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...theres some thing in us it dont have no aint us but yet its in us. Its looking out thru our eye hoals.
--Riddley Walker, (p. 6)

Riddley Walker cover  

Riddley Walker (1980)

A Novel by Russell Hoban


  • Winner, John W. Cambell Memorial Award, 1982
  • Winner, Australian Science Fiction Achievement Award, 1983
  • Nominated for National Book Critics Circle Award 1981
  • Nominated for Nebula Award for Best Novel (SFWA) 1981


Big News! In September, 1998, Indiana University Press released a special Expanded Edition of Riddley Walker with a new afterword and mini-glossary by Mr. Hoban as well as unpublished notes and early draft material! See the Riddley Walker Expanded Edition page for more information about the new Riddley, including a look at the cover and where you can order it.

  • (UK) Hardcover (First Edition) - Jonathan Cape, Ltd. 1980.
  • (US) Hardcover (First Edition) - Summit Books/Simon & Schuster, 220 pp. 1980.
  • (US) Trade Paperback - ibid.
  • (UK) Trade Paperback - Picador (Pan Books), 1982.
  • (US) Trade Paperback - Washington Square Press/Simon & Schuster, (plain blue cover) 220 pp. 1982.
  • (US) Expanded Edition - Indiana University Press. 256 pp. (including new Afterword, glossary, notes and drawings). 1998.


Riddley WaIker is set in an unspecified, post-apocolyptic era in the future, when dogs have become humanity's enemies, and history is a rubble of allegory. It's told in a language that recalls the "smashed mess of mottage" of Finnegan's Wake, but Mr. Hoban's inventiveness guarantees that the language of Riddley is his own creation. Gutteral yet eloquent, we hear in it echoes of rudimentary English (and a tendency toward sagas) that evoke Beowulf, mixed with remnants of the technological catchphrases and political jargon of the 20th Century.

Riddley Walker is twelve years old, and at the outset of the book three remarkable things happen to him that seem to set him on a path toward mystery. First, on his "naming day"--the day he turns twelve--he kills a wild boar, and he notices the eyes of the leader of a wild dog pack watching him closely. (Since the time of the nuclear holocaust that precipitated humanity's fallen state, dogs have turned against humans; those few humans who can enounter dogs unarmed without getting their throats ripped out are called "dog frendy" and generally distrusted.)

Three days later Riddley's father is killed in jobsite accident. Riddley is suddenly thrust into prominence as he succeeds his father in the role of "connexion man": the one responsible for giving prophetic interpretations of the traveling puppet shows that serve as a combined religious ceremony, government propaganda tool and public entertainment. Later that same day on forage duty, Riddley is approached by the leader of the wild dog pack, who choses to die on Riddley's spear, a powerful omen of "the far come close took by the littl come big."

Something's up for Riddley, and it's all about to hit the fan. The next night the "Eusa show" arrives at Riddley's settlement; Goodparley & Orfing, the "Pry Mincer" and the "Wes Mincer" stage the traditional puppet allegory depicting how a figure named Eusa, in a time long ago, became greedy for "clevverness," using technology to pull the "Littl Shining Man" of the atom into two pieces. (The idea of lost wholeness represented by the Littl Shining Man is woven throughout the book; it recurs in many of Riddley's reflections, and is underscored by the way the book's language has been smashed into monosyllabic fragments. Longer words are broken down into one-word components, e.g. "sir prizes" for "surprises.")

The result of Eusa pulling the Littl Shining Man apart was an explosion known as the "1 Big 1." Since that time (according to legend) the Littl Shining Man has existed in a broken state, while humankind has lived with the bleak consequences, and "clevverness" has fallen into disrepute reinforced by a sense of religious prohibition.

But Riddley soon learns that all is not as it has been; there's a movement afoot to recover the lost "clevverness" and rediscover the secret of the 1 Big 1. The final catalyst arrives when Riddley unearths a mysterious puppet figure at an excavation site and defies an official who tries to confiscate it. Soon Riddley is on the lam, running with the wild dogs who have inexplicably befriended him, heading down darkened roads into an explosive mixture of danger, intrigue, and forbidden knowledge.


  • In the book's acknowledgments, Mr. Hoban says: "On March 14th, 1974 I visited Canterbury Cathedral for the first time and saw Dr E. W. Tristram's reconstruction of the fifteenth-century wall painting, The Legend of Saint Eustace. This book was begun on May 14th, 1974 and completed on November 5th, 1979." For more on how Saint Eustace relates to Riddley Walker, see Edward Myers' 1984 interview with Mr. Hoban.
  • The image that Riddley calls "Greanvine"--a face "with vines and leaves growing out of the mouf"--is better known in European folklore and mythology as the Green Man. You can read more about the Green Man, and see photos of numerous images of him from around the world, on the Green Man site. (Thanks to Professor David Cowart of the University of South Carolina for the tip!)
  • On the subject of Riddley's language, Mr. Hoban says: "As much as possible I tried for more than one meaning in the words. For example, when Riddley says, on page 8, 'I wer the loan of my name,' he means that he is the lone carrier of his name, living on borrowed time. Life among his people is usually hard and short."
  • Mr. Hoban also says, in the Afterword to the new Expanded Edition of Riddley: "I was a good speller before I wrote that book; I no longer am but can live with that."
  • Riddley also had a life on the stage: a theatrical adaptation of Riddley Walker premiered at the Manchester Royal Exchange, February-March of 1986. Mr. Hoban adapted the script himself. Its US premiere was at the Chocolate Bayou Theatre, in April of 1987, directed by Greg Roach.
  • Did Riddley cross conceptual paths with Mad Max? Kerry Power from Melbourne, Australia writes: "One thing you may find interesting. It relates to the George Miller (of Babe fame) movies - in Australia called the Mad Max series (I think in USA called Road Warrior) starring Mel Gibson (before he was really famous). In Mad Max 3 Beyond Thunderdome, Mel Gibson comes across a 'tribe' of children (survivors in a post apocalyptic world). They speak in a modified version of English and VERY familiar to Riddley Walker speak. The children are 'waiting' to be rescued by a MR Walker (!!!!) and think Mel Gibson is the one. I am sure the film writers had read Riddley Walker and made reference to Mr Walker intentionally."
  • Thought: there is a species of sea turtle called the Ridley turtle, and this is the next novel Mr. Hoban published after Turtle Diary. Could there be a "connexion"?



punch "This is what literature is meant to be--exploration without fear."
--Anthony Burgess

"Set in a remote future and composed in an English nobody ever spoke or by El Greco and jokes by Punch and Judy...and a hero with Huck Finn's heart and charm."
--The New York Times

"Russell Hoban has brought off an extroardinary feat of imagination and of style. Funny, terrible, haunting and unsettling, this book is a masterpiece."
--The Observer

"One of 1981's best novels."

"An artistic tour-de-force in every possible way."
--New York Review of Books

"Marvelous...Suffused with melancholy and wonder, beautifully written, Riddley Walker is a novel people will be reading for a long, long time."
--The Washington Post Book World


What ben makes tracks for what wil be. Words in the air pirnt foot steps on the groun for us to put our feet in to. (p.121)

There aint that many sir prizes in life if you take noatis of every thing. Every time wil have its happenings out and every place the same. What ever eats mus shit. (p.15)

I cud feal it in the guts and barrils of me. You try to make your self 1 with some thing or some body but try as you wil the 2ness of every thing is working agenst you all the way. You try to take holt of the 1ness and it comes in 2 in your hans. (p. 149)

I dont have nothing only words to put down on paper. Its so hard. Some times theres mor in the emty paper nor there is when you get the writing down on it. You try to word the big things and they tern ther backs on you. Yet youwl see stanning stoans and ther backs wil talk to you. (p. 161)

Seeing that boars face in my mynd that morning in the aulders and seeing it in my mynd now I have the same thot I had then: 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. Never mynd. (p. 186)

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 kind 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 don't 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.' (p. 6)

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