotten how many deaths there are in the story - the world Riddley lives in is brutal and lives are short.

The whole book spans a very short period starting with Riddley's 12th birthday, when he kills a wild boar. Soon afterwards his father dies in an accident as the work group they belong to attempt to lift a large piece of buried metal machinery. He inherits his father's role as connexion man for the community, which involves interpreting the "Eusa shows", in which Punch and Judy shows have been intertwined with a new evolved mythology, and which the regime ("the Ram") uses to communicate ideas.

The walk starts when Riddley digs up a Punch puppet and flees fearing retribution after assaulting a foreman, and finds himself befriended by a pack of wild dogs.

The mythology of the Eusa story is inspired by a wall painting at Canterbury Cathedral, The Legend of St Eustace. In one of the most entertaining scenes, the puppeteer and "Pry Mincer" Abel Goodparley attempts to interpret a surviving text description of the painting for Riddley, and Hoban has fun with Goodparley's interpretations of the arcane and mysterious words in it, which are of course familiar to readers. The Eustace story is intertwined with the story of the "1 Big 1", the catastrophe which ended the half remembered civilisation.

Another part of the story centres on the yellow stones he finds in a boat washed up with its dead seaman at "Fork Stoan" (Folkestone).

The language is inventive, fun to read and rather cleverly done, and not that difficult to follow - it is clear that getting it right must have been a very difficult task for Hoban. The place names are full of earthy puns (understanding the geography is easy, as Hoban provided a map, and the A roads retain their numbers). A surprising amount of 20th century culture is at least partly remembered.
Profile Image for Jude.
145 reviews58 followers
October 16, 2008
i did a lot of things wrong and painful with and to my daughter. seriously. that's not guilt, that's the reality. we are fine and ever finer.

and then there are the things i did inadvertently that made some kind of wild & tender balance - that built in a tool kit with which to cope with me and everything else that was ever gonna traumatize her for no good reason.

this book is one of those things. even kids you are fucking with love you and pay attention to what moves you. maybe they pay attention when something gets you so excited and happy that they associate that thing with you being human for a split second. or when something thrills you so much that you share the thrill with them because they are the only person available and you pour all your thrills into them with no regard for their capacity to really understand.

and, of course, they DO understand. cause they are your kid. you built them to understand you, to get your jokes. there is probably a time when their language about living with you is like Riddley's - makeshift, distorted, garbled and truer than precision could ever be.

so -my daughter loves this book, and has since she was a child. language and its drunken dance have few better fiddlers than Hoban, and this is a tune that goes back deep, sweet, sad and funny for both of us.
Profile Image for Jonathan.
917 reviews948 followers
July 15, 2014
This is an already-famous book, and the internet is full of reviews and dedicated websites, so there really is little more I feel needs to be said.

However, I think it is useful for any potential reader of this to get a sense of how easy it to read, how one grows rapidly used to the phonetics. Also, for me, much of the brilliance of this novel can be found in the construction of individual paragraphs, and in the genius of it on the micro level, rather than in any discussion of the Big Themes.

The old cliche that is is hardest to make complex things simple is true, and RH does it with grace and a lightness of touch that is awe-inspiring.

The hardest thing to do in creating a mythology is to give it weight, the density and heft that comes from centuries of use. It is certainly unsurprising to read that RH wrote hundreds and hundreds of pages before cutting everything down to the final text.

This is also a book very much in the Wake of the Wake. And that is to be celebrated.

Look at how subtle, complex and meaning-full this writing is, look how well crafted its rhythm is, how deceptively simply it states complex truths:

"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. You try to word the big things and they tern ther backs on you. Yet youwl see stanning stoans and ther backs wil talk to you. "


"Every thing has a shape and so does the nite only you cant see the shape of nite nor you cant think it. If you put your self right you can know it. Not with knowing in your head but with the 1st knowing. Where the number creaper grows on the dead stoans and the groun is sour for 3 days digging the nite stil knows the shape of its self tho we dont. Some times the nite is the shape of a ear only it aint a ear we know the shape of. Lissening back for all the souns whatre gone from us. The hummering of the dead towns and the voyces befor the towns ben there. Befor the iron ben and fire ben only littl. Lissening for whats coming as wel. "


"Raining agen it wer nex morning. Theres rains and rains. This 1 wer coming down in a way as took the hart and hoap out of you there wer a kynd of brilyants in the grey it wer too hard it wer too else it made you feal like all the tracks in the worl wer out paths nor not a 1 to bring you back. Wel of coarse they are but it dont all ways feal that way. It wer that kynd of morning when peopl wernt jus falling in to what they done naturel they had to work ther selfs in to it. Seamt like a lot of tea got spilt at breakfas nor the talk wernt the userel hummeling and mummeling there wer some thing else in it. Like when you see litening behynt the clouds. "


“Every body knows Aunty. Stoan boans and iron tits and teef be twean her legs plus she has a iron willy for the ladys it gets red hot. When your time comes you have to do the juicy with her like it or not. She rides a girt big rat with red eyes it can see in the dark and it can smel whos ready for Aunty. Even if they dont know it ther selfs the rat can smel if theyre ready.”


" Looking at the moon all col and wite and oansome. Lorna said to me, 'You know Riddley theres something in us it don't have no name.'

I said, 'what thing is that?'

She said, 'Its some kynd of thing it aint us yet its in us. Its looking out thru our eye hoals … Its all 1 girt thing bigger nor the worl and lorn and loan and oansome, Tremmering it is and feart. It puts us on like we put on our cloes. Some times we dont fit. Some times it cant fynd the arm hoals and it tears us a part. I dont think I took all that much noatis of it when I ben yung. Now Im old I noatis it mor. It don't realy like to put me on no mor. Every morning I can feal how its tiret of me and readying to throw me a way. Iwl tel you some thing Riddley and keap this in memberment. Whatever it is we dont come naturel to it.'

I said, 'Lorna I dont know what you mean.'

She said, 'We aint a naturel part of it, We dint begin when it begun we dint begin where it begun. It ben here befor us nor I don't know what we are to it. May be weare jus only sickness and a feaver to it or boyls on the arse of it I don't know.'"
Profile Image for Edward.
419 reviews398 followers
April 11, 2021
Riddley Walker is a clever little book: in the sheer level detail paid to the dialect - in its consistency, and the use of real-world methods of linguistic mutation (such as misdivision) - along with the novel's depiction of a post-apocalyptic society with a complex mythology that is unique and compelling.

What a pity that the experience of trudging though all the dialect - of painstakingly labouring to simply read and understand the words on the page - is so distinctly disagreeable that it threatens to overpower any other enjoyment one may derive from the novel. I think a lighter touch with the dialect would have gone a long way.
Profile Image for Spencer Orey.
540 reviews123 followers
September 8, 2021
What a voice. There's so much happening here. I mostly loved the futuristic broken voice, except where it broke POV. But mostly what kept me interested were the myths of the before times, all the plays of this broken society remembering our world in little misunderstood stories and myths. There's some real deepness in this book, paired with some mystical thoughts about our ways of knowing and what kinds of knowledge we've given over to technology and what we're therefore capable of losing. Also some strangely deep thoughts about our human relationship to dogs.
Profile Image for Fuchsia  Groan.
162 reviews196 followers
August 2, 2018
El dia de mi nombramiento qando qmpli los 12 sali con la lanza en ristre i mate 1 javali que probablemente era el ultimo javali en las Colinas del Hato de todas formas hazia mucho que no veia ninguno no creo que vuelva a ver ninguno.
Así comienza Dudo errante (Riddley Walker), escrito en 1980 y que es ya un clásico de la ciencia ficción. Una obra de culto que aquí ha pasado bastante desapercibida.

Hace más de dos milenios del Holocausto nuclear (el Gran Pum) y Enlaterra ha involucionado siglos y siglos. La cultura, la humanidad, el lenguaje se han degradado, corrompido. La historia se ha olvidado, y son las élites religiosas y políticas las que controlan el pasado.

Dudo, de 12 años, hereda el cargo de su padre, el nexo del Zercado de Como, una especie de intérprete para el resto de su tribu de los espectáculos de títeres que realizan los Mistros, líderes religiosos y políticos, guiñoles propagandísticos y que alertan sobre los peligros de la ciencia y la tecnología que llevó al Gran Pum. Tras un extraño y algo inexplicable impulso, Dudo huye, en un viaje de iniciación, de búsqueda de la verdad. En este aspecto la trama no es demasiado novedosa u original, aunque es interesante el trasfondo ecologista y la exploración de la condición humana.

En la obra se insertan cuentos populares construidos sobre acontecimientos reales del pasado, malinterpretados y deformados. La historia se ha convertido en mito, en leyenda, y al revés, la verdadera leyenda se ha mezclado con la realidad (interesante cómo a través de un folleto turístico, conservado como una reliquia, se confunde la historia de San Eustaquio con la de la propia historia de Eusa, o se crea una historia sobre la guerra nuclear que incluye al mismísimo Jesucristo), lo que lleva a reflexionar sobre nuestra propia manera de reinterpretar y acercarnos al pasado.

Dudo errante es un experimento, lingüístico fundamentalmente, en el que Hoban crea una nueva lengua (el riddleyspeak) basada en la fonética, y esto es lo que más he disfrutado de la lectura. El autor estaba convencido de que su novela era intraducible, y prohibió su publicación en otras lenguas durante años (más de 20 transcurrieron hasta que los traductores españoles consiguieron convencerle). La traducción de la edición de Cátedra es magnífica, las notas aclaratorias dan perfecta idea de cómo es el original, pero creo que algo de razón tenía Hoban al afirmar la imposibilidad de la tarea. En el original, al ir leyendo ese nuevo idioma, la pronunciación de las palabras, aunque captemos el sentido que pretende el autor, evocan a la vez a otras, dando un extraño significado al conjunto, y una cadencia poética que se pierde al leer la traducción.
Profile Image for Terence.
1,160 reviews387 followers
May 4, 2015
There’s a point in Riddley Walker where Riddley writes, “You try to word the big things and they tern ther backs on you,” which is a bit how I feel trying to write about this book. There are so many “big things” going on in it that it’s difficult to decide what to raise in a short review. But I will try to articulate a few of the “big things” that struck me on this – my first – reading.

Riddley Walker shares a theme with Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz. In that novel, our world too is destroyed in a nuclear holocaust, and its survivors spend the subsequent two thousand years recovering only to commit the same follies and suffer the same fate. Riddley Walker isn’t written on the same time scale – it takes place over the course of about a week – but the idea of humanity’s recurring folly is present. Abel Goodparley and Erny Orfing, respectively the Pry Mincer and Wes Mincer of Inland, seek to recreate the “1 Big 1” (the atom bomb) and the “1 Littl 1” (gunpowder) so they can rebuild the world from “time back way back.”

Riddley Walker is also kin to Edgar Pangborn’s Davy and Still I Persist in Wondering. Again in the humanity-can-be-kind-of-stupid theme but also in similarities between the characters of Davy and Riddley. Both ultimately reject what their societies impose upon them. Davy’s rejection is more of an individual choice and he doesn’t set out to change anyone’s life but his own. Riddley, though, is a “happener” (in Goodparley’s estimation) and what he chooses to do will have profound consequences (you suspect; the ending leaves us at the beginning of his “roading”). And there’s an underlying humane-ness that Hoban shares with Pangborn. A sense that – despite our flaws, there is something good in us – that I don’t find so much in Miller. Chapter 15, which is the central part of the story, recounts Riddley’s flight from Goodparley, his attempt to reach a former companion (Lissener) whom he realizes is in trouble, and the epiphany he reaches in the ruins of Canterbury Cathedral (Cambry). In the course of that flight he moves from being Lissener’s ally in overthrowing the Mincers, to agreeing with Goodparley’s plans for Inland, to realizing that neither party is right and he must chart a third course:

May be all there ever ben wer jus only 1 minim when any thing ever cud be right and that minim all ways gone befor you seen it. May be soons that 1st stoan tree stood up the wrongness hung there in the branches of it the wrongness ben the 1st frute of the tree…

I wer progammit diffrent then from how I ben when I come in to Cambry. Coming in to Cambry my head ben full of words and rimes and all kynds of jumbl of yellerboy stoan thots. Back then I ben thinking of the Power of the 2 and the 1 and the Hy Power what ben wooshing roun the Power Ring time back way back. The 1 Big 1 and the Spirit of God. My mynd ben all binsy with myndy thinking. Thinking who wer going to do what and how I myt put some thing to gether befor some 1 else done it. Seed of the red and seed of the yeller and that. That onwith of the yeller boy and the pig shit in the hart of the wood. Hart of the wud. Now I dint want nothing of that. I dint know what the connexion were with that face in my mynd only I knowit that face wer making me think diffrent. I wernt looking for no Hy Power no mor I dint want no Power at all. I dint want to do nothing with that yellerboy stoan no mor. Greanvine were the name I put to that face in my mynd.

I cud feal some thing growing in me it wer like a grean sea surging in me it wer saying, LOSE IT. Saying, LET GO. Saying, THE ONLYES POWER IS NO POWER.

Which brings me to the “Eusa shows.” These are puppet shows – propaganda – put on by the Pry Mincer and the Wes Mincer to justify their rule. They are the wildly distorted remembrances of the story of St. Eustace, the scientists who created the 1 Big 1 and the governments who used it, and Punch and Judy. They form the ritualized beliefs that unite the farmers (the “forms”) and the hunter-gatherers (the “fents”) of Inland. When Goodparley takes Riddley into his confidence at one point, he tells him about and reenacts the original Punch and Judy show, and later Riddley stumbles upon an ancient Punch doll. And it’s in this medium of storytelling that Riddley begins to “happen” things. The book ends with Riddley and Orfing shaking things up with a “Punch and Pooty” play at Weaping form:

Pooty says, ‘I know that wel a nuff thats why Im going down to get on with it now wil you mynd the babby?’

Punch says, ‘Not a bit. Mmmmm. Yum yum yum.’

Pooty says, ‘Whyd you say “Yum yum yum”?’

Punch says, ‘I wer jus clearing my froat.’

Pooty says, ‘For what?’

Punch says, ‘So I can sing to the babby.’

Pooty says, ‘What kynd of song you going to sing?’

Punch says, ‘Yummy py.’

Pooty says, ‘Whatd you say?’

Punch says, ‘Lulling by. Iwl sing the babby lulling bys.’

Pooty terns to the crowd she says, ‘Wud you please keap a eye on him wylst Im frying my swossages. Give us a shout wil you if he dont mynd that babby right.’

Theres plenny of voices in the crowd then speaking up theyre saying, ‘Dont you worry Pooty wewl keap a eye on him.’ Easyers voice says, ‘Wewl see your babby right Pooty that littl crookit barset he bes not try nothing here.’

Punch he dont anser nothing to that. When Pooty goes down hes zanting a littl with the babby its a littl jerky kynd of dants. Hes singing:

‘There wer a littl babby
A piglet fat and juicy
Who ever got ther hans on him
They cudnt tern him lucey
Ah yummy yummy yummy
Ah slubber slubber sloo
Ah tummy tummy tummy
Ah piggy piggy poo’

The crowd becomes so incensed by Punch’s imminent cannibalism that one jumps up and attacks Riddley to stop it. There’s a parallel here between this and a story Riddley tells early in the book about the Bad Times when a couple are convinced by a “clevver” man to kill and eat their own child. Punch, the “clevver” one, can never be trusted with the “babby,” the “Power” (?):

The clevver looking bloak said, 'Iwl tel you what Iwl do Iwl share you my fire and my cook pot if youwl share me what to put in the pot.' He wer looking at the chyld.

The man and the woman thot: 2 out of 3 a live is bettern 3 dead. They said, 'Done.'

They kilt the chyld and drunk its blood and cut up the meat for cooking.

The clevver looking bloak said, 'Iwl show you how to make fire plus Iwl give you flint and steal and makings nor you dont have to share me nothing of the meat only the hart.'

Which he made the fire then and give them flint and steal and makings then he cookt the hart of the chyld and et it.

The clevver looking bloak said, 'Clevverness is gone now but littl by littl itwl come back. The iron wil come back agen 1 day and when the iron comes back they wil bern chard coal in the hart of the wood. And when they bern the chard coal ther stack wil be the shape of the hart of the chyld.' Off he gone then singing:

Seed of the littl
Seed of the wyld
Seed of the berning is
Hart of the chyld'

And this just scratches the surface. I originally gave Riddley Walker three stars (albeit, a strong three stars) but upon rereading passages, looking at other GR reviews, and following the threads of a serendipitously found discussion of the book at the A.V. Club, I’m revising my appraisal to four stars and even more strongly recommend this book.

Oh, yeah – the language. As you may have gathered from the quotes above, Riddley Walker is written in the vernacular of Inland but this isn’t a gimmick. If you’re able to get through the first chapter or two, the rules of Riddley’s English become clear and it’s only occasionally difficult to understand what’s going on (e.g., it took a random reference in the A.V. Club thread to “Salt 4” meaning “sulfur” before I figured that one out). Using it, however, Hoban makes readers inhabit Riddley’s world like no other device can and demands that they pay attention to what’s (and what’s not) being said.
Profile Image for Nigeyb.
1,209 reviews266 followers
June 30, 2022
Riddley Walker (1980) by Russell Hoban has rocketed straight into my list of all time favourite books. It's extraordinary. A masterpiece, and a breathtaking feat of imagination. Within a few pages I was transfixed.

Riddley Walker is set several thousand years in the future following a nuclear apocalypse.

To do it justice in a short review is impossible so here are a few key points:

It's written in a strange, post-apocalyptic, survivor vernacular so the reader must slow down to understand what is happening. There are also various interpretations to ponder. Like the world, the language has been smashed into smaller pieces. The struggle with the language is what makes the novel so absorbing and rewarding

Riddley's world is coherently and stunningly evoked. Semi-nomadic groups eke out a precarious existence from the boggy ground, often digging up the remains of a destroyed civilisation. It all takes place in "Inland" which we'd recognise as East Kent completed with former place names brutally and amusingly transformed

It's a philosophical book that touches on many big issues and even gets to the heart of what makes for a meaningful life

Power is another core theme: nuclear power, individual power, political power, the power of nature, personal responsibility, and speaking truth to power. Ultimately the only power is no power

It's sometimes quite funny

The old Christian religion and corrupted memories of long-dead technology often inform the acquisition, rediscovery and sharing of forbidden knowledge. Riddley's world is one of ritual, superstition, dreams, omens, coincidences, and telepathy, often apprehended through feelings and intuition. Riddley rarely seems consciously aware of what he is doing until it is too late

Religion, insofar as it exists is centred around the worship of Eusa a curious mix of the story of Saint Eustace and confused memories of nuclear war

Punch and Judy-style puppet shows are used by the Government to disseminate propaganda

Reading that back makes me realise it just has to be experienced.

Trust me, puzzling your way through Riddley's strange and wonderful world is enjoyable and worth all the trubba.


The novel is now widely considered to be a post-war masterpiece. Anthony Burgess included it in his list of the 99 best novels published in the English language since 1939 saying ‘this is what literature is meant to be.’ Harold Bloom included it in his book The Western Canon, an examination of the work of 26 writers central to the development of Western literature. Hugh Kenner called it a book ‘where at first sight all the words are wrong, and at a second sight not a sentence is to be missed.’ John Leonard, writing in the New York Times said it was a book ‘designed to prevent the modern reader from becoming stupid.’

Composed in an English which has never been spoken and laced with a storytelling tradition that predates the written word, Riddley Walker is the world waiting for us at the bitter end of the nuclear road. It is desolate, dangerous and harrowing, and a modern masterpiece.

'The book has an evangelical effect on people ... Riddley is an absorbing character, Hoban's language has a fantastic, rough poetry and the post-apocalyptic world is chilling and convincing' ― Rachel Seiffert, Observer

'Russell Hoban has brought off an extraordinary feat of imagination and of style ... funny, terrible, haunting and unsettling, this book is a masterpiece' ― Observer
Profile Image for Kyle.
121 reviews202 followers
October 5, 2022
Whenever I feel that the field of writing has become a bit stale, a bit repetitive, or a bit clichè. Whenever originality seems beyond the horizon, or when I start to suspect that writers care more about writing as a job rather than as an art... I Pick up my well-worn copy of Riddley Walker. Merely the act of scanning some of the pages in this book, infuses me with a new sense of vigor. A new sense of hope. Hope that it is possible for someone to write something so masterful and beautiful that I very literally can't compare this book to any other book I know of in existence.

Even more than hope of that however, is hope for the human race itself and hope that we as individuals still posses the power to touch each others lives in a profound enough way to render ourselves speechless.

Russell Hoban had that power. With Riddley Walker he created a tool capable of communicating with people on a fundamental level and which forces them to think and to feel like none other.

This book is a post-apocalyptic book, but it is so much more than that. It is a story of a young Riddley Walker struggling to survive and to make sense of the world around him, but it is so much more than that. Try to categorize or contain this book in any way, and it becomes so much more than your pitiful attempt to do so. This book, is what literature is meant to be. It is all things to all people, and only as much as it should be.

Russell Hoban committed a brave act in writing this book. He tried to create something wholly unique, entirely expressive, and completely profound, all the while knowing that the language would immediately turn a lot of readers away (a friend of mine refused to read beyond the first page). This is not a book that is meant to be speed-read or rushed through. This is a book that requires the reader to exercise patience, effort, and care during their cover-to-cover journey. Russell Hoban worked hard to create this novel, why shouldn't the reader work hard to read it?

The language of the book can seem a bit intimidating at first, but allow yourself to relax, let it flow through you, and you may just find yourself missing it once you stop reading. There's a sort of rough poetry to the language Riddley uses, a sort of song. Accept the language in the spirit it's given, and you'll find yourself being rewarded at every turn:

"Walker is my name and I am the same. Riddley Walker. Walking my riddles where ever theyve took me and walking them now on this paper the same."

There's a cadence, a sort of tempo to the writing that adds to the haunting feeling one gets from the book, a longing combined with a sense of contentment. But hidden under all the language and even under the actual plot, is a charming, innocent, and unforgiving attempt to try and tackle big ideas:

"I don't think it makes no diffrents where you start the telling of a thing. You never know where it begun realy. No moren you know where you begun your oan self. You myt know the place and day and time of day when you been beartht. You myt even know the place and day and time when you ben got. That dont mean nothing tho. You stil dont know where you begun."

I don't consider it a stretch to claim that Riddley Walker is up there in the pantheon of greatest books ever written, or that it will remain so for many many years. Cherish this novel, and it will cherish you back.
Profile Image for Laura.
126 reviews34 followers
November 26, 2008
God, this book is fantastic.

Ever wonder what it must have been like to live in a world where all that you have is all that's around you, where the earth could hold any kind of horror at all and you'd believe it because all you know is what you see and what you whisper about at night around the fire? That's the kind of world Hoban's created for Riddley and his people. It's an utterly believable (mentally, that is-- there are some sciencefictiony things about the plot that are obviously not natural) society. The sheer thought that went into this-- it's as if Hoban went off and lived as an iron-age peasant himself for a lifetime.

It's the mentality of these characters that really gets me. In the passages where Riddley, our Huck-Finn-esque hero, visits the old 'stannins' of the 'bernt towns' and roams among the ruins of our destroyed society, the feelings he describes are so earnest and bowelsy, so bewilderingly human, that it's hard not to be awed. His philosophical reflections are relevant an honest. This book is, in a large part, about the philosophy of what it means to be human-- what the "idear of us" really is. But there's no frivolity of thought here. The idea that simple people in touch with the world can know things our society can't is borne out in full by what Riddley has to say. What is the idear of Power? Should the 2 come 1? What are we-- are we in 2, are we loan and oansome, or ought we come gether? When we try to move forward in life-- when we try to progress, when we plumb the secrets of the world, searching for the Nos. of the many cools and the party cools, what are we doing? Are we hurtling towards our own destruction? What does man do to himself, in the end-- is there nothing for us in the future but the 1 Big 1, the moment when we finally destroy ourselves? Or is there another way?

The language above is from the book. Yes, it's a bit intimidating. But he's created such a tight linguistic web of meaning with his Riddelyspeak that it's better, at times, to read straight on through without hesitation, to let the allusions and ideas that these worn-down words create just flow on into your head. Every word means more than one thing. Our convoluted latinate multisyllables have been broken down here into nuggets of real meaning, and Hoban's word choices often work on so many levels that it's difficult to tell what he's actually doing. The reader is as bewildered as Riddley is. This book is designed to bewilder. It works wonderfully.

A classic if I ever knew one. Astonishing and brutal and profound. There is absolutely no reason why not to read this book. Absolutely none at all. It's got a kind of mastery in it that you rarely get to see in most contemporary work. This is the 20th century looking back at itself with horror, and it's a lesson for anyone.
Profile Image for Roman Clodia.
2,425 reviews2,493 followers
July 4, 2022
Why is Punch crookit? Why will he all ways kill the babby if he can? Parbly I wont never know its jus on me to think on it

Set something like 2000 years in our future, this is a bleak dystopian vision where the UK (and, presumably elsewhere) has been nuclear-bombed back to an iron age. Parts of the British coast are submerged beneath the sea, and small communities live in near isolation around Kent, digging up buried machinery to smelt it down, and just making the shift from a nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a more organised agricultural system.

The tremendous achievement of this book is Hoban's forging of a post-apocalyptic language and mythology, both made up of broken fragments of words, images, grammatical and other systems, ideas and archetypes that we recognise and simultaneously don't. The concepts of division, brokenness, and the search for a form of reunification underpin much of the narrative, shifting and morphing to take on many different meanings: from the disastrous splitting of the 'Addom' (atom, Adam) causing a literal 'fall' of humanity and culture, to the various types of twinning between people, groups and things that punctuate the text.

So many myths and stories get thrown in here so the book is an allusion-spotter's delight: Punch and Judy, scraps of classical Athenian culture (boy sexuality, the 'poasyum' for symposium), Christianity, folk and fertility gods and rituals, all mixed up with survivals of lost history: 'Eusa' who was responsible for the '1 Big 1' and whose name recalls both St Eustace as referenced in the text and also Europe and USA, 'Mr Clevver' as the bad side of human scientific knowledge, the remnants of the British political system in 'Empy', the 'Pry Mincer' and 'Wes Mincer', at least one allusion to Shakespeare (yes, Gloucester's big scene from King Lear!), and the 'Puter Leat' and 'Power Leat' (computer elite and power elite).

Is the language difficult? Much of it seems to draw on medieval or Middle English so I didn't really struggle, and it may help to read some words out loud as this mostly illiterate society uses phonetics for spelling. It's especially fascinating to see the way in which myths, even those central to a society's self-identity, can be massaged and manipulated: we witness four versions of the Eusa story, and are invited to think about who the various tellers are and to whose advantage the changes might work. The politics and power of storytelling is foregrounded.

For all this good stuff, there's very little plot and a lot of wandering around aimlessly on roads in Kent. Whole sections, for me, were needlessly and tiresomely drawn out, such as the various Punch and Judy shows with all the lines quoted in text like a play. I appreciated that there's no melodramatic ending but also would have liked to have got there sooner. There is barely a female character in the whole thing other than a witchy/crone/seer woman - and Judy.

So this was all about the linguistic innovation for me, the exposure of how mythology and storytelling are technologies of power, and the searing vision at its heart: 'the onlyes power is no power. Wel now I sust that wernt qwite it. It aint that its NO POWER. Its the not sturgling for Power thats where the Power is, its in just letting your self be where it is.'
Profile Image for Suzanne.
427 reviews220 followers
January 29, 2013
Whoa. I am not really sure what just happened here. This is the strangest book I have ever read.

I was drawn to read this when I learned that Riddley Walker had been an inspiration and influence for the Sloosha’s Crossin' chapter of Cloud Atlas, which was my favorite part of that wonderful book. The language is similarly a specially developed dialect, but where David Mitchell’s invented language is a little difficult until you find the rhythm, it became easier and, on my second reading of CA, I even found it poetic. In Riddley Walker, however, it was more complex to begin with and it never got much easier. I was enjoying trying to ferret out the truth in the story, but got frustrated at times and kept thinking, “Does it have to be this hard?” About half way through, I realized, yes, it did.

Riddley is a 12-year-old boy who becomes a man at that age in this primitive, post-apocalyptic world, and he also succeeds his father as his tribe’s “connexion man,” when dad is killed in an accident. A connexion man interprets meanings and events in this society where a travelling morality play attempts to keep alive old stories and songs. The people in this world wonder about how the former civilization of “Inland,” where they had “ships in the air” and “pictures on the wind,” crumbled when their leaders’ “clevverness” and Power exceeded their ability to manage it, resulting in “the Bad Time.” There are only shadowy and dimly understood notions about exactly what happened and why, with bizarre and often grotesque mythologies standing in for history. There is also the quest for a certain type of arcane knowledge universally lusted after that will put the people back on a forward path toward new power (for good or ill, but that is human nature: to lust after power). Riddley’s father’s death puts the boy walking on the road to a sort of hero’s journey where he has adventures discovering the nature of the world and himself. He learns he is not only an intuitive, but a “happener,” one who makes things happen, because that too is human nature, to want to have an effect on the world and cause it to move forward.

I think the challenge of having to struggle with the language and seeing that world through a foggy lens (it’ a riddle!) mirrors the difficulty Riddley and his people have trying to understand the world that is gone, when there is literally almost nothing left but “bernt” dead towns and the ruins of the Power Ring at “Cambry,” no records or history, except the handed-down stories, songs and plays that attempt to understand the past, present and possibly the future.

I loved the way this book is so full of layers upon layers of myth and ritual, allegory, parables, symbolism and archetypes, wordplay and imagery, bursting with it, while hints of our history, though twisted and distorted, bleed through to that future world to anchor it. But the subject is actually more cosmic than that, about the nature of power and long cycles of repeatability in the human experience (echoes of David Mitchell here). Mostly I was left with impressions, rather than a strong sense of plot or events, impressions that are so rich and dense, they would need to be sorted out and analyzed on a second and third and maybe fourth reading. But I will probably never do that . . . because this first time, I thought my head was going to explode. That is not meant to discourage anyone. It is a most interesting reading experience and as unusual as anything I’ve ever attempted. Ultimately, I appreciated the theme of human potential that sounded throughout, the unstoppable force within us, no matter the age or era, to try to keep going forward.

Profile Image for J.
194 reviews89 followers
March 12, 2022
A feeble plot is bolstered by the inventive language and intriguing bleakness of this novel, set thousands of years after a nuclear catastrophe. Often compared to Anthony Burgess's "A Clockwork Orange," "Riddley Walker" uses a deteriorated, cobbled-together dialect rather than portmanteaus and neologisms created by blending two languages (English & Russian). The vernacular can be difficult to comprehend at first, but reading aloud can help, and pretty soon one can understand lines like, "Sarvering gallack seas and flaming nebyul eye." One can probably glean meaning from such lines without knowledge of the novel, but, "Thine the han what shapit the black," is a bit more symbolic. Once it is realized that 'nor' is akin to 'and', and 'what' is akin to 'that', as well as other transfigured verbiage, the book becomes a fun read.

Comparisons have also been made to McCarthy's "The Road." But Walker is more like "Blood Meridian" with heads on poles and senseless violence always lurking in the 'White Shadders.'

Correlations aside, this is inarguably an original work. Hoban's dedication to the language and the tone is venerable. What Walker lacks in character development and subplots is forgivable, since we have a novel with such feeling, such evocation. I can't prove it, but I am sure reading the book will force the brain to work differently, will make the reader smarter in some way. The rhythm of the sentences is an auger into the ice of the mind. The pictures conjured by the words may haunt the reader long after the last song is sung.
Profile Image for Wanda Pedersen.
1,860 reviews370 followers
January 12, 2015
"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."

Some may find the invented language that comprises this novel difficult, but I liked it. Having studied just enough linguistics to be dangerous, it has often been one of my pet peeves that fictional people from the far-distant future are able to easily communicate with whoever they choose to. Language just doesn’t work that way—it changes and evolves. If you don’t believe me, try to read Beowulf in its original form—it’s hard to believe that it is English, and that’s only a bit over 1000 years. We use scores of words to describe our reality that people from the 1800s would find incomprehensible.

That said, an author can’t really change the language all that much, or the work becomes as confusing as the original Beowulf is to modern readers. Hence the chowdered and changed English that Riddley Walker is written in. As it is copyrighted in 1980, I am assuming that it was written either long hand, i.e. pen & paper, or on a typewriter. Certainly it would be murder to try to compose it with a word processing program—the text would be a distracting tangle of red and green lines, attempting to herd the author back to standard spellings and forms. And if one reads it aloud (oh yes I did, at least some of the more vexing passages), it really isn’t all that far from contemporary English. But the written form, with its strange spellings, bastardized words, and odd punctuation all work together to slow the reader down to the speed of the people who remain and make it seem more different from 21st century English that it actually is.

It might be an interesting experiment to read this and Burgess’ Clockwork Orange together, despite the fact that Burgess uses just a smattering of slang in comparison with Hoban’s entire novel in dialect. I really enjoyed the language aspects of both novels.

I loved the greeting that Riddley used at the gates to towns: “Trubba not.” It contains overtones of the King James Bible—Let not your heart be troubled���plus a promise that he was not bringing trouble into the community. I also loved that a medieval wall painting was the driving force behind this new society—the first Dark Ages informing the new one. The mish-mash of old religious imagery, nuclear science, previous hierarchies, all of it rather divorced from its original meaning—that’s exactly what could happen centuries after a nuclear bomb blast that reduces civilization right back to the Stone Age. I also found it moving that 2000 years after the bombs dropped, when dogs were more likely to attack people than to help them, the bond between man and dog could still be resurrected, that dogs could still recognize that “first understanding” that they had made with humans probably 2000 years before the war. [Probably not all that surprising, given how dogs and people have evolved together—dogs understand human body language better than chimpanzees do. Dogs readily understand that pointing indicates something to pay attention to, while chimps don’t seem to “get” that gesture.]

I also thought the use of itinerant puppeteers to spread “government” messages was an inspired choice, especially since Punch and Judy shows are still a part of traditional English culture. The contrast of the Eusa shows (the propaganda) and Punch & Pooty (the mutated form of the traditional), plus their ability to inspire community discussion—perfect!

Cross-posted at my blog, The Next Fifty:
Profile Image for Ruby  Tombstone Lives!.
338 reviews412 followers
April 17, 2012
This is already a sentimental favourite for me. I've only read it once, but I'm already imagining reading it again and again, adding to the notes in the margins as I go..... sigh. Book love.

The book's premise is that an apocalyptic nuclear event (taking place roughly now) has resulted in Britain being flooded, creating an island out of what is now County Kent, in Britain. The story takes place a couple of thousand years in the future, when little knowledge of mankind's history has survived, and society has essentially reverted to the iron age. The history of the world that was is shrouded in mythology, and the mythology is kept alive by means of a travelling puppet show. Of course!

A lot of Hoban's world building is accomplished through the language he invented for this book. It's a unique dialect, built on the few remaining relics and scraps of evidence that survive of humanity's past, referencing technological, parliamentary and religious terms without the original context. There's a certain amount of tongue-in-cheek humour here, with terms like "helping the qwirys", derived from "helping the police with their inquiries", meaning "being tortured for information". On top of that, Hoban set out to imbue the words with multiple (but complimentary) meanings wherever possible. He also added some complexity to the language in order to slow the reader down to Riddley's comprehension level, which I think is a nice touch.

The result is a rich, many-layered and wholly believable language for a post-apocalyptic British society. It reminds me of some of the creole-based languages used in Northern Australian communities,(Kriol, TSI Creole etc) and the Asian creoles like Singlish and Manglish. You can sound it out and it soon becomes obvious that it's based on English that has been modified to suit the new environment. Reading the book was a lot like solving a cryptic crossword puzzle, and I constantly found myself puzzling over particular phrases and looking for puns and double meanings. You really don't need to try to figure out all of the words though, as Hoban (who sadly passed away in December) did an amazing job making them work on an intuitive level. I loved being able to see new meanings in the words, and knowing that even if it wasn't what Hoban had in mind, he would have approved.

References - The 20th Anniversary Edition has some REALLY useful extra content at the back, including a sample glossary, which I would recommend reading before reading the story. It will make the language and context a lot quicker to grasp. I would recommend starting with the Afterword.

There are also a couple of good references online for looking up words, mythology and concepts from Riddley Walker. I used this one mostly: http://www.errorbar.net/rw/index/ - Keep in mind that this is not a definitive reference text. It's a nice collection of interpretations from a group of readers but it doesn't cover everything, and they are only opinions. If you perceive other linkages there, try googling for more info. At the end of the day, your interpretations will be perfectly valid if they work for you. And THAT's the beauty of Riddley Walker.

Profile Image for Stuart.
718 reviews267 followers
January 22, 2022
Riddley Walker in Audiobook at Last~Bet a Lot of Readers Would Have Appreciated That
This is a well-known work due to its entirely invented, devolved form of English used in a post-apocalyptic England reduced to Iron Age subsistence living, though gradually shifting from hunter-gathering to farming and starting up the whole cycle of development that would in theory give birth to another industrial revolution and perhaps the same disastrous consequences, much like A Canticle for Leibowitz and other such cautionary tales.

But the made-up first-person narrative is the defining characteristic of this book, you'll either find it a brilliant and absorbing exercise that draws you into a different, more simple mindset in a way that modern prose cannot, or a painful gimmick that makes the story impenetrable. I knew it would be quite a slog, so the book sat on my shelf for three decades untouched, but when I discovered an audiobook narrated by voice actor Richard Pierce, I thought this was finally a way to access the book in a way that would preserve the unique language without all the hard work!

In the end I still found the language hard to follow, though the story itself was relatively simple, and while it is a fascinating exercise to have a narrator almost completely ignorant of our modern world of today, and a society where so much of the past is totally garbled, misunderstood, and confused as to make it an incoherent mess, it doesn't make for an easy listening experience, though much easier than reading it most likely. I think the insights to be gained, while worthy, may not be worth the effort of untangling and guessing involved. I'm actually reading a totally different take on the same post-apocalyptic world, John Crowley's Engine Summer, at the same time, and find that story far more enthralling, though of course it is a much gentler and more spiritual world, the polar opposite of the primitive, violent, and harsh world of Riddley Walker's Kent.
Profile Image for Simon.
Author 5 books138 followers
August 23, 2013
A beautiful and haunting book. Thousands of years after a nuclear disaster of some kind has has destroyed civilization, we see them trying to make sense of our world, through legends that have been passed down and through the material remains of our world (broken machines, roads, etc.). Since we are so obscure to them, they are equally obscure to us, and a lot of what happens and what their world is like is incomprehensible. Creating this mutual incomprehension is a tour de force on Hoban's part, chiefly effected by the language the book is written in.
Profile Image for Mir.
4,862 reviews5,006 followers
Currently reading
September 8, 2009
This has been recalled to the library so I'll have to finish it another time. It is very interesting but difficult to read because it is written in a made-up dialect of debased future English spoken by survivors of a nuclear disaster. Quite a change from the previous works I had read by this author -- my childhood favorites, picture books about a little badger named Frances and her family.
Profile Image for Chris Dietzel.
Author 27 books401 followers
December 9, 2021

Injoy intir books ritten like this? Then yu will luv this book! Personaly, I hatet it.


And to the GR friend who recommended this to me: well played. I can only assume I wronged you in a previous life and recommending this was your payback. We are now even.
Profile Image for Stasa Fritz.
20 reviews1 follower
December 8, 2010
I read this for my current MFA work, so my review is more from a writer's craft perspective. Below is a cut and past from a response paper. The Japanese Kanji that I put in to illustrate some things will be (is) lost.

Despite the author’s protestations to the contrary, this is classic—nearly archetypical—quality science fiction. I have been reading science fiction and fantasy for approximately 42 years, at one time probably consuming thirty to forty books per year (albeit not all were quality!). The plot, the technique of revealing slowly rather than giving background, the devolution of man, are all subjects that have been treated—at a surface level—in similar manners. The idea of speaking only in metaphors as a language has been explored in science fiction as has the rediscovery of gunpowder post apocalypse. What makes Riddley Walker unique and worthwhile is the language. More precisely, the depth of the language as a part of the story itself.
Even here I must resist the temptation to dive into the analysis as to whether the language creation approaches believability or not. I had discussions with a close friend whose PhD is in linguistics on this. The short answer is “who really knows and to keep it readable one has to go in some directions.” Reading Beowulf in its original form—or attempting to— shows how much language can change in hundreds of years—let alone the over two thousand that is mentioned in Riddley Walker (125). Regardless as to whether it is accurate or not, it can be accepted and is largely believable.
To what purpose is the massive effort by Hoban directed? He states that Riddleyspeak is crafted partially because it “slows the reader down to Riddley’s rate of comprehension.” Yes, there is no doubt that by creating Riddleyspeak—Hoban’s term—we are forced to slow down. I would argue that Riddley’s rate of comprehension for many things is extremely fast for a twelve year old, but that is a side comment. When two out of three words are Riddelyspeak we are forced to slow down. When we slow down, we start to ponder a number of things: what are the new meanings of the words—in particular the double meanings, why has the language evolved this way, and most intriguingly what subplot and subtext is implied by the language itself.
The latter is what truly distinguishes Riddley Walker from most other writing I have encountered. The evolution of the language is its own story and subtext. The language itself is a metaphor for the change that the society has gone through. The reader knows that he is missing something and it is left to the reader to decide how much to puzzle. The danger is that one can read too much into the words and meaning. For example this sentence that Goodparley utters, “This here yellerboy stoan the Salt 4 it want to be whats in it to be. (143)”
The paragraph and page preceding it is discussing how boys want to become men and Goodparley killed his own mentor, because his mentor was making him boy for him. It is clear that this has a double meaning of being raped, or at least having sex—a bit the way Greeks and Romans did in ancient times—but Hoban gives multiple meanings to the word “man” and “boy.” “Goodparley said, ‘Everything wants to man dont it. Wants to go from littl to big. Wants to be what in it to be.’(142-3)” So when we read “yellerboy” we ponder the meaning of “boy” here. We are told by the language and Goodparely’s description that the “yellerboy stoan” has some hidden power within it that wants to come out. Then we ponder why the word “Salt” is capitalized. Given what we have read earlier this could be simply because it is important-“Plomercy” is capitalized (meaning diplomacy). Or it could have historic meaning from an old name, such as “Parments” meaning Parliament. So then the reader, knowing already that this is post apocalyptic, might be tempted to think, hmm, Salt 4 might be a double meaning, referencing a SALT 4 treaty, because Goodparley thinks it is key to a big bang. But as we start to figure out this is sulfur and then saltpeter (sodium nitrate) is added to it to make gunpowder…and sodium nitrate is a salt. Then one can start to think well the 4 might be simply the way all other numbers are written, or it might be, right next to Salt, if it is saltpeter, the ratio of saltpeter to sulfur. Very roughly, black powder is 4 to 5 parts saltpeter to 1 part charcoal and 1 part sulfer. Or, in the end we simply decide that Salt 4 is indeed the word Sulfur and yellow stoan is a bit redundant. This very simple sentence thus has multiple meanings and layers and there are dozens of these per page. So, the reader has to read slow to say the words out loud and to ponder their meanings and the meanings apply directly to the plot itself.
Although it is never stated, we quickly come to the conclusion that the language evolved due to a lack of writing—we understand that there was a new dark age and this is the age after that dark age. The language we are reading only makes sense if we read it aloud—at least read it aloud in our heads—almost syllable by syllable. This is different than normal reading where you see the entire word at once and absorb the word without reading it letter by letter, syllable by syllable. Additionally, one has to intentionally slur the words and often string them together to get the meaning. We assume this is because of hundreds of years of listening only. The easy examples of the language evolution:
Killed becomes “kilt” (the “t” becomes the new “ed” … which is what you hear when you say many words ending in “ed” quickly.)

Send becomes “sen,” under becomes “unner,” west becomes “wes,” and so on.

I hardly need reference individual words that are used throughout the book. These ring true, or possible, as they are already the way words are slurred orally by (all too) many. With literacy disappearing this seems reasonable as a way for language to degenerate, or evolve. That this then becomes the way it is written by some demonstrates that it has become fully incorporated into the language and that society is only partially literate. This also rings true when comparing to the writings of many in England and the U.S. from even the 1800s. Standard, “correct,” spellings of words is a relatively recent phenomena. Riddlespeak is an oral language that is only weakly reinforced by writing. It hints at all sorts of things that makes us want to explore the language as much as the main story.
Why, for instance, the breaking up of words. Simple compounds are broken into separate words and even what we don’t consider a compound now is broken into two words:
“Littl Shyning Man wer a nother thing and tirely.(149)” and + tirely = entirely is just one of countless per chapter. I recalled the little Japanese and Chinese characters I know and it struck me that in some ways this is similar to the composition of words from sub characters to form a new word. This made it ring true to my mind. Words, or sub words might be used in combination to mean different things similar to the kanji of Japanese. For example in Japanese “hi” (pronounced he) is the symbol it means sun, or day, or fire, depending on the context. The word book is moto . The word for fireplace is hinomoto and in kanji is . Hoban is using a bit of a similar technique. “And” has nothing to do with entirely, but because of the sound is used in a split compound word. I found this interesting and knowing that Japanese and Chinese does something sort of similar made this more believable. I have no idea of Hoban was thinking of this when doing this, but he had a firm enough understanding of language and going back and forth with phonetics to written that he may have come up with it independently.
The beauty of all good fiction is that, like all art, each reader will interpret the work in their own way. Some will see metaphors where the author never consciously intended. The genius of Hoban’s invention of Riddleyspeak is that not only does it slow down the reader as he overtly states as his intention, but it almost forces the reader into thinking about double, triple, or more meanings of the words. Then, by layering on an obvious oral tradition in the culture, where the main character’s role—and his father’s before him—is to interpret a traveling “show” for the listeners makes us as readers consider the entire book as a show, with shows within it, and those shows reference past oral histories. Thus, some metaphors become metaphors within the language that has been invented, which are in turn metaphors for the story itself.
Staying with the same page as before (149) we can see this layered metaphor. Riddley is thinking of a stanza—for want of a better word—from Eusa:

“7. Thay dogs stud up on thear hyn legs & taukin lyk men. Folleree sed, Lukin for the 1 you wil aul ways fyn thay 2. Folleroo sed, They 2 is twice as bad as the 1.”

Riddley tells us explicitly that he is using it as a metaphor for what is happening with him. But, the metaphor itself is a story we are not familiar with in detail, we haven’t lived it as he seems to have through his oral tradition (see my later comments on the Star Trek episode). At the same time this metaphor starts to become the common thread of “bringing things together can be bad” and we are reminded of the sulfur and saltpeter…and that is then applied to bringing the sulfur to Belnot Phist cause his demise.
This oral tradition that comes up over and over—the word “Lissener” (149) has multiple meanings too--is similar to Native American storytelling, or African storytelling is a layer of complexity and metaphor that is omnipresent in the book. It reminds me of a Star Trek Next Generation episode (number 102) where the race encountered speaks entirely in metaphor. The universal translator is rendered useless because the words meanings are only in the metaphor, not in the literal translation. “..the Tamarian language is entirely based on metaphors from Tamarian folklore. They learn that Darmok was a hunter and Tanagra is an island, but nothing else. Without knowing the stories behind the metaphors, the Tamarian language remains indecipherable. (Wikipedia)” One wonders if either of the authors were exposed to Hoban. One, Philip LaZebnik has a Classics degree from Harvard.
Regardless, the analogy is that until one starts to understand the stories behind the oral histories we read in Riddley—or rather “hear” from Riddley’s ears—we do not decipher the full richness of the book. This will be a book I need to return to in six months to see what I catch then.
My issue in citing particular passages is that I can flip open the book to any page and start to explore the metaphors and language. Thus, the ones I will explore will be simply ones that struck me while reading enough to slap a sticky note into the book—I hate writing directly in a book, it destroys the reread later on.
One thing that struck me were the—at first blush—apparent anachronisms. For example, “hes getting his serkits jus that little bit over loadit (51).” Circuit in this usage has only an electronics meaning. Yet we know that this civilization has no real concept of anything so sophisticated. Through this and other phrases, or words, such as “program,” or “gallack seas” (for galaxies) we understand how much the past glory of the human race means to these people. They have tried to preserve through words and oral histories old phrases and meanings, without understanding their full meanings. What is so interesting is that we figure this out, it is never told to us. The use of the language tells this story.
Indeed, Riddley spends a considerable amount of time thinking about metaphors himself. What do the oral histories mean, is fundamentally what he is constantly asking himself, or explicitly asking Goodparley. He (Riddley) gives us the entire Eusa Story (30-36). Each stanza is a metaphor used throughout the story. Stanza 7, which is partially repeated on 149, ends with “Eusa sed, I woan be tol by amminals.(31)” The dogs are telling him something. The dogs are then repeated in Riddley’s world and they are a metaphor for people not listening and having to learn from experience, versus being told, because they don’t trust the people who are below them.
The Eusa Story is a metaphor, or perhaps closer to an allegory to Riddley’s story, which in turn is an metaphor for human history, including the atomic bomb. Stanza 32 ends with “Yu let thay Chaynjis owt & now yuv go to go on thru them. (36)” We see the changes of Riddley himself and of course the change of gunpowder being re-introduced to the world. Stanza 37 has two interesting lines: “How mene Chaynjis are thayr?” and “As menne as reqwyrd. Eusa sed, Reqwyrd by wut? The littl Man sed, Reqwyrd by the idear uv yu. Eusa sed, Wut is the idear uv me? The Littl Man sed, That we doan no til yuv gon thru and yur Chaynjis. (36)” This stanza is itself a metaphor for Riddley’s story, of change and knowing yourself, and of history repeating itself with big changes and doomed to do so until it figures it out, which is the bigger plot of the story and finally note that the capitalization of Chaynjis gives it emphasis and different layers of meaning. The writing technique here that is so interesting in the language combined with the trick of using an explicit oral history that the characters know to represent the story they are living.
These analyses of the writing craft are supposed to be a few pages long. I see I have 25 more sticky notes I have not yet addressed.
I would like to try and address the voice that Riddley has. The first person gives the intimate innermost thoughts common in first person, but beyond that his voice is that of a story teller. An oral tradition voice embedded in the character that highlights an oral tradition society. As with the language itself, there are countless examples of this. The following I chose because it illustrates this more explicitly than some other places:

And stil I aint said all there is to say about that morning in the aulders. The bloody meat and boan of it. The worl is ful of things waiting to happen. That the meat and the boan of it right there. You myt think you can jus go her and there doing nothing. Happening nothing. You cant tho you bleeding cant. You put your self on any road and some thing wil show its self to you. Wanting to happen. Waiting to happen. (154)

This shows the story teller in Riddley and the self-awareness and searching. He sees meanings in everything. That is his job and gift. The voice is unique, something I strive for, but often fail.
In the interest of brevity, I will leave deeper analysis of the meanings behind “stoan” and “hart of the stoan” and “hart of the wud” and the way simple words like “tel” have layers of meaning for a PhD thesis. Suffice to say that in just over 200 pages Hoban weaves not just a tale, but a multilayered story of possible evolutions of language, societies, and cultures, where the reader can decide how deep to dig, but is never sure if the bottom has been reached.
Profile Image for Sid Nuncius.
1,128 reviews95 followers
June 29, 2022
I think Riddley Walker is simply stunning. I first read it forty years ago when it was first published and it is just as brilliant on re-reading now.

So much has been written about the book that another review from me is perhaps rather redundant, but it is worth saying that it’s a fantastic read. A story written in an unfamiliar dialect and set a couple of thousand years after a nuclear holocaust which took place roughly in our present may sound unwelcoming, but this really isn’t one of those almost unreadable books which people who have always read the entire Booker Long List tell you that you ought to read because it Will Be Good For You. I found it quite easy to read, incredibly atmospheric, a gripping story and full of thoughtful and thought-provoking ideas.

It’s very hard to summarise, but it’s about independent thought and its dangers, how ideas may become lost or changed in a largely illiterate society and much, much more.

I absolutely loved the language and the brilliant way in which Russell Hoban suggests it may have evolved – like "vack your weight" for leaving (evacuating) somewhere, for example and then finding it declines to "vack my weight" etc. The use of language is just fantastic, as is Hoban's understanding of what might be passed down and distorted in a long oral tradition. There's the vocabulary, like the Pry Mincer and the Wes Mincer, tiny traces of the 20th century, as in the chant which begins "Heard it and the news of 10..." which is presumably a reference to News At Ten, the building of new creation myths and so on. I found it quite easy to get into, only having to pause occasionally to sound a word or phrase in my head - and even that was a pleasure. I found the whole effect mesmerising and although not everything is explained (and is possibly not explicable) it set off resonances, pulled me in and held me spellbound for long periods.

I am reminded of Alan Bennett's essay Comfortable Words about the Book Of Common Prayer in which he says, "Those who rewrote the Prayer Book complained very much at the time  - and understandably - that many of the protests came from those, such as myself, whose connection with the Church was tenuous, the argument implicit in this being that the clergy know what is best for their congregations.  This is the same argument that is advanced by farmers in answer to protests about the grubbing-up of hedges and the destruction of field patterns. The land is the farmer's bread and butter, the argument goes, and so he must therefore have its welfare more at heart than the occasional visitor.  So in their own field the liturgical reformers grub up the awkward thickets of language that make the harvest of souls more difficult, plough in the sixteenth century hedges that are hard to penetrate but for that reason shelter all manner of rare creatures: poetry, mystery, transcendence.  All must be flat, dull, accessible and rational.  Fields and worship."

Riddley Walker has some similar thickets which shelter all manner of rare creatures, but it’s still wonderfully readable. It is genuinely among the best, most enjoyable and most rewarding books I have read and I would urge anyone to give it a try.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 942 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.