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256 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 1980
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.'
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.
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.
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.
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 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'
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
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