Riddley Walker

Riddley Walker

4.2 4
by Russell Hoban

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A 20th century masterpiece, and a tour de force of imagination, history, and psychology—with introduction and afterword by Adam Roberts and David Mitchell

Set in a postapocalyptic England, this classic tells the tale of one 12-year-old boy and his journey through the ruins of civilization. After the death of his father in an accident,

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A 20th century masterpiece, and a tour de force of imagination, history, and psychology—with introduction and afterword by Adam Roberts and David Mitchell

Set in a postapocalyptic England, this classic tells the tale of one 12-year-old boy and his journey through the ruins of civilization. After the death of his father in an accident, Riddley must become a man. But his inquiring mind and strange ways set him apart from his people, and when he discovers a relic of the old time, he sets in motion a chain of events that may well lead to the end of the world (again). Written in a remarkable and rewarding language, this is a book that repays rereading again and again.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"...one of the most ingenious novels ever written." —The Seattle Times
John Leonard
Stunning, delicious, designed to prevent the modern reader from becoming stupid. -- New York Times
Michael Dirda
Extraordinary...Suffused with melancholy and wonder, beautifully written, Riddley Walker is a novel that people will be reading for a long, long time. -- Washington Post Book World
Paul Gray
An imaginative intensity that is rare in contemporary fiction. -- Time
Anthony Thwaite
Russell Hoban has brought off an extraordinay feat of imagination and style. . . . The conviction and consistency are total. Funny, terrible, haunting and unsettling, this book is a masterpiece. -- Observer
Asimov's Science Fiction
Asuredly one of the latterday classics of SF....[A]n essential part of any SF collection.

Product Details

Gollancz, Victor Limited
Publication date:
SF Masterworks Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

Riddley Walker

By Russell Hoban

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 1998 Russell Hoban
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-33448-0


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 Bundel Downs any how there hadnt ben none for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see none agen. He dint make the groun shake nor nothing like that when he come on to my spear he wernt all that big plus he lookit poorly. He done the reqwyrt he ternt and stood and clattert his teef and made his rush and there we wer then. Him on 1 end of the spear kicking his life out and me on the other end watching him dy. I said, 'Your tern now my tern later.' The other spears gone in then and he wer dead and the steam coming up off him in the rain and we all yelt, 'Offert!'

The woal thing fealt jus that littl bit stupid. Us running that boar thru that las littl scrump of woodling with the forms all roun. Cows mooing sheap baaing cocks crowing and us foraging our las boar in a thin grey girzel on the day I come a man.

The Bernt Arse pack ben follering jus out of bow shot. When the shout gone up ther ears all prickt up. Ther leader he wer a big black and red spottit dog he come forit a littl like he ben going to make a speach or some thing til 1 or 2 bloaks uppit bow then he slumpt back agen and kep his farness follering us back. I took noatis of that leader tho. He wernt close a nuff for me to see his eyes but I thot his eye ben on me.

Coming back with the boar on a poal we come a long by the rivver it wer hevvyer woodit in there. Thru the girzel you cud see blue smoak hanging in be twean the black trees and the stumps pink and red where they ben loppt off. Aulder trees in there and chard coal berners in amongst them working ther harts. You cud see 1 of them in there with his red jumper what they all ways wear. Making chard coal for the iron reddy at Widders Dump. Every 1 made the Bad Luck go a way syn when we past him. Theres a story callit Hart of the Wood this is it:

Hart of the Wood

There is the Hart of the Wud in the Eusa Story that wer a stag every 1 knows that. There is the hart of the wood meaning the veryes deap of it thats a nother thing. There is the hart of the wood where they bern the chard coal thats a nother thing agen innit. Thats a nother thing. Berning the chard coal in the hart of the wood. Thats what they call the stack of wood you see. The stack of wood in the shape they do it for chard coal berning. Why do they call it the hart tho? Thats what this here story tels of.

Every 1 knows about Bad Time and what come after. Bad Time 1st and bad times after. Not many come thru it a live.

There come a man and a woman and a chyld out of a berning town they sheltert in the woodlings and foraging the bes they cud. Starveling wer what they wer doing. Dint have no weapons nor dint know how to make a snare nor nothing. Snow on the groun and a grey sky overing and the black trees rubbing ther branches in the wind. Crows calling 1 to a nother waiting for the 3 of them to drop. The man the woman and the chyld digging thru the snow they wer eating maws and dead leaves which they vomitit them up agen. Freazing col they wer nor dint have nothing to make a fire with to get warm. Starveling they wer and near come to the end of ther strenth.

The chyld said, 'O Im so col Im afeart Im going to dy. If only we had a littl fire to get warm at.'

The man dint have no way of making a fire he dint have no flint and steal nor nothing. Wood all roun them only there wernt no way he knowit of getting warm from it.

The 3 of them ready for Aunty they wer ready to total and done when there come thru the woodlings a clevver looking bloak and singing a littl song to his self:

My roadings ben so hungry
Ive groan so very thin
Ive got a littl cook pot
But nothing to put in

The man and the woman said to the clevver looking bloak, 'Do you know how to make fire?'

The clevver looking bloak said, 'O yes if I know any thing I know that right a nuff. Fires my middl name you myt say.'

The man and the woman said, 'Wud you make a littl fire then weare freazing of the col.'

The clevver looking bloak said, 'That for you and what for me?'

The man and the woman said, 'What do we have for whatfers?' They lookit 1 to the other and boath at the chyld.

The clevver looking bloak said, 'Iwl tel you what Iwl do Iwl share you my fire and my cook pot if youwl share me what to put in the pot.' He wer looking at the chyld.

The man and the woman thot: 2 out of 3 a live is bettern 3 dead. They said, 'Done.'

They kilt the chyld and drunk its blood and cut up the meat for cooking.

The clevver looking bloak said, 'Iwl show you how to make fire plus Iwl give you flint and steal and makings nor you dont have to share me nothing of the meat only the hart.'

Which he made the fire then and give them flint and steal and makings then he cookt the hart of the chyld and et it.

The clevver looking bloak said, 'Clevverness is gone now but littl by littl itwl come back. The iron wil come back agen 1 day and when the iron comes back they wil bern chard coal in the hart of the wood. And when they bern the chard coal ther stack wil be the shape of the hart of the chyld.' Off he gone then singing:

Seed of the littl
Seed of the wyld
Seed of the berning is
Hart of the chyld

The man and the woman then eating ther chyld it wer black nite all roun them they made ther fire bigger and bigger trying to keap the black from moving in on them. They fel a sleap by ther fire and the fire biggering on it et them up they bernt to death. They ben the old 1s or you myt say the auld 1s and be come chard coal. Thats why theywl tel you the aulder tree is bes for charring coal. Some times youwl hear of a aulder kincher he carrys off childer.

Out goes the candl
Out goes the lite
Out goes my story
And so Good Nite

Coming pas that aulder wood that girzly morning I fealt my stummick go col. Like the aulder kincher ben putting eye on me. No 1 never had nothing much to do with the chard coal berners only the dyers on the forms. 1ce a year the chard coal berners they come in to the forms for ther new red clof but in be twean they kep to the woodlings.

It wer Ful of the Moon that nite. The rain littlt off the sky cleart and the moon come out. We put the boars head on the poal up on top of the gate house. His tusks glimmert and you cud see a dryd up trickl from the corners of his eyes like 1 las tear from each. Old Lorna Elswint our tel woman up there getting the tel of the head. Littl kids down be low playing Fools Circel 9wys. Singing:

Horny Boy rung Widders Bel
Stoal his Fathers Ham as wel
Bernt his Arse and Forkt a Stoan
Done It Over broak a boan
Out of Good Shoar vackt his wayt
Scratcht Sams Itch for No. 8
Gone to senter nex to see
Cambry coming 3 times 3
Sharna pax and get the poal
When the Ardship of Cambry comes out of the hoal

Littl 2way Digman being the Ardship going roun the circel til it come chopping time. He bustit out after the 3rd chop. I use to be good at that I all ways rathert be the Ardship nor 1 of the circel I liket the busting out part.

I gone up to the platform I took Lorna a nice tender line of the boar. She wer sitting up there in her doss bag she ben smoaking she wer hy. I give her the meat and I said, 'Lorna wil you tel for me?'

She said, 'Riddley Riddley theres mor to life nor asking and telling. Whynt you be the Big Boar and Iwl be the Moon Sow.'

When the Moon Sow
When the Moon Sow comes to season
Ay! She wants a big 1
Wants the Big Boar hevvy on her
Ay yee! Big Boar what makes the groun shake
Wyld of the Woodling with the wite tusk
Ay yee! That wyld big 1 for the Moon Sow

She sung that in my ear then we freshent the Luck up there on top of the gate house. She wer the oldes in our crowd but her voyce wernt old. It made the res of her seam yung for a littl. It wer a col nite but we wer warm in that doss bag. Lissening to the dogs howling aftrwds and the wind wuthering and wearying and nattering in the oak leaves. Looking at the moon all col and wite and oansome. Lorna said to me, 'You know Riddley theres some thing in us it dont have no name.'

I said, 'What thing is that?'

She said, 'Its some kynd of thing it aint us but yet its in us. Its looking out thru our eye hoals. May be you dont take no noatis of it only some times. Say you get woak up suddn in the middl of the nite. 1 minim youre a sleap and the nex youre on your feet with a spear in your han. Wel it wernt you put that spear in your han it wer that other thing whats looking out thru your eye hoals. It aint you nor it dont even know your name. Its in us lorn and loan and sheltering how it can.'

I said, 'If its in every 1 of us theres moren 1 of it theres got to be a manying theres got to be a millying and mor.'

Lorna said, 'Wel there is a millying and mor.'

I said, 'Wel if theres such a manying of it whys it lorn then whys it loan?'

She said, 'Becaws the manying and the millying its all 1 thing it dont have nothing to gether with. You look at lykens on a stoan its all them tiny manyings of it and may be each part of it myt think its sepert only we can see its all 1 thing. Thats how it is with what we are its all 1 girt big thing and divvyt up amongst the many. Its all 1 girt thing bigger nor the worl and lorn and loan and oansome. Tremmering it is and feart. It puts us on like we put on our cloes. Some times we dont fit. Some times it cant fynd the arm hoals and it tears us a part. I dont think I took all that much noatis of it when I ben yung. Now Im old I noatis it mor. It dont realy like to put me on no mor. Every morning I can feal how its tiret of me and readying to throw me a way. Iwl tel you some thing Riddley and keap this in memberment. What ever it is we dont come naturel to it.'

I said, 'Lorna I dont know what you mean.'

She said, 'We aint a naturel part of it. We dint begin when it begun we dint beginwhere it begun. It ben here befor us nor I dont know what we are to it. May be weare jus only sickness and a feaver to it or boyls on the arse of it I dont know. Now lissen what Im going to tel you Riddley. It thinks us but it dont think like us. It dont think the way we think. Plus like I said befor its afeart.'

I said, 'Whats it afeart of?'

She said, 'Its afeart of being beartht.'

I said, 'How can that be? You said it ben here befor us. If it ben here all this time it musve ben beartht some time.'

She said, 'No it aint ben beartht it never does get beartht its all ways in the woom of things its all ways on the road.'

I said, 'All this what you jus ben telling be that a tel for me?'

She larft then she said, 'Riddley there aint nothing what aint a tel for you. The wind in the nite the dus on the road even the leases stoan you kick a long in front of you. Even the shadder of that leases stoan roaling on or stanning stil its all telling.'

Wel I cant say for cern no mor if I had any of them things in my mynd befor she tol me but ever since then it seams like they all ways ben there. Seams like I ben all ways thinking on that thing in us what thinks us but it dont think like us. Our woal life is a idear we dint think of nor we dont know what it is. What a way to live.

Thats why I finely come to writing all this down. Thinking on what the idear of us myt be. Thinking on that thing whats in us lorn and loan and oansome.


Walker is my name and I am the same. Riddley Walker. Walking my riddels where ever theyve took me and walking them now on this paper the same.

I dont think it makes no diffrents where you start the telling of a thing. You never know where it begun realy. No moren you know where you begun your oan self. You myt know the place and day and time of day when you ben beartht. You myt even know the place and day and time when you ben got. That dont mean nothing tho. You stil dont know where you begun.

Ive all ready wrote down about my naming day. It wernt no moren 3 days after that my dad got kilt in the digging at Widders Dump and I wer the loan of my name.

Dad and me we jus come off forage rota and back on jobbing that day. The hoal we ben working we ben on it 24 days. Which Ive never liket 12 its a judgd men number innit and this ben 2 of them. Wed pernear cleart out down to the chalk and hevvy mucking it ben. Nothing lef in the hoal only sortit thru muck and the smel of it and some girt big rottin iron thing some kynd of machine it wer you cudnt tel what it wer.

Til then any thing big we all ways bustit up in the hoal. Winch a girt big buster rock up on the crane and drop it down on what ever we wer busting. Finish up with han hammers then theywd drag the peaces to the reddy for the melting. This time tho the 1stman tol us word come down they dint want this thing bustit up we wer to get it out in tack. So we ben sturgling with the girt big thing nor the woal 20 of us cudnt shif it we cudnt even lif it jus that littl bit to get the sling unner neath of it. Up to our knees in muck we wer. Even with the drain wed dug the hoal wer mucky from the rains. And col. It wer only jus the 2nd mooning of the year and winter long in going.

We got hevvy poals and leavering it up jus a nuff to get a roap roun 1 end of it we had in mynd to shif that girt thing jus a littl with the crane so we cud get it parper slung then winch it out of there. It wer a 16 man treadl crane with 2 weals 4 men inside 4 men outside each weal. Userly I wuntve ben on the crane we all ways put our hevvyes on them weals. All we had tho wer 20 in all and we neadit some mussl on the leaver poals so I wer up there on the lef han weal with our hardes hevvy Fister Crunchman we wer the front 2 on that weal. Durster Potter and Jobber Easting behynt us. Straiter Empy our Big Man he wer down in the hoal with Dad and 2 others. Us on the out side of the weals looking tords the hoal and them on the in side looking a way from it.

We took up the slack then Straiter Empy give the syn and Chalker Marchman the Widders Dump 1stman chanting us on:

Gone ter morrer here to day
Pick it up and walk a way
Dont you know greaf and woe
Pick it up its time to go
Greaf and woe dont you know
Pick it up its time to go

Roun we gone with the roap winching in and the A frame taking the strain. Straiter Empy and Skyway Moaters leavering the girt thing wylst we wincht and Dad and Leaster Digman working the sling unner.

London Town is drownt this day
Hear me say walk a way
Sling your bundel tern and go
Parments in the mud you know
Greaf and woe dont you know
Pick it up its time to go

Weals creaking stoppers knocking 32 legs going. The roap gone iron hard and the girt big thing coming up out of the muck all black and rottin unner the grey sky. A crow going over and it had the right of us.

Dad and me looking up at the crow. I knowit that crow wer going to say some thing unner that grey sky. I knowit that crow wer going to tel.

The crow yelt, 'Fall! Fall! Fall!' I dont know if I wer falling befor he said that or not. The treadls wer wet and slippy but I had a good grip on the railing any how I thot I did. But there I wer with my feet gone out from unner me and nothing in my han. Falling I wer I knockt Durster Potter and Jobber Easting luce and they grabbit me they dint have nothing else to hol on to. Fister Crunchman cawt my arm only the railing he had holt of with his other han come a way in his han and off he gone with the res of us. I cud see in my mynd how funny it musve lookit I wer near larfing with it only I seen that weal going backards and I heard some thing tear luce it wer the stoppers 2 on each weal all 4 gone whanging off. Boath weals screachit and the 4 bloaks on the out side of the other weal shot off tords the hoal like stoans out of a sling. Wel it wer the load took charge and SPLOOSH! Down it come that girt big thing it made a jynt splosh and black muck going up slow and hy in to the air. That girt old black machine fel back in to the muck with my dad unner neath of it. It all happent so fas the crow wer stil in site he larft then. 'Haw! Haw! Haw!' and off he flappit.

We pickt our selfs up then all but 1 of us. The roap wer stil fas to the girt big thing. We all got on that roap then we dint use the weal winch only the A frame and the pullys. Chalker Marchman chanting us on the strait pul:

Heard it and the news of 10
Sling your bundel haul agen
Haul agen and hump your load
Every bodys on the road

We shiffit the thing and got Dad out from unner. Parbly it kilt him soons it come down on him he dint have no time to drown in the muck. He wer all smasht up you cudnt tel whose face it ben it mytve ben any bodys.

I begun to clym all over that thing then. That girt big black thing. I wer looking to see if it had a name stampt in or raisd up in the iron of it like them things do some times. It had a shel of old muck stoan hard unner the new muck tho nor I cudnt fynd no name.

Every 1 wer saying, 'What is it Riddley whatre you doing?'

I said, 'My dad ben kilt by some thing I dont even know the name of aint that a larf.' I begun larfing then I cudnt stop.

They let me have my larfing out but I wer stil wanting some thing some kynd of las word some kynd of onwith. If I wernt going to get it from Dad at leas I wantit some thing for onwith even if it wernt nothing only the name of that girt black thing what smasht him flat so you cudnt even tel whose face it ben. I said that to Fister Crunchman.

He said, 'You look at your dads face Riddley thats what Widders Dump done to him theres your onwith.'


Excerpted from Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban. Copyright © 1998 Russell Hoban. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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