The following passage is from the post-apocalyptic book Riddley Walker. After worldwide nuclear war society has returned to the primitive life of the middle ages. Language, technology, and people are changed in every way except for their thirst for power, specifically for the power of nuclear bombs (cools of Addom). They do not re-discover nuclear power, however they do re-discover gun powder. The following is a story the main character Riddley Walker shares. (It might be difficult to read, but sound it out):
“Stoans want to be lissent to. Them big brown stoans in the formers feel they want to stan up and talk like men. Some times youwl see them lying on the ground with ther humps and hollers theywl say to you, sit a wyl and res easy why dont you. Then when youre sitting on them theywl talk and theywl tel if you lissen. Theywl tel whats in them but you wont hear nothing what theyre saying without you go as far as the stoan. You myt think a stoan is slow that’s becaws you wont see it moving. Wont see it walking a roun. That dont mean its slow tho. There are the many cools of Addom which they are the party cool of stoan. Moving in ther millying which is the girt dants of the everything it’s the festes thing where is it keaps the stilness going. Reason you wont see it move its so far away in to the stoan. If you cud fly way way up like a saddelite bird over the sea and you lookit down you wunt see the waves moving youwd see them change 1 way to another only you wunt see them moving youd be too far away. You wont see nothing only a changing stilness. It’s the same way with stoan,” (pg 163).
This short passage by Russel Hoban was the most powerful of Riddley Walker. It touches on larger themes of the world and of society. He begins by stating that inanimate objects speak. They have a voice. This could be a reference to Luke 19 where Jesus is entering Jerusalem and the people are praising and worshipping him. The Pharisees in the crowd tell Jesus to rebuke those praising him. And Jesus says in verse 40 that if they keep quiet then “the stones will cry out.”
Hoban engages the senses with the stones. He shows that one cannot see a stone move or hear its voice, but it’s not because it’s an idle object and it’s silent, but instead we cannot see or hear the stone because of where we are in relation to it. We can see the waves in the sea, but if we were flying in the sky we wouldn’t see the movement. We are too far away from the stone. But if we were able to move closer to the stone we would see its “particles”, its essence, and we would witness our relationship with the stone. We would see the interconnectivity with us to the stone and to the world. We would see the “great dance of everything.”
But in order to do that we must slow down, or as the stone asks, we must sit. Our movement restricts us from seeing the greater movement of the world. Secondly, we can learn but we must be willing to listen and we can only listen if we go “as far as the stone.” It’s a process of slowing down, stopping and listening, to see what’s bigger than us, to see reality not as we know it.
The world of Riddley Walker was in its post-apocalyptic state because society did not stop and listen. They rushed ahead without seeing “the great dance of everything” and the world suffered and became the great destruction of everything. This is a commentary for our modern society, maybe even a warning. A recent Wired article by Alexis Madrigal discusses the worldwide ramification of a regional nuclear war. For example, if India and Pakistan went to war and approximately 50 nuclear bombs are dropped in each other’s major cities the impact is universal:
“The hot smoke from burning cities would tear holes in the ozone layer of the Earth. The increased UV radiation resulting from the ozone loss could more than double DNA damage, and increase cancer rates across North America and Eurasia…[the war] could reduce crop yields and starve hundreds of millions.”
Even this theoretical situation shows the interconnection of the whole world. That one isolated event has an affect on an area at the opposite side of the world. Hoban’s novel, as the stoan passage displays, is an admonition to stop and listen and to enjoy the great dance of the world.
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