Sunday, July 8, 2007

Riddley Walker again

Patrick Jehle has a post on Riddley Walker on Night Hauling. Of the 25 voters in the Paperpools Riddley Walker poll, 13 think it's a masterpiece of 20th century fiction, 3 have heard of it but never read it and 9 have never heard of it.

This is, of course, a ludicrously small sample, but the pattern is what I would expect to find for an unjustly neglected work of genius (if a similar poll were run for Ulysses, even one vote in 'never heard of it' would be astounding, though it would not be surprising to get many votes in 'heard of but not read' ). More Riddley:

Befor I write down that 1st connexion I bes say a word or 2 about connexions and I myt as wel tel Truth. When my dad ben a live I all ways thot I cud do better connexions nor him when my chance come. How he don it he wud mummel slow and quyet and start and stop with long sylents be twean and mosly his connexions wernt nothing as citing. Every body liket them tho. They all ways went strait to the hart of the matter plus they wer jus that littl bit else nor mos peopl wuntve thot of it qwite the same way.

Like the time wen I ben 7 or 8 when Littl Salting Fents got largent in by Dog Et Form. That ben up on Top Shoar and we ben down by Fork Stoan then in Crippel the Farn Fents. Every body heard of it tho and talking on it. Dog Et tol some cow shit story of a Outland raid from over water they said thats how Littl Salting got ther Big Man kilt plus 8 mor dead and the res of the crowd sparsit out to who ever wud take them that woal story Dog Et tol ther bint a word of Truth only how many dead. Every body knowit Dog Et said, 'Les largen in to gether' and Littl Salting said 'No' which then it wer arga warga for them.

Wel the Pry Mincer and the Wes Mincer don 1 of ther specials dint they. Coarse they don. My dad tol me that show over when he ben learning me. I myt as wel tel it here then when I write down the connexion for it thatwl show his styl.


Tom Slee said...

I first read it at age 22, a few years after it came out. Many books you read at that age you can't come back to (Herman Hesse, John Steinbeck being two big ones for me) but Riddley has stayed with me for years. I bought a new copy last year after the old one fell to bits and reread it and loved it again. It manages to be clevver while holding on to its emotional power (I could say the same for another fine book I just read!). A melancholy paragraph that struck me this time:

Some of them ther shels ben broak open you cud see girt shynin weals like jynt mil stoans only smoov Id all ways usit the word shyning same as any 1 else myt. The sun is shyning or the moon is shyning. Youwl see a shyning on the water or a womans hair. When you talk of the Little Shyning Man its jus the middl word of what hes callt there aint no real meaning to it. Suddn when I see the shyning of the broakin machines I begun to get some idear of the shyning of the Littl Man. Tears begun streaming down my face and my froat akit.... How cud any 1 not want to get that shyning Power back from time back way back? How cud any 1 not want to be like them what had boats in the air and picters on the wind? How cud any 1 not want to see them shyning weals terning?

Ithaca said...

Yes, that's wonderful. Of course, the odd thing is that we have a society where Riddley lives side by side with Richard Feynman. That would be much harder to show in fiction, though. Hoban can use this wonderful phonetic spelling of a language that has kept words for things that are not understood, but we have perfectly respectable literate English in which scientific terms turn up because they sound good. If one ran a survey on the lines from Tarantula: ([A looks at bottle of liquid] That's an isotope, isn't it? B: A radioactive isotope.) I wonder how many people would find them funny?

Tom Slee said...

Perhaps the availability of scientific words does make it impossible to use poetic phrases ("picters on the wind") to convey ideas we don't understand. But I don't know that I would worry too much about Tarantula - such mangling of the language has always been with us, but I hope we don't need to pay too much attention to it.

Daniel Maia said...

I first read it some 7 years ago, by ways of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, which uses much of "Riddley" as the basys for its plot; namely for the mythology regarding the Crack in the Earth children in the last part of the movie and the Captain Walker wink.

'Read it twice then, back to back (which had some effect on my ability to write english proper, for a bit). For me it's an undeleble work and already DOES feature amongst the best books of the 20th century.

I've had the good fortune of having mr.Hoban consent to my using his expression "arga warga" as name of my publishing seal.