Riddley Walker

Words in the air pirnt foot steps on the grown for us to put our feet into.–p. 121

I finally finished Riddley Walker and so I thought I’d write about it while it’s fresh in my mind, instead of packing or doing dishes or laundry or anything more pressing.

Walker is set in a post-apocalyptic future, where the human race has been bombed back into the stone age and laws and theology are communicated via puppet show.

The titular character inherits the role of making the connections between the puppet show and what’s going on in the community.

The plot is fine and interesting, but the language, a kind of broken pidgin English, is so beautiful it makes you want to read the book out loud and the hints of spirituality are fascinating.

I recognized a lot of stuff from germanic beliefs and I imagine someone more steeped in Celtic beliefs would find other resonances.

Of course, my favorite character was the Tell Woman, who seemed responsible for reading signs and omens and helping to keep the luck of the community going.  I don’t have to tell you how old that idea is, but it was treat to see that that’s one of the things that survived or came back.

There’s also a sense in the book of the almost magical power of words and the importance of myths and stories in our efforts to understand something deeper about our own experiences.

I can’t believe I hadn’t ever heard of this before, but I liked it.

5 thoughts on “Riddley Walker

  1. If you like that try David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. I’d say more but it would give too much away. Oh, and don’t worry that the first part seems terribly stilted. It’s wonderful and will all make sense in the end.

  2. David Mitchell is on record as saying that the part of Cloud Atlas that I think you’re referring to is an homage to Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker.

  3. I loved Riddley Walker for its language, but hated it for its assumption that if we lost the material trappings of our civilization we would lose our — I don’t know, our civility, our true civilization. I understand the idea that if we use learning and interconnection to take ourselves down the road to disaster, we will come to distrust learning and interconnection. (A story that treats this idea in a different way is Ursula LeGuin’s “Solitude.” I have similar mixed feelings about it.) But I also recognize that we are biologically hard-wired to favor learning and interconnection, and it’s hard for me to believe that they could ever disappear so completely. It’s a brilliant book, though.

  4. I’m currently reading David Mitchell’s _Black Swan Green_; it’s got some Hobanish traces in it, as well.

    I disagree, nm, I’m sorry, that Riddley Walker makes the case that losing the material trappings make up our “true civilization.” I’d say that Riddley’s development as a showman, as an artist, is advanced as a middle way between Lorna’s first knowing–arguably privileged over “boats in the ayr”–and Goodparley’s idea that gunpowder equals moving forward.

  5. No, I phrased it badly. I don’t read the book as suggesting that the old material trappings were the civilization. But Hoban presents a world that has almost no social cohesion, where the basic guidelines of human interaction seem to have disappeared. That’s the “true civilization” I mean, that seems to have been lost either because it was somehow dependent on the old material culture or because humans lost faith in it or in each other. I find it, as presented, a tad unbelievable.

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