In the future post-apocalyptic world, England becomes Inland, and the USA becomes Eusa. A person reaches the apex of his/her life at twelve years of age. People apparently die in droves in their 30s. Probably as a result of radiation.
Riddley Walker, the main character of Riddley Walker (duh) is a storyteller. A 12-year-old storyteller. He walks from place to place, his sole purpose is to keep the stories alive (Who pays him? Don’t they have any way to compensate Riddley Walker for his time?).
The name “Riddley” is perfect: the past is a riddle. But it is not the task of the walker, the storyteller, to explain the riddles. Only to make sure that the questions get passed on, in the hope that someone in a future generation will finally be able to put all the pieces together. He is the closest to a forensic anthropologist that the post-apocalyptic society, deprived of analytical instruments, can come up with. The fragility of human history is so very, very palpable in this book.
And everything is mis-spelled. How horrible! Here’s an example of what happens when grammar teachers all get killed off:
He said, “Dint he tell you how the Eusa folk stoaned Eusa out at Cambry for what he done? How they crowdit him roun the circel of Inland 1 town to a nother? Every town they come to they tol them on the gate, “This is Eusa what done the clevver work for Bad Time.” Then what wer lef in the towns them what wer the soar vivers of the barming they torchert Eusa then. Torchert him and past him on to the next. Thats when the playgs come follering hot on Eusas road and wiping out each town he lef behynt him. 9 towns in the rime and 9 towns dead but Cambry shud be in it 2ce it ben the 1st it ben the las. Cambry where they stoaned him out of starting him on to his circel and Cambry where they brung him back to blyn and bloody not a man no more he ben cut off.
Self thought Riddley Walker was such a brave book. Of course, it can be challenging — to say the least! — to read an entire book full of mis-spellings (Ha ha haaa!) But the language plunged self directly into that brutal, brutish, Dark Age. She believed in that world totally, in no small part because of the language.
Riddley Walker was originally published in 1980. Self must have read it while she was a grad student. She found it in the Stanford Bookstore, plowed right in. Found it a good break from all her classes in Chinese history and literature.
Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.