Riddley Walker


Riddley Walker ,by Russell Hoban, is one of my all-time favorite books. It deserves to get more attention than it does. Have you ever heard of it?

I was assigned to read this book in a literature class as a freshman in college. It was the last book on the list, and I raced to read as much of it as I could before the end of the semester. I was going through the skimming process, but the words were “funny” and I just didn’t get it. Suddenly! A flash before my eyes! I believe it was when I came upon the phrase “gallack seas” and realized that it was galaxies to you and me, but an ocean to Riddley. I had to slow down and really look at the words, saying them out loud. Poetry! I was so excited that I reread it three times in a row, the only book to date that I have ever done this with. Riddley Walker is a coming of age story, a spiritual journey, and an exploration of a mythic past, set in post-nuclear apocalyptic England. English has evolved, the words bringing out new and deeper meanings. The book has been compared to A Clockwork Orange because both transform the English language. They are both written using the slang and dialect of their imagined time. I found this interesting essay about the language of Riddley Walker online: http://www.russellhoban.org/essay/learning-to-read-riddley

I touted the book to a number of friends back in the early 80s. One friend who loved the book as much as I did breathlessly came to me after seeing Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. The movie shamelessly ripped off the book, using language and imagery for the part with the tribe of children, without any acknowledgement (and I looked!).  I was shocked at the blatant plagiarism; the children are even waiting for a “Mr. Walker.” I’ve read articles which see this as a loving tribute to the novel, which seems to have had a stronger following in Australia. If so, give Mr. Hoban some credit! It is a small part of the movie, and only a superficial aspect of the book, but still…

If you cud even jus see 1 thing clear the woal of whats in it you cud see every thing clear. But you never wil get to see the woal of any thing youre all ways in the middl of it living it or moving thru it.
Riddley Walker (p. 186) (taken from website: http://www.ocelotfactory.com/hoban/quote.html)



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7 responses to “Riddley Walker

  1. chaparroc

    Ah! This is the Russell Hoban of Bread and Jam for Francis fame, right??

  2. lizzy

    I will put on my list. Also, I love books and movies that play with language. One of my favorite parts about the Firefly series was in the modified speaking style that the director created…it really contributed to the atmosphere.

  3. Linda

    I had had Riddley Walker on my want-to-read list for years before finally taking the plunge. The very first sentence of the book made me wonder what I was getting into. I also decided to read the book aloud to get all the nuances of the speech. It is amazing to think that this is the same author (who was born in Pennsylvania, by the way) that wrote the Frances stories for children. Riddley Walker is a marvelous piece of storytelling and I am definitely glad I picked it up.

  4. Mark

    Nice. I was ‘lucky’ enough to have ‘sold’ the novel when published in America. It is all you say and maybe more…Hoban was a genius…other books worth it too…….he will last…..need a reading group for it/him.

  5. Reblogueó esto en La Culturay comentado:
    Que buen libro!

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