Riddley Walker

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 Bumdel downs any how there hadnt ben non for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see non agen.

– Russell Hoban, Riddley Walker

Russell Hoban‘s Riddley Walker (1980) is quite simply my favourite SF novel.

The novel explores several themes already explored in Walter M. Miller Jr.‘s A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959) and John Wyndham‘s The Chrysalids (1955)

Riddley Speak

The novel is related in a fractured, ‘degraded’ English that is nevertheless eloquent and savagely poetic, and which has been compared favourably to the Nadsat slang from Anthony Burgess‘ A Clockwork Orange (1962).

R.D. Mullen examines the language of Riddley Walker in some detail in  Dialect, Grapholect, and Story: Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker as Science Fiction” (published in 2000, some years after Mullen’s death).

Punch and Judy

The novel makes many allusions to the legend of Saint Eustace and the story of Punch and Judy.

Goodparley introduces Riddley to his Punch puppet:

”This here figger his name is Punch which he’s the oldes figger there is. He were old time back way back long befor Eusa ever ben thot of. He’s so old he can’t dy is what Ganser tol me.”

– Russell Hoban, Riddley Walker (p.131)

This is a referrence to a conversation Hoban had with the legendary Punch and Judy ‘Professor’ Percy Press Sr. which Hoban quotes in his Afterward to the Expanded Edition:

”He’s so old he can’t die,’ Percy told me. ‘He’s a law unto himself.’

– Russell Hoban, Afterward to Riddley Walker (p.227)

Beyond Thunderdome

Surprisingly, the novel was an influence on the third Mad Max film, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985).


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