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Riddley Walker is a novel by Russell Hoban, first published in 1980. It is generally regarded as science fiction, and won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best science fiction novel in 1982, as well as an Australian Science Fiction Achievement Award in 1983. It was additionally nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1981.

Hoban began writing the novel in 1974, inspired by the medieval wall painting of the legend of Saint Eustace at Canterbury Cathedralmarker. It is Hoban's best-known adult novel and a drastic departure from his other work, although he has continued to explore some of the same themes in other settings.

Plot summary

Riddley Walker is set about two thousand years after a nuclear war has devastated world civilizations. The main action of the story begins when the young narrator, Riddley, stumbles upon efforts to recreate a weapon of the ancient world.

The novel's characters live a harsh life in a small area which is presently the English county of Kentmarker, and know nothing of the world outside of "Inland" (Englandmarker). Their level of civilization is similar to England's prehistoric Iron Age, although they do not produce their own iron but salvage it from ancient machinery. Church and state have combined into one secretive institution, whose mythology, based on misinterpreted stories of the war and an old Catholic saint (Eustace), is enacted in puppet shows.

Narrative style and themes

Though its premise is similar to other post-apocalyptic novels such as A Canticle for Leibowitz, Riddley Walker is unusual in its style and focus. The first person narrator, Riddley, writes in a distinct form of English whose spelling often resembles a phonetic transliteration of a Kentish accent.

Many modern words (especially technological and religious terms) have changed in meaning; many of the place names are puns, such as "Dog Et" for Dargatemarker, and "Do It Over" for Dovermarker. While the unfamiliar language is a projection of how historical linguistics might apply in the future, it also provides clues to the nature of life in Riddley's world (e.g., being "et" by wild dogs is a common fate), and creates suspense as the reader gradually becomes accustomed to the idiosyncratic narration, and comes to understand some of the references of which Riddley is unaware. Religious philosophy and the supernatural are also central to the novel, elements which are also present in Leibowitz but which Hoban treats in a more allusive, mystical sense, drawing on elements of many religious traditions. Hoban also draws on the history of his adopted country, including Celtic mythology and Punch and Judy.

References and entities from the novel

Riddley Walker is set in the far future; two millenia after a nuclear war which changed human society deeply. The characters continually refer to cultural and political concepts and figures from history, which they themselves only dimly understand. Below are some of the more important concepts, to give a sense of the novel's tone.

  • Punch - While the authorized narrative of society, The Eusa Show, appropriates many of the familiar puppets from the Punch and Judy show, Punch himself is suppressed until Riddley happens to find a blackened Punch puppet which sets him on his journey.

  • Eusa - The protagonist in several folk tales and ballads depicting the nuclear conflict. Hoban has stated that Eusa was meant to represent the typical mindset of modern society. Eusa also refers to Saint Eustace, particularly the painting of him in Canterbury Cathedralmarker [59462]. Hoban states that this painting, and the story of St Eustace, inspired him to write the novel.

  • Puter Leat - Slang for the "Computer Elite", referring to those who existed before the "Bad Time" and their seemingly endless abilities; "What Goodparley calls Eusas head which it ben a girt box of knowing and you hook up peopl to it thats what a puter ben. We ben the Puter Leat we had the woal worl in our mynd and we had worls beyont this in our mynd we programmit pas the sarvering gallack seas."

Theatrical version

A theatrical adaptation (by Hoban himself) premiered at the Manchester Royal Exchange, February-March 1986. Its US premiere was at the Chocolate Bayou Theatre, in April 1987, directed by Greg Roach [59463].

In November 2007 Riddley Walker was produced by Red Kettle in Waterfordmarker, Irelandmarker, to positive reviews [59464].


External links

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