Riddley Walker

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Riddley Walker
Riddley Walker cover.jpg
First edition
AuthorRussell Hoban
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreScience fiction, dystopian novel
PublisherJonathan Cape
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)

Riddley Walker is a science fiction novel by Russell Hoban, first published in 1980. It 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 Cathedral. It is Hoban's best-known adult novel and a drastic departure from his other work, although he continued to explore some of the same themes in other settings.


Roughly two thousand years after a nuclear war has devastated civilization, Riddley, the young narrator, 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 Kent, and know little of the world outside of "Inland" (England). 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[edit]

The novel is in the post-apocalyptic genre and features a first person narrator, Riddley, and is written in an imagined English dialect with phonetic transliteration of a Kentish accent.[1] Many modern words (especially technological and religious terms) have changed in meaning; many of the place names are folk etymologies, such as "Dog Et" for Dargate, and "Do It Over" for Dover. 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 Hoban treats in an allusive, mystical way, drawing on elements of many religious traditions. Hoban also draws on the history of his adopted country, including Celtic mythology and Punch and Judy.

Critical reception[edit]

Peter Ruppert noted that Hoban's novel draws on "such well-known dystopias as A Clockwork Orange, Lord of the Flies, and A Canticle for Leibowitz", and "what is unique in Hoban's haunting vision of the future is his language" which is described as being similar to the Nadsat slang spoken in Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange.[2] The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists stated that, "The force and beauty and awfulness of Hoban's creation is shattering," and praised the author's use of a crude "Chaucerian English".[3] John Mullan of The Guardian also praised Hoban's decision to narrate the novel in a devolved form of English: "The struggle with Riddley's language is what makes reading the book so absorbing, so completely possessing."[4]

Library Journal wrote that the book holds "a unique and beloved place among the few after-Armageddon classics".[5] It was included in David Pringle's book Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels. In 1994, American literary critic Harold Bloom included Riddley Walker in his list of works comprising the Western Canon.[6]

Theatrical versions[edit]

  • Robert C. Cumbow wrote in Slant Magazine that the post-apocalyptic film Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome borrowed "whole ideas, themes and characterizations" from the novel.[7]
  • Hoban's own theatrical adaptation premiered at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, in February 1986. It was directed by Braham Murray and starred David Threlfall. Its U.S. premiere was at the Chocolate Bayou Theatre, in April 1987, directed by Greg Roach.[8]
  • In 1989, Russell Hoban gave permission for theatre students at Sir Percival Whitley/Calderdale College, Halifax, West Yorkshire, to transcribe the book into a theatrical script, which was then staged in a new production at The Square Chapel, Halifax.
  • In November 2007, the play was produced by Red Kettle[9] in Waterford, Ireland, to positive reviews.[10]
  • In 2011, the play was also adapted for Trouble Puppet Theater Co. by artistic director Connor Hopkins at Salvage Vanguard Theater in Austin, Texas. This production employed tabletop puppetry inspired by the Bunraku tradition and was supported by an original score by Justin Sherburn.[11]
  • In March 2015, a group of Aberystwyth drama students performed the play in Theatre y Castell over the course of two days. The production was directed by David Ian Rabey.

Use in popular music[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mullen, John (13 November 2010). "Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban: Week One, Reconstructed Language". Guardian Book Club. Guardian News and Media Ltd. Retrieved 2012-01-16.
  2. ^ Ruppert, Peter. "Riddley Walker". Utopian Studies. 10 (2): 254–255. ISSN 1045-991X.
  3. ^ Messic, Penelope (June 1982). "Riddley Walker". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 38: 49. ISSN 0096-3402.
  4. ^ https://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/nov/13/riddley-walker-russell-hoban-bookclub
  5. ^ Clark, Jeff. "Riddley Walker". Library Journal. 106 (13): 1443. ISSN 0363-0277.
  6. ^ http://sonic.net/~rteeter/grtbloom.html
  7. ^ "Summer of '85: We Don't Need Another Hero: Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome". Slant Magazine. 19 June 2010. Retrieved 3 May 2015.
  8. ^ "Russell Hoban's RIDDLEY WALKER". THE HEAD OF ORPHEUS - A Russell Hoban Reference Page. Retrieved 14 April 2013.
  9. ^ "Red Kettle Theatre Company". Archived from the original on June 18, 2009. Retrieved 14 April 2013.
  10. ^ "Irish Times Archive". Archived from the original on October 11, 2012. Retrieved 14 April 2013.
  11. ^ "Trouble Puppet Theater Co. Archives". troublepuppet.com. Retrieved 14 April 2013.
  12. ^ Prato, Greg. "From Beale Street to Oblivion - Clutch". allmusic. rovi. Retrieved 2012-07-19.
  13. ^ Allan, Mark. "King Swamp (1989) - King Swamp".
  14. ^ Bishop, Eli. "Riddley Walker Annotations". Retrieved 2017-12-10.

External links[edit]