Russell Hoban 1925–
Russell Hoban 1925–INTRODUCTION
(Full name Russell Conwell Hoban) American novelist, illustrator, and author of juvenile novels, juvenile nonfiction, children's poetry, and picture books.
The following entry presents an overview of Hoban's career through 2004. For further information on his life and career, see CLR, Volumes 3 and 69.
Equally respected as a writer and illustrator of children's stories and adult novels, Hoban is known for the wit and elegance of his imaginative portrayals of modern life. Although Hoban has originated several well-known characters in children's literature, including Charlie the Tramp, Emmet Otter, the Mouse, his Child, and Manny Rat, he is especially recognized for a series of bedtime picture books about an anthropomorphic badger named Frances, a series which began with Bedtime for Frances (1960). While the Frances books have attracted a wide audience since their first publication in the early 1960s, Hoban's fantasy novel The Mouse and His Child (1967) won the author his greatest critical acclaim to date, with many scholars hailing the juvenile novel as a modern children's classic. Following the publication of The Mouse and His Child, Hoban shifted his writing toward older audiences with several well-received novels, most notably Riddley Walker (1980), a highly acclaimed novel set in the distant future after a twentieth-century nuclear holocaust.
Named after Temple University founder Russell Conwell, Hoban was born on February 4, 1925, in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, to Abram and Jeanette Hoban. His parents were Ukrainian immigrants, and his father, the advertising manager for The Jewish Daily Forward, directed Yiddish classics and socially-driven American plays in his spare time. As a child, Hoban demonstrated artistic talent which his parents strongly fostered, believing his future lay in the arts. After studying at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art and Temple University, he enlisted in the Army during World War II and served as a radio operator in the Italian and Asian campaigns where he earned a Bronze Star. Hoban married Lillian Aberman in 1944, with whom he would have four children. Upon his release from the military in 1945, Hoban worked as an illustrator and art director for various art studios and advertising firms in New York until 1957, when he decided to become a freelance journalist and illustrator. His work during this period appeared in various magazines, including cover art for Sports Illustrated, The Saturday Evening Post, and Time. In 1959 he released his first book, What Does It Do and How Does It Work, which featured Hoban's sketches of construction equipment that he has been composing in his free time. In 1960 he published the first of his Frances the Badger books with Bedtime for Frances. While developing a reputation as a children's author, Hoban still maintained a professional career, working variously as a copywriter and art instructor at the Famous Artists Schools in Westport, Connecticut, and the School of Visual Arts in New York. After publishing more than a dozen children's books—many illustrated by his wife—Hoban decided to become a full-time author. He moved with his family to London in 1969, though his wife Lillian soon returned to America with their children and the couple divorced in 1975. Hoban was later remarried to Gundula Ahl, with whom he has three children. The success of 1967's The Mouse and His Child, Hoban's first full-length juvenile novel, buoyed his confidence in his writing, and he released his first novel for adults, The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz, in 1973 to mostly positive reviews.
Hoban's early career is noted for his successful picture books, which have been praised for their engaging depictions of ordinary childhood dilemmas and endearing, childlike animal characters. Drawing inspiration from his own four children, Hoban developed the character Frances the Badger, who embodies such childhood emotions as bedtime fears, jealousy, and self-determination. Despite the positive reception of his picture books and the Frances books, in particular, critics were unprepared for the powerful impact of Hoban's fantasy novel The Mouse and His Child. Initially ignored by American critics, The Mouse and His Child gained great popularity in England and has since become a cult classic among preteens and adolescents. The picaresque story recounts the adventures of two wind-up toy mice who are discarded from a toyshop. Ill equipped for the baffling, threatening world into which they are tossed, the mouse and his child innocently confront the world's inherent treachery, violence, the unknown, and their own fears. The book explores not only the transience and inconstancy of life but the struggle to persevere as well.
With The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz and Kleinzeit (1974), Hoban began to write allegorical novels specifically for a more mature audience, although he retained the magical and bizarre worlds of his children's stories. Consistent throughout his adult novels is Hoban's search for the patterns that make life significant—and this often in the face of a threatening, desolate, or near mad world. Hoban's prose style, markedly individual, unique, and often humorous, is a linguistic match for his metaphysical themes. Nominated as the most distinguished book of fiction by the National Book Critics Circle and for the Nebula Award for Science Fiction Writers of America, Hoban's Riddley Walker received the John W. Campbell Memorial Award from the Science Fiction Research Association as the year's best science fiction novel. Riddley Walker imagines a world and civilization decades after a nuclear holocaust; the story of what remains is narrated in a fragmented, phonetical English by a twelve-year-old boy struggling to comprehend the past so that its magnificence might be recaptured. A popular work among young adult readers, Riddley Walker is often compared with other contemporary works such as Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, John Gardner's Grendel, and the works of William Golding, as well as with Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. While the novel's philosophical themes, which explore such issues as humankind's continued existence on Earth and the potential destructiveness of technology, are of primary interest to its readers, the inventiveness of Hoban's language used throughout the narrative is most often discussed by commentators.
Hoban has enjoyed widespread critical appreciation for his works for both older and younger readers. Christine Wilkie has argued that, "Russell Hoban is one of few contemporary writers of literature for children, who is in the process of challenging the conventions by which the genre has become recognized, and in which the child has become inscribed … It invites them to be child enough to be themselves, to make of it whatever they want it to be, and to find in it whatever helps them to experience the actuality behind the appearance of things." While reviewers have generally praised his early picture books for their appealing protagonists and genteel storylines, Hoban's greatest critical success to date has been his novel The Mouse and His Child. Margaret and Michael Rustin have complimented the novel for "succeed[ing] in representing and integrating an extraordinary range and depth of feelings, concluding with a happy outcome which is perhaps especially appropriate for young readers considering the extreme fears that this demanding story is likely to evoke in them." Similarly, the Booklist review of The Mouse and His Child has labelled the text an "intricate but skillfully executed fantasy [that] chronicles the hazardous and heroic adventures of a broken windup mouse child and his father in search of happiness and security." Riddley Walker has also endured as one of the critical highlights of Hoban's career, though some scholars have argued whether the novel is appropriate for the teen and young adult readers who have co-opted the text as their own. Paul Brians has called Riddley Walker "one of the finest of all post-holocaust novels," and the Sunday Times review of the novel has asserted that, "Riddley Walker is told in language that attempts the impossible and achieves it."
What Does It Do and How Does It Work?: Power Shovel, Dump Truck, and Other Heavy Machines [as author and illustrator] (juvenile nonfiction) 1959
The Atomic Submarine: A Practice Combat Patrol under the Sea [as author and illustrator] (juvenile nonfiction) 1960
The Mouse and His Child [illustrations by Lillian Hoban] (juvenile novel) 1967; new edition illustrations by David Small, 2001
The Trokeville Way (juvenile novel) 1996
The Pedalling Man and Other Poems [illustrations by Lillian Hoban] (children's poetry) 1968; new edition, 1990
Egg Thoughts and Other Frances Songs [illustrations by Lillian Hoban] (children's poetry) 1972
The Last of the Wallendas and Other Poems [illustrations by Patrick Benson] (children's poetry) 1997
Bedtime for Frances [illustrations by Garth Williams] (picture book) 1960
Herman the Loser [illustrations by Lillian Hoban] (picture book) 1961
The Song in My Drum [illustrations by Lillian Hoban] (picture book) 1962
London Men and English Men [illustrations by Lillian Hoban] (picture book) 1963
Some Snow Said Hello [with Lillian Hoban] (picture book) 1963
A Baby Sister for Frances [illustrations by Lillian Hoban] (picture book) 1964
Bread and Jam for Frances [illustrations by Lillian Hoban] (picture book) 1964
Nothing to Do [illustrations by Lillian Hoban] (picture book) 1964
The Sorely Trying Day [illustrations by Lillian Hoban] (picture book) 1964
The Story of Hester Mouse Who Became a Writer and Saved Most of Her Sisters and Brothers and Some of Her Aunts and Uncles from the Owl [illustrations by Lillian Hoban] (picture book) 1965
Tom and the Two Handles [illustrations by Lillian Hoban] (picture book) 1965
What Happened When Jack and Daisy Tried to Fool the Tooth Fairies [illustrations by Lillian Hoban] (picture book) 1965
Charlie the Tramp [illustrations by Lillian Hoban] (picture book) 1966
Goodnight [illustrations by Lillian Hoban] (picture book) 1966
Henry and the Monstrous Din [illustrations by Lillian Hoban] (picture book) 1966
The Little Brute Family [illustrations by Lillian Hoban] (picture book) 1966
Save My Place [with Lillian Hoban] (picture book) 1967
The Stone Doll of Sister Brute [illustrations by Lillian Hoban] (picture book) 1968
Best Friends for Frances [illustrations by Lillian Hoban] (picture book) 1969; new edition, 1994
A Birthday for Frances [illustrations by Lillian Hoban] (picture book) 1969
Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas [illustrations by Lillian Hoban] (picture book) 1969
Harvey's Hideout [illustrations by Lillian Hoban] (picture book) 1969
The Mole Family's Christmas [illustrations by Lillian Hoban] (picture book) 1969
Ugly Bird [illustrations by Lillian Hoban] (picture book) 1969
A Bargain for Frances [illustrations by Lillian Hoban] (picture book) 1970
The Sea-Thing Child [illustrations by Abrom Hoban] (picture book) 1972; new edition illustrated by Patrick Benson, 1999
Letitia Rabbit's String Song [illustrations by Mary Chalmers] (picture book) 1973
How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen [illustrations by Quentin Blake] (picture book) 1974
Ten What?: A Mystery Counting Book [illustrations by Sylvie Selig] (picture book) 1974
Crocodile and Pierrot: A See the Story Book [illustrations by Sylvie Selig] (picture book) 1975
Dinner at Alberta's [illustrations by James Marshall] (picture book) 1975
A Near Thing for Captain Najork [illustrations by Quentin Blake] (picture book) 1975
The Twenty-Elephant Restaurant [illustrations by Emily Arnold McCully] (picture book) 1977
Arthur's New Power [illustrations by Byron Barton] (picture book) 1978
The Dancing Tigers [illustrations by David Gentlemen] (picture book) 1979
La Corona and the Tin Frog [illustrations by Nicola Bayley] (picture book) 1979
Ace Dragon Ltd. [illustrations by Quentin Blake] (picture book) 1980
Flat Cat [illustrations by Clive Scruton] (picture book) 1980
The Great Fruit Gum Robbery [illustrations by Colin McNaughton] (picture book) 1981; published as The Great Gum Drop Robbery, 1982
The Serpent Tower [illustrations by David Scott] (picture book) 1981
They Came from Aargh! [illustrations by Colin McNaughton] (picture book) 1981
The Battle of Zormla [illustrations by Colin McNaughton] (picture book) 1982
The Flight of Bembel Rudzuk [illustrations by Colin McNaughton] (picture book) 1982
Big John Turkle [illustrations by Martin Baynton] (picture book) 1983
Jim Frog [illustrations by Martin Baynton] (picture book) 1983
Charlie Meadows [illustrations by Martin Baynton] (picture book) 1984
Lavinia Bat [illustrations by Martin Baynton] (picture book) 1984
The Marzipan Pig [illustrations by Quentin Blake] (picture book) 1986
The Rain Door [illustrations by Quentin Blake] (picture book) 1986
Ponders [illustrations by Martin Baynton] (picture book) 1988
Jim Hedgehog's Supernatural Christmas [illustrations by Betsy Lewin] (picture book) 1989
Monsters [illustrations by Quentin Blake] (picture book) 1989
Jim Hedgehog and the Lonesome Tower [illustrations by Betsy Lewin] (picture book) 1990
M.O.L.E. (Much Overworked Little Earthmover) (picture book) 1993
The Court of the Winged Serpent [illustrations by Patrick Benson] (picture book) 1994
Trouble on Thunder Mountain [illustrations by Quentin Blake] (picture book) 1999
Jim's Lion [illustrations by Ian Andrew] (picture book) 2001
The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz (novel) 1973
Kleinzeit (novel) 1974
Turtle Diary (novel) 1975
Riddley Walker (novel) 1980; expanded edition with new foreword, 1998
Pilgermann (novel) 1983
The Medusa Frequency (novel) 1987
Fremder (novel) 1996
Mr Rinyo-Clacton's Offer (novel) 1998
Amaryllis Night and Day (novel) 2001
Angelica's Grotto (novel) 2001
The Bat Tattoo (novel) 2003
Her Name Was Lola (novel) 2003
Come Dance with Me (novel) 2005
Linger Awhile (novel) 2006
My Tango with Barbara Strozzi (novel) 2007
Russell Hoban (essay date 1975)
SOURCE: Hoban, Russell. "Thoughts on Being and Writing." In The Thorny Paradise: Writers on Writing for Children, edited by Edward Blishen, pp. 65-76. Harmondsworth, England: Kestrel Books, 1975.
[In the following essay, Hoban discusses his personal insights on children's literature, art, writing, and the reading experience.]
This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.
This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.
This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.
This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.
This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.
This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.
This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.
Christine Wilkie (essay date 1989)
SOURCE: Wilkie, Christine. "Children's Literature." In Through the Narrow Gate: The Mythological Consciousness of Russell Hoban, pp. 88-97. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1989.
[In the following essay, Wilkie suggests that Hoban's canon of children's books evolve from the structured, gentle universe of his early novels to a more carefree child-oriented philosophy in his later works.]
Of his children's writing Hoban is probably best known for his Frances stories. Written over a period of ten years between 1960 and 1970, they tell about the daily happenings in the life of Frances, a badger with shrewd intelligence, vivid imagination, and tenacious self-will. She first appeared as a badger with bedphobia in Bedtime for Frances (1960) and has since been joined by a sister, Gloria, in A Baby Sister for Frances (1964), who is the object of Frances's jealousy. In Bread and Jam for Frances (1964), she is subjected to bread-and-jam exposure as a cure for being difficult about what she will and will not eat with the family. And she has subsequently celebrated Gloria's second birthday in A Birthday for Frances (1968); made friends with Albert and Gloria in Best Friends for Frances (1969); and finally, she strikes a bargain over a tea set in A Bargain for Frances (1970). These stories are minutely observed and sensitively written, with gentle humor. The jingles and rhymes that appear in the series have been collected in a separate book of verse, Egg Thoughts and Other Frances Songs (1972). In 1987, with fifty-three published titles on his children's list (excluding The Mouse and His Child, 1967), Hoban has reported them to be his most commercially successful children's writing.1
As with most of his early writing, the Frances stories are stories-with-a-message in the study of human relations, and they share a phase in Hoban's children's writing that was about the doings of anthropomorphized furry animals, and sometimes small children, as in Herman the Loser (1961) and Tom and the Two Handles (1965). And nearly all of these early picture books come with illustrations by Lillian Hoban.2
The Little Brute Family (1966) tells of the brutish life of an unidentified animal species who "never laughed and said, ‘Delightful!’ They never smiled and said, ‘How lovely!’ "until they are affected by "Baby Brute's … little wandering lost good feeling." And in its sequel, A Stone Doll for Sister Brute (1968), Sister Brute learns how to love. Harvey and his sister, Mildred, in Harvey's Hideout (1969), are quarreling brother and sister muskrats whose mutual loneliness drives them to befriending each other, but only conditionally: "‘Would you make fun of my poems and my tea parties? … Would you laugh when I talk to Lucinda?’ ‘No,’ said Harvey, ‘I wouldn't.’ ‘Would you say mean things about the pictures I draw and would you tell me that I do everything wrong when I cook?’ ‘No,’ said Mildred. ‘I wouldn't.’"
The Mole Family's Christmas (1969) is clichéd and technically less successful, with three very near-sighted moles wanting to see the stars; there are several close encounters with Ephraim, a predatory owl who unwittingly mediates for them with "the fat man in the red suit … S. Claus" to get the Christmas-present telescope through which they are able to stare at the stars. Better is Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas, a Southern-American-animal Christmas Carol. It's about risk taking, with a widowed and impoverished Ma Otter and her son Emmet each being willing to risk—secretly from the other—their means of livelihood in hope of winning a fifty-dollar-prize talent competition. It will let Emmet buy Ma a piano and Ma buy for Emmet "something shiny and expensive…. It's been such a rock-bottom life for so long, just once at least I'd like to bust out with a real glorious Christmas for Emmet." Neither Ma's singing nor Emmet's "Frogtown Hollow Jug Band" are any match for the electronic "River Bend Nightmare" band. But their talents are spotted by Doc Bull- frog while they sing and play on their return journey from the talent competition. And he employs them at his Riverside Rest as the resident entertainment group known as "Ma Otter and the Frogtown Hollow Boys."
Written in 1969 and in a similar vein, it is not clear whether Dinner at Alberta's (1975) is as a story for parents about children or a story for children about parents. But it is an undoubtedly cautionary tale. Arthur crocodile's table manners are appalling; an offense and an embarrassment to his family's middle-class gentility. Arthur chews with his mouth open, talks when his mouth is full, feels the saltcellar, diddles with his spoon, and spills the milk when reaching across the table. But when Arthur is invited with his sister, Emma, to have dinner at her friend Alberta's house, he wants to impress her and submits himself to a six-day program of training in good manners from his family in advance of the visit.
"Arthur," said Father, "don't ball up your napkin in your left hand like that."
"Too many things to think about," said Arthur. He was breathing hard.
"Relax," said Father. "Listen to how Emma breathes."
"Too much," said Arthur, letting out his breath.
"What's the good of it all?"
"All right," said Father. "Forget it. Just eat at Alberta's the way you eat at home, and let it go at that."
Arthur breathed like Emma.
"That's it," said Father to Mother. "This is a turning point."
At Alberta's his table manners are impeccable. Alberta's father says to her brother Sidney, "You just watch how Arthur eats, and maybe you can learn some manners." After dinner, Albert and Sidney go outside. Sidney returns with a puffed-up lip. When he returns home with his sister, Arthur announces that the nicest part of table manners is "teaching them to other people the way I did to Sidney." In the sequel to this story, Arthur's New Power (1978), Arthur attempts to restore the balance of power to the overloaded electrical system in their house by inventing a water generator.
The message for the world from the man and the woman in The Twenty-Elephant Restaurant (1977), illustrated by Quentin Blake, might be the preparedness to take whatever turns up, and whatever turns up isn't always what is prepared for. Their very small, restorative, table-making venture grows into a table-making industry and becomes an idea for a restaurant with a dancing elephant that grows into an idea for a restaurant with seventeen dancing elephants. "‘One to a table, I'd say…. The elephants could wait on the tables, and in their spare time they could practise dancing until they're good enough so people will pay to see them.’" A motley variety of elephants offering a variety of skills is hired in response to a classified ad for agile elephants. And a dancing-instructor elephant, a chef elephant, and a reliable elephant bring the total to twenty elephants. The main attraction for prospective clientele becomes the spectacle of the one-man-circus, Mr. Buildo. "See Mr. Buildo build a Restaurant single-handed! Admission 50p."; the customers are prepared to watch while eating hot dogs served to them by elephant waiters. The restaurant becomes a huge success. And each time it begins to wobble, the man and the woman and the twenty elephants move to a flat place and begin all over again. "‘Maybe that's just how it is,’ … ‘I think maybe you're right,’ said the man. ‘Sometimes its a one-man circus and sometimes it's a twenty-elephant restaurant.’"
The Sea-Thing Child (1972) is a sad and humorous fable of gain and loss. It is closely related to the themes and style of Hoban's adult writing inasmuch as it is about individuals' growth into their own way of being. The sea-thing child is washed up from the ocean deeps and spends an interim existence on the alien territory of a beach, nursing his fears and anxieties: he is afraid of the ocean; hides himself first inside an igloo made by himself from stones, and, after a passing-through and intrepid albatross advises him to "‘get off the beach before you go barmy and start building stone igloos,’" he moves, instead, to containing himself inside a circle he has drawn in the sand. He befriends a melancholy fiddler crab without a bow, falls out with him, and makes friends with him again. Every creature who passes through this story is on its way to somewhere else, is in pursuit of something better: first, the albatross; and then an eel on its way to "far and deep" (p. 24). And so, too, is the sea-thing child. "‘You will go,’" said the crab. ‘At night I hear you running in the dark. Sometimes I see you looking at the stars. I hear the humming of the wind that will take you away’" (p. 45). And he goes, in answer to what is in him. "He moved forwards against the wind, then he began to run, faster and faster. The beach slipped away from under him, he laughed and flapped his wings and flew up into the storm" (p. 46).
La Corona is the beautiful lady in the title story of La Corona and the Tin Frog ((1979). She lives in the picture on the inside of the cigarbox lid, and she is loved by the tin frog who lives inside the box. But she refuses to look at him. It is the traditional story of the frog prince. He swims through the ocean in search of his love, whom he wins and marries; but he does not turn into an enchanting prince. It is the first of four interrelated fairy-tale stories in this book about Victorian toys who live among the bric-a-brac of a children's nursery. La Corona and the Tin Frog share the nursery with "The Tin Horseman," "The Night Watchman and the Crocodile," and "The Clock." The text has been illustrated by Nicola Bayley in the style of a Victorian children's book. The tin horseman in his story has determined to seek the beautiful yellow-haired princess who he is certain lives in the weather castle on a painted card by the window; the tin crocodile in his story has convinced himself for years that he "was going to compose a poem for the literary quarterly edited by the spinster mouse who lived behind the skirting board." And the clock, who watches everything that happens in the nursery, can never do anything "except go on keeping time," in that in-between moment when "his hands touched midnight and just before he sounded his twelve strokes." The tin horseman reaches his princess by conquering his fears. And he breaks the enchantment to which she is bound by a Sorcerer who lives behind the "round red-and-yellow glass-topped box that was the monkey game of skill." The crocodile is inspired to write his poetry when the incense-burning night watchman speaks, "‘Now is the only time there is!’" And the clock in his story—which is where all the stories converge—walks out of his case, "just the two little walking brass legs of him and walked down the wall…. ‘Time can't be kept,’ said the brass legs of the clock's escapement. ‘And time can't keep you.’" At this timeless moment when all time is Now, the nursery toys who have assembled themselves at the open window escape into the moonlight. And the Sorcerer goes with them.
By contrast, the Whitbread Award-winning How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen (1974) is a witty anti-Establishment tale, with illustrations by Quentin Blake, about a fooling-around Tom who lives with, and under the ever-critical eye of, his maiden aunt, Miss Fidget Wonkham-Strong. She makes him learn pages of the Nautical Almanac and eat "mutton and cabbage-and-potato sog." Tom fools around with "sticks and stones and crumpled paper; with mewses and passages and dustbins, with bent nails and broken glass and holes in fences." Tom continues to fool around under threat of his aunt's sending for Captain Najork; "… he comes up the river in a pedal boat, with his hired sportsmen…." When he arrives, Captain Najork challenges Tom to the games of "womble," and "muck," and "sneedball," the skills of which are uncannily the same as Tom's fooling-around activities. Tom wins the games of "womble" and "muck." But before playing their game of sneedball he makes a deal with the Captain.
Let's play for something." said Tom. "Let's say if I win I get your pedal boat."
"What do I get if I win?" said the Captain. "Because I am certainly going to win this one."
"You can have Aunt Fidget Wonkham-Strong."
And, with the game fought and won, by Tom, he leaves his aunt in the tender care of the Captain, pedals his boat to the next town, and advertises in the local newspaper for a new aunty, who turns out to be aunt Bundlejoy Cosysweet. In its sequel, A Near Thing for Captain Najork (1975), Tom invents a two-seater, jam-powered frog, hops off in it with his aunt Bundlejoy Cosysweet, and is hotly pursued by Captain Najork and his sportsmen in a "peddle-powered snake." In a saga that is less ingenious and more slapstick than its predecessor, Tom makes a forced landing in a girls' boarding school, followed hot on the heels by the Captain in his snake. And he, in his turn, has been followed there by his jealously suspecting wife, Aunt Fidget Wonkham-Strong Najork. She first accuses the headmistress of the girls' school of hiding him and then challenges her to an arm-wrestling contest to win him back. There is a scuffle and a chase between the headmistress, Aunt Fidget, and the Captain. Aunt Fidget Wonkham Strong Najork wins two out of three in her arm-wrestling contest with the Headmistress.
… and the Headmistress wept bitter tears….
"Did you want to play some more games?" said Tom to the Captain.
"He can't," said Aunt Fidget Wonkham-Strong Najork.
"He's got to have his lunch and he'll be learning off pages of the Nautical Almanac for the rest of the day."
These Tom and Captain Najork stories represent the beginnings of a turning point in Hoban's children writing that was a move away from the well-ordered and cozy world of the Frances stories, away from cautionary tales in which young animals and children are heavily under the control and influence of adults (usually parents), and into a world where he is no longer writing about children from an adult point of view but is with them. Finally, in the early 1980s, with his quartet, The Great Fruit Gum Robbery, They Came From Aargh! (1981), The Flight of Bembel Rudzuk, and The Battle of Zormla (1982)—and in keeping with a similar movement at this time in his adult writing—he is writing from within the inner world of children's imagination that is coupled with a paradoxical move towards a greater realism; more realism in the sense that characters have become more recognizably human. And animals, when they are used (see below), are no longer furry and toy-like but are more real in their presentation, possessing animalistic behaviors which don't—as they did in earlier works such as The Mole Family's Christmas —stop short of preying on one another.
The stories in The Great Fruit Gum Robbery quartet are inventively illustrated by Colin McNaughton. Here, the world is child-high, and the perceptual field is restricted to the lower parts of the adults' bodies, who turn up in these child fantasies as: the mermaid queen and the mermaid king; the mummosaurus; the princess; and the Empress of Zurm. In The Great Fruit Gum Robbery (1981), the deep-sea diver, who is swimming around the floorboards and skirting boards of his room, visits the king of the desert, whom he finds seated in his washing-basket oasis and wrapped in his Middle Eastern towelrobe. The deep-sea diver's request of him for fruit gums is refused. There is a chase, with the king of the desert mounted on Kyrat, his stool-and-broom steed, hotly pursued by the baby Turpin on a motorcycle push toy. The baby Turpin seizes the fruit gums from the oasis and escapes to the bottom of the sea, where he hides in the ocean deeps under the kitchen table of the castle of the mermaid queen and consumes the fruit gums. "‘Never mind,’ said the mermaid queen. ‘It's supper time anyhow.’ … The mermaid king said, ‘Next time you all get sweets the baby Turpin will have to give you some of his.’"
Commander Blob, Technician Bleep, and Navigator Blub are a band of aliens. And They Came from Aargh! (1981) depicts their travels in a twelve-legged kitchen-chair spaceship, wearing battle dress of a colander and plant pot and miscellaneous other hightech household effects. They encounter a purring, "asymetrical shock horror," which they placate with milk, and a mummosaurus who attacks their ship while announcing, "‘Cheese omelettes with chips and baked beans,’" and "‘You can't have chocolate cake until you've eaten your cheese omelette.’" When Blob and Bleep have finished eating, they thank her and she invites them back to this part of the solar system which in Aargh language is called "Plovsnat" ("the place of chocolate cake").
When, in The Flight of Bembel Rudzuk (1982), the back and front parts of the squidgerino squelcher slobbers and moans its way across the princess's floor, it leaves a loathsome track, and the princess demands to know, "‘Where'd this monster come from? And who's going to clean up after it?’" The squidgerino squelcher is the invention of the wizard Bembel Rudzuk, who now takes flight from the princess in Gar Denshed and is joined by the back and front halves of the squidgerino squelcher. Here, they spy a cheesecake. "The front half said, ‘If we were to cut off just a little bit all down one side, do you think she'd notice?’ ‘No,’ said the back half." When the princess returns, the mess from the squidgerino squelcher has been cleaned up. "‘Would you like some cocoa?’ … ‘Would you like some cheesecake with your cocoa,’ said the princess…. ‘Isn't this odd!’ said the princess when she brought in the cheesecake…. ‘Do you suppose mice have been at it?’ ‘Squeak, squeak!’ said the two halves of the squidgerino squelcher. ‘Squeak!’ said Bembel Rudzuk."
The Battle of Zormla (1982) is fought inside and outside of the fortress of Wendi Husa and is the culmination of a series of skirmishes between Zormla himself and the warlords of Troon in alliance with the Empress of Zurm. A number of sorties have occurred using various arsenals of blazing clementines, a laser sponge, marmalade, and a squad of one-eyed teddy bears. But before Zormla can make a getaway in his spaceship, the Empress of Zurm calls, "‘Pizza's ready! … We need three chairs here.’" "‘Three chairs for pizza!’ said Zormla and the warlords of Troon as they quickly dismantled the space ship, sat down at the table, and ate up their pizza."
The Rain Door (1986), has echoes of Tom and Captain Najork in it's style and appearance. But the adventures of Harry belongs to the genre of folk tales that attempts to explain natural phenomena. Behind the rain door, in the shimmering heat of a sunny London Thursday afternoon, Harry discovers the cause and the secret of thunder and lightning: "The rag-and-bone man opened the rain valve and the rain poured down."
In 1983-84 Hoban made a return to the philosophic and pastoral moods of The Sea-Thing Child and The Mouse and His Child with the publication of Jim Frog, Big John Turkle (1983), Charlie Meadows, and Livinia Bat (1984); and these have been reissued in a single volume, Ponders (1988), with four other stories in the series Grover Crow, Starboy Mole, Joram Vanderstander, and Carrie Possum. His consistent talent has been to seize the seemingly insignificant and inconsequential details of daily living and to use these as the ideas with which to invest his story. And he does this in these microscopic and verisimilar observations of life in and around the pond. The series has been illustrated by Martin Baynton with the detail of a natural history text. And the actions center for the most part around creatures of nature doing what it is natural for them to do. Jim Frog is unable to croak "Jug-of-rum" with the rest of the frogs because he is depressed and can only manage to croak "Mug-of-jum." And his story tells how the incidentals of his day help restore his sense of hop. Big John Turkle is having a similarly depressing time. He's hankering after the taste of a lobster salad sandwich. But there are no picnickers on the surface, where he encounters, instead, Grover Crow sporting in his beak a willow-patterned cup handle, his "object of art." Jim Frog steals it from Grover's hiding place and retreats with it to his winter bedroom under the mud, sets his alarm clock for spring, and looks at the willow-patterned cup handle on his bedside table. "‘Ahhhhh!’ he sighed…. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘it isn't lobster salad but at least Grover Crow hasn't got it.’" And when Charlie Meadows takes his torn-off newspaper headline "Bleak Outlo" out into the full moon of the winter night, "when the shadows were black on the snow and the frozen pond creaked and his whiskers were stiff with the cold," he encounters Ephraim Owl, who is thinking of his supper; "… but he didn't want Charlie's little shadow to stop dancing. He liked the way it whirled and changed its shape, He flew low over the ice and tried to make his shadow do the same…." Then he changes his mind about eating Charlie and lets him go on his way to Frogtown Stump, where Charlie says nothing about his encounter with Ephraim.
But the moths in Lavinia Bat are not quite so lucky. Lavinia eats them without compunction. "She put her FM echolocator on SCAN, she put her computer on AUTOMATIC and she was ready to go…. MOTH AT SIX O'CLOCK! said Lavinia's scanner. FOUR METRES AND CLOSING. THREE METRES, TWO … DIVE! said Lavinia's computer. I TASTE AWFUL! ultrasounded the moth." Lavinia has just woken from her winter sleep. She was listening to herself telling her she was going to have a baby. When Lola is born, she wants to know about everything. "‘The main thing,’ said Lavinia, ‘is to get tuned in.’ ‘Tuned in to what?’ said Lola. ‘Everything,’ said Lavinia." Lavinia shows her how to hunt, and how to get tuned into the night and "into moving with it." and then Lavinia remembers her half-remembered dream, saying "‘Pass it on!’ ‘Ah!’ said Lavinia, tuned into everything. ‘I've done that!’"
Hoban wrote The Marzipan-Pig in 1976 and had it published in 1986. It would seem to be a return to his earlier style. But the marzipan pig of the title is merely the catalyst, and the trigger for a series of happenings that are mainly concerned with the activities of an owl who is in love with a taxi meter, who has eaten a mouse, who in its turn has eaten the marzipan pig who had spent months of solitude and loneliness from his fall behind the sofa, "‘I am growing hard … and bitter. What a waste of me!’" he had complained to himself with some irony just before being eaten up entirely by the mouse. And it is about a bee and another mouse.
The story is revealed in a chain of events caused by each of these characters' lives coinciding with each other in ways such as these. It is a story delicately and sensitively told in the style of a fairy tale, but which bears the distinctive marks of Hoban's rhythmic and poetic style that was so present in The Sea-Thing Child and in The Mouse and His Child. As with The Mouse and His Child it deals with issues of love, and loneliness, and the triumph of individual characters over adversity.
And Hoban's great chain of life continues. His children's writing, he says, comes from the same place as his adult writing.3
I find myself using some of the same material—different aspects of it—in the children's books and in the adult writing….4
But the fact is, my children's writing is less and less commercially successful, and I'm working my way from popularity to obscurity, and there it is, there's nothing I can do about it…. Sometimes I think that probably parents tend to approve of books that reinforce law and order in some way. I don't know why children like it so much…. why do children like to read books in which it is pointed out that they must go to bed on time, or they must not just eat bread and jam or they should do this or should do that?5
Russell Hoban is one of few contemporary writers of literature for children who is in the process of challenging the conventions by which the genre has be- come recognized, and in which the child has become inscribed. He is widening the parameters that traditionally dictate this, and this, and this, to be what children—who are themselves products of a literary tradition—expect of their literature. Instead he is offering literature that invites its young audience to go with it, wherever it might take them; to be with it, wherever that might be. It invites them to be child enough to be themselves, to make of it whatever they want it to be, and to find in it whatever helps them to experience the actuality behind the appearance of things. This is the essence of Hoban's writing.
1. Hoban, interview with author, 1982.
2. None of these references relates to The Mouse and His Child unless specifically indicated. A complete bibliography of Hoban's children's literature is included in Works of Russell Hoban" in the Bibliography.
3. Hoban, interview with author, 1982.
4. Bunbury, "‘Always a Dance,’" 141.
5. Ibid., 142.
Ace Dragon Limited. Illustrations by Clive Scruton. London: Jonathan Cape, 1980.
Arthur's New Power. Illustrations by James Marshall. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1978; London: Gollancz, 1980.
The Atomic Submarine. Illustrations by Russell Hoban. New York: Harper and Row, 1960.
A Baby Sister for Frances. Illustrations by Lillian Hoban. New York: Harper and Row, 1964; London: Faber and Faber, 1965.
A Bargain for Frances. Illustrations by Lillian Hoban. New York: Harper and Row, 1970; Tadworth, Surrey: World's Work. 1971.
The Battle of Zormla. Illustrations by Colin McNaughton. London: Walker Books, 1982.
Bedtime for Frances. Illustrations by Garth Williams. New York: Harper and Row, 1960; London: Faber and Faber, 1963.
Best Friends for Frances. Illustrations by Lillian Hoban. New York: Harper and Row, 1969; London: Faber and Faber 1971.
Big John Turkle. Illustrations by Martin Baynton. London: Walker Books, 1983.
A Birthday for Frances. Illustrations by Lillian Hoban. New York: Harper and Row, 1968; London: Faber and Faber, 1970.
Bread and Jam for Frances. Illustrations by Lillian Hoban. New York: Harper and Row, 1964; London: Faber and Faber, 1966.
Charlie Meadows. Illustrations by Martin Baynton. London: Walker Books, 1984.
Charlie the Tramp. Illustrations by Lillian Hoban. New York: Scholastic Books, 1966.
Crocodile and Pierot. Illustrations by Sylvie Selig. London: Jonathan Cape, 1975; New York: Scribners, 1976.
The Dancing Tigers. Illustrations by David Gentleman. London: Jonathan Cape, 1979.
Dinner at Albertas. Illustrations by James Marshall. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1975; London Jonathan Cape, 1977.
Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas. Illustrations by Lillian Hoban. New York: Parents' Magazine Press, 1971; Tadworth: World's Work, 1973.
Flat Cat. Illustrations by Clive Scruton. London: Walker Books, 1980.
The Flight of Bembel Rudzuk. Illustrations by Colin McNaughton. London: Walker Books, 1982.
Goodnight. Illustrations by Lillian Hoban. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1966; Tadworth, Surrey: World's Work, 1969.
The Great Fruit Gum Robbery. Illustrations by Colin McNaughton. London: Walker Books, 1981.
Harvey's Hideout. Illustrations by Lillian Hoban. New York: Parents' Magazine Press, 1969; London: Jonathan Cape, 1973.
Henry and the Monstrous Din. Illustrations by Lillian Hoban. New York: Harper and Row, 1966; Tadworth, Surrey: World's Work, 1967.
Herman the Loser. Illustrations by Lillian Hoban. New York: Harper and Row, 1961; Tadworth, Surrey: World's Work, 1972.
How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen. Illustrations by Quentin Blake. London: Jonathan Cape, 1974; New York: Atheneum, 1976.
Jim Frog. Illustrations by Martin Baynton. London: Walker Books, 1983.
La Corona and the Tin Frog. Illustrations by Nicola Bayley. London: Jonathan Cape, 1979.
Lavinia Bat. Illustrations by Martin Baynton. London: Walker Books, 1984.
Letitia Rabbit's String Song. Illustrations by Mary Chalmers. New York: Coward, McCann and Geoghegan, 1973.
The Little Brute Family. Illustrations by Lillian Hoban. New York: Macmillan, 1966; London: Pan (Piccolo), 1973.
London Men and English Men. Illustrations by Lillian Hoban. New York: Harper and Row, 1963.
The Marzipan Pig. Illustrations by Quentin Blake. London: Jonathan Cape, 1986.
The Mole Family's Christmas. Illustrations by Lillian Hoban. New York: Parents' Magazine Press, 1969; London: Jonathan Cape, 1973.
A Near Thing for Captain Najork. Illustrations by Quentin Blake. London: Jonathan Cape, 1975; New York: Atheneum, 1976.
Nothing to Do. Illustrations by Lillian Hoban. New York: Harper and Row, 1964.
Ponders. Illustrations by Martin Baynton. Walker Books, 1988.
The Rain Door. Illustrations by Quentin Blake. London: Gollancz, 1986.
Save My Place. Illustrations by Lillian Hoban. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1967.
The Sea-Thing Child. Illustrations by Brom Hoban. New York: Harper and Row, 1972; London: Gollancz, 1975.
The Serpent Tower. London: Walker Books, 1981.
Some Snow Said Hello. Illustrations by Lillian Hoban. New York: Harper and Row, 1963.
The Song in My Drum. Illustrations by Lillian Hoban. New York: Harper and Row, 1962.
The Sorely Trying Day. Illustrations by Lillian Hoban. New York: Harper and Row, 1964. Tadworth, Surrey: World's Work 1965.
The Stone Doll of Sister Brute. Illustrations by Lillian Hoban. New York: Macmillan, 1968; London: Pan (Piccolo), 1973.
The Story of Hester Mouse. Illustrations by Lillian Hoban. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1965; Tadworth, Surrey: World's Work, 1969.
Ten What? Illustrations by Sylvie Selig. London: Jonathan Cape, 1974; New York: Scribners, 1975.
They Came from Aargh! Illustrations by Colin McNaughton. London: Walker Books, 1981.
Tom and the Two Handles. Illustrations by Lillian Hoban. New York: Harper and Row, 1965; Tadworth, Surrey: World's Work, 1966.
The Twenty-Elephant Restaurant. Illustrations by Quentin Blake. New York: Atheneum, 1977; London: Jonathan Cape, 1980.
Ugly Bird. Illustrations by Lillian Hoban. New York: Macmillan, 1969.
What Happened When Jack and Daisy Tried to Fool the Tooth Fairies. Illustrations by Lillian Hoban. New York: Scholastic Books, 1965.
David Galef (essay date spring 1995)
SOURCE: Galef, David. "Crossing Over: Authors Who Write Both Children's and Adults' Fiction." Children's Literature Association Quarterly 20, no. 1 (spring 1995): 29-35.
[In the following essay, Galef examines three categories of writers who have written for both adult and child audiences—those who start in mature works and then pen juvenile books, like Roald Dahl; those who eventually gravitate toward adult works, like Russell Hoban; and authors who alternate between the two genres throughout their career, as with A. A. Milne.]
Given the protean nature of literary genre, the question "What is a children's book?" has long been regarded as intriguing if possibly unanswerable, almost to the point of teleology: a children's book is "a book which appears on the children's list of a publisher" (Townsend 10). An equally complex but perhaps more fruitful query is "What enables an author to write both children's books and adult fiction?" Is this skill a matter of authorial personality, marketing, or a serendipitous synthesis? And what provokes the crossover?
Certainly, the list of authors who have published in both genres is long and distinguished. In They Wrote for Children Too, Marilyn Fain Apseloff has catalogued over a hundred "adult" writers whose works have also included children's texts (admittedly, sometimes adapted by later writers). But in fact the number of authors famous in both genres is far more limited. What links a book like Ian Fleming's Dr. No with his Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?
Those who write for both children and adults tend to fall into one of three categories (not including hybrids, exceptions, and bad examples). The most com- mon category comprises writers of adult fiction who, for one reason or another, take up children's literature in mid-career. This pattern mimics the general history of publishing: an enterprise importuned by or otherwise made aware of a new audience for its goods. Unfortunately, some modern adults' authors think that all they must do to appeal to children is write pablum versions of their regular material. Those who manage the transition gracefully may have learned something about children: sometimes the impetus for a first children's book is the author's first child. Such authors may also have an intuitive grasp of children's psychology, in some cases an arrested adolescence of sorts. Another possibility in this category is an author who writes on themes appealing to readers of diverse ages. Roald Dahl is a good example of this type; so, for that matter, are such seeming opposites as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and Fleming. But it is not an easy achievement, and each year's list of children's books are strewn with casualties, inferior works that will soon perish.
Somewhat rarer is the second type, which is simply the reverse of the first: those who start out writing for children and only later begin to write for an older audience. The obvious worry, that the original genre may constrain the new mode, seems not to apply in this direction. If anything carries over, it is the emphasis on imagination, as in Madeleine L'Engle's books for adult readers. Of course, those who achieve sufficient fame in children's literature, such as Maurice Sendak, will attract adult readers for anything they have written. But the career-arc of Russell Hoban is different; after becoming well known as both an illustrator and writer of children's books, he began to put forth adult novels of astonishing complexity and power. Perhaps accretion is in some ways easier than simplicity.
The third category, what one might term polygraphy, falls somewhere in between the first two types. Though writers such as A. A. Milne, who penned nursery rhymes and box-office hits with equal facility, are hardly a common breed, there has always been a small but recognizable subset of authors who balance an array of diverse projects and have done so since the start of their careers. Louisa May Alcott and C. S. Lewis are two good examples. Their output is generally prolific, yet marked by a high degree of craft. If some critics fault polygraphic authors for lack of depth, this quality may be attributable to speed of composition, or the tendency of popular opinion to equate prolixity with shallowness.
Perhaps the most useful way to illustrate this typology is to examine the career of one writer from each category. In selecting authors for this purpose, I seek a homogeneous group, since the variables of gender, race, class, language, and era introduce complexities that, though intriguing, are beyond the scope of this essay. Accordingly, I have restricted my discussion to three twentieth-century male English-speaking authors—Dahl, Hoban, and Milne—whose texts seem to illuminate key aspects of genre crossover.* * *
Dahl provides an excellent example of a latecomer to children's books, as well as to the profession of writing itself. An ex-R.A.F. pilot whose first published work was a doctored account of his plane crash in Libya, Dahl soon produced a book of stories about pilots called Over to You (1945). The style was tight with occasional flourishes of wit, Hemingwayesque in its spareness, yet also with Ernest Hemingway's love of technical detail. In fact, Hemingway was a friend of Dahl's, though his response to Over to You was curious. As Alan Warren recounts the incident: "Hemingway borrowed the volume: he returned it after two days, and when Dahl asked him how he'd like [sic] the stories, Hemingway, striding off along the corridor, replied: ‘I didn't understand them’" (121). This kind of reader-response keeps one from defining "adult" books as those beyond children's comprehension, since they obviously confuse some adults, as well. In any event, encouraged more by Alfred A. Knopf than by Hemingway, Dahl became known as a polished short-story writer in the vein of Saki and John Collier.
A typical Dahl story, such as "Skin" or "Lamb to the Slaughter," depends on a what-if premise or a twist—what happens when a man has a masterpiece tattooed on his back? suppose the murder weapon were edible?—though the writing is not gimmicky. Someone Like You (1953) and Kiss Kiss (1959) showcase the best of these gently macabre tales, with a slight fall-off in quality when Dahl tackles the risqué in Switch Bitch (1974). And then one day, as Dahl puts it, "I didn't have a plot for a short story, and I decided to have a go at doing a children's book" (West, Interview 63). As further impetus, Dahl by then had a live audience, his own children. The bedtime stories he told them formed the nucleus of James and the Giant Peach (1961). After that, it was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964), and Dahl was off and running. Switching genres was apparently a piece of cake, to borrow the title of Dahl's first short story.
And yet, if one looks more closely at the start of Dahl's writing career, some discrepancies emerge. First, as Jeremy Treglown chronicles in his recent biography of Dahl, switching genres was more an imperative than a lark: Dahl confessed that he had begun running out of short-story ideas, and in any event magazines such as The New Yorker were turning away from his brand of narrative (127). Second, Dahl had begun working on children's material well before his first published book for juveniles. The Gremlins, a fantasy about mythical creatures who interfere with the workings of airplanes, came out in 1943 as a picture book after being bought by Disney for possible film adaptation. Third, given the nature of Dahl's short stories, strongly plotted ‘flights of imagination with O. Henry twists, one could argue that Dahl was always writing with a child's delight in reversals. As Mark West remarks in his book-length study of Dahl: "In almost all of Dahl's fiction—whether it be intended for children or adults—authoritarian figures, social institutions, and societal norms are ridiculed or at least undermined" (x). Treglown makes a similar point about strong maternal figures, specifically Dahl's mother, Sofie (52). Dahl depended heavily on her but also seems to have rigged events in his fiction against just such types.
Many of the plots suggest a desire for revenge on the powerful. In the short story "William and Mary," the wife sees her autocratic husband reduced to utter, bodiless dependency; in "Beware of the Dog," the shot-down pilot learns that he is not only crippled but imprisoned. The children's books showcase this incapacity. In The Magic Finger (1966), for instance, the duck hunters are turned into ducks, and The Twits (1980) is full of images of immobility: "Mrs. Twit was quite helpless now. With her feet tied to the ground and her arms pulled upward by the balloons, she was unable to move" (24).
As Freud notes in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, the next step after dependency and paralysis is the inorganic state, which is where Dahl often leaves his victims, sometimes literally. In "The Landlady," the new lodger finds out too late that his landlady practices human taxidermy. In "Georgy Porgy," a shy curate returns to the other end of life, birth. Afraid of eros due to a childhood memory of a rabbit eating her newborn baby, and guilty over the death of his own sexually aggressive mother, he envisions a return to the womb down the throat of a promiscuous female parishioner. He ends up engulfed—inside the woman, as he imagines, but really confined to a padded cell.
The figures due for comeuppance in Dahl's children's books are dealt with similarly: the wicked aunts in James and the Giant Peach are flattened, and the two odious adults in The Twits succumb to a fatal case of the shrinks. At first, Dahl doled out poetic justice: in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, for example, Augustus Gloop falls into the Slough of Gluttony, and Mike Teavee becomes as tiny and limited as the figures he watches on television. Only in his later children's books, such as Matilda (1988), does Dahl settle too predictably into a back-and-forth mode of injury and vengeance. As Matilda resolves after her father insults her: "She decided that every time her father or mother was beastly to her, she would get her own back in some way or another" (29). In Dirty Beasts (1983), a pig decides to turn the tables on the farmer and eat him, an ant-eater eats an aunt, and so on. Revenge is sweet, but less so when it becomes systematic.
Yet as far back as the flying stories, as close to barebones realism as Dahl ever got till he wrote his autobiographical volumes Boy (1984) and Going Solo (1986), a sense of payback prevails, often taking an arguably childlike form. In "Madame Rosette," the pilots are like boys sassing the evil old witch, in this case the ugly madam of a brothel in Cairo. The sense of impishness is never far from even the utmost seriousness. In "A Piece of Cake," a pilot in a burning airplane crash imagines a telegraph system between the body and the brain: "Down here there is a great hotness. What shall we do? (Signed) Left Leg and Right Leg" (41). "Beware of the Dog," the pen-ultimate story in the collection, is the stuff of childish paranoia, everyone around the protagonist seemingly kind but really an enemy—the fantasy brilliantly vindicated in the end.
Even the salacious stories in Switch Bitch (first published in Playboy, with two expanded into the novel My Uncle Oswald) are not quite the material of adult sexuality but rely on nudges and winks. Uncle Oswald, a grown-up Willy Wonka figure addicted to sex rather than chocolate, writes in hints and innuendoes. A typical instance occurs during a love scene in a harem, when Oswald's diary primly declares: "I wish to be excused a detailed description of the great scene that followed" (Switch 64). His one earlier novel, Some Time Never: A Fable for Supermen (1948), was a failure as far as both Dahl and the public were concerned. Though billed as a full-length adult work, it relies on two elements of children's literature, both risky in the context of the realist fiction of the 1940s and '50s: allegorical fantasy and didactic preachiness. References to Fifinellas who eat snozzberries jostle warnings about the dangers of warfare. On the other hand, the same story, pared down and illustrated by animation frames from Disney Studios, made for a likeable fable as The Gremlins (see Treglown 62 ff).
What are the implications for Dahl's voice or the writer behind it? As Dahl once said of himself: "It's a mistake to see me as two different people. I'm not" (West, "Interview" 65). In fact, what Dahl does best is write Dahl books, a curious middle ground that, with a little alteration in subject and tone, appeals to either adults or children. When he veers away from this mode, as in the sexually titillating My Uncle Oswald, he loses a portion of his audience. And when he writes too deliberately for children, as in The Magic Finger with its restricted lexicon, his narrative also suffers. In fact, Dahl has gone on record against what Jan Susina has termed "kiddie lit(e)," or "the dumbing down of children's literature" (v). In a polemic entitled "Let's Build a Skyscraper, But Let's Find a Good Book First," Dahl rails against books with limited vocabulary and "those horrible things that are called educational books" (2). More successful, from both a narrative and marketing point of view, was Danny the Champion of the World (1975), in which Dahl did not pare down but rather expanded on several adult stories about poaching that had appeared in Someone Like You.
In "Lucky Break—How I Became a Writer," Dahl lists seven qualities a fiction writer should have (Henry Sugar 168-69). The first is a lively imagination, but stamina, self-discipline, humor, and humility are also on the roster. In the end, the moral dimension in which Dahl places both children and adults is more complex than mere payback or turning the other cheek, since it involves luck, shrewdness, and a wit that doesn't flinch from life's ugliness. Dahl's long-time illustrator Quentin Blake, with his cartoonish but apt drawings, helps to accentuate the fun in Dahl's otherwise tendentious humor.
In these days of political correctness, Dahl has endured accusations of racism and sexism, as Jonathan Culley and others have chronicled. As for charges of sadism and vulgarity, however, Culley provides convincing analogies with folklore to show just what Dahl is about: the structures and methods of myth, with their occasional cruelty and excess. Hubris leads to a sickening fall; one foul deed is repaid with another. Hamida Bosmajian has even pointed out Rabelaisian links in an essay on Dahl's excremental vision. This kind of Lévi-Straussian analysis also explains why Dahl's appeal is so broad, since the mythic dimension knows no age limit.
Hoban and his circumstances seem to present an opposite case to Dahl's. Starting as a children's-book illustrator, Hoban eventually switched over to writing for children. During the 1960s, he came out with the well-known series of Frances books, most with drawings by his wife Lillian. Their popularity is easily understandable: the books are engaging and accurate in their simple but subtle depiction of families and relationships. The occasional rhymes that Frances recites, short and with skip-a-beat meter, present a pleasant contrast to the clever extravaganzas in Dahl's fiction, and in fact eventually made up their own collection, Egg Thoughts, and Other Frances Songs (1972). The didactic but humorous messages against stubborn behavior are shown again and again through the girl-badger Frances, whether she is sticking to a diet of bread and jam or refusing to go to sleep.
The strength of these books lies not in any lampooning but in the shrewd accuracy of depiction. In Best Friends for Frances (1969), for instance, when Frances can't join a boys' baseball game, she reluctantly falls back on her little sister for company. In A Birthday for Frances (1968), Frances must deal with sibling envy at the fuss being made over her sister's birthday. Hoban's other children's books from that decade are similar. Nothing to Do (1969), for instance, opens with "‘I have nothing to do,’ said Walter Possum to his father" (5)—a set-up to show, by the end of the story, that necessity is the mother of invention, which staves off boredom. In The Stone Doll of Sister Brute (1968), through the cathexis of affection onto a rock and a dog, Sister Brute learns about love.
Most critics see Hoban's turning point as The Mouse and His Child (1967), which is far longer than anything he had written previously, as well as more complex in theme, tone, plot, and character. As Hoban has commented, "I didn't make any concessions for a young reader either in vocabulary or in what I was putting into it" (qtd. in Wilkie 98). It includes depictions of the homeless, murder, and a take-off on Samuel Beckett's drama, and it took three years to write. Still, as a story with toys and animals as characters, The Mouse and His Child was classed as a children's book.
The classification reveals as much about publishing practice as about genre, which is to say that marketing strategy determines a great deal about how a book is perceived. Hoban was known as a children's-book author; hence, his market appeal was likely to be highest in that category. Also, children's books in the past decade or two have sold better on the whole than adult books. As Dahl has noted of authors: "if they hit the jackpot with just one children's book, it's an income for life" (West, "Interview" 65). An additional reason is the apparent simplicity of the work's composition, though simpler does not necessarily mean easier.
On the other hand, Hoban was trying to move past his earlier work, and the marketing of The Mouse and His Child as juvenile literature cannot have pleased him much. Referring to the rigid rules of genre, Hoban remarked, "Most adult books are about clockwork dolls who copulate. Mine happens to be about clockwork mice who walk, and therefore it is a children's book" ("Thoughts on a Shirtless Cyclist" 13-14). When critics at the 1973 Exeter Children Literature Conference pursued the question of classification, by now tiresome to him, he replied "that he had wanted the manuscript to be published, that Faber was interested, and if Faber had marketed tables and chairs, he would have sold it as a table or, if they preferred, as a chair" (qtd. in McMahon-Hill 41).
Yet the problem cannot be reduced to mere marketing economics. Though The Mouse and His Child is yet another Hoban book illustrated by his wife, both lay readers and critics see it as different from his earlier efforts. As Valerie Krips notes in her Lacanian essay "Mistaken Identity," the book's pervasive notions of lack and fantasies of wholeness are pursued on sophisticated psychological and linguistic levels (97). In any event, no one questioned the adult status of his next (unillustrated) novel, The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz, when it came out in 1973. During that time, Hoban's personal circumstances underwent some dramatic changes: he moved to London, his marriage broke up, his wife returned to the United States with the children, and he married again and produced a new son named Jachin Boaz. As Hoban mentions in "Thoughts on Being and Writing," he named his son after the twin pillars in Solomon's temple, Jachin and Boaz (70). The son's rage at the father in the novel, as well as the father's guilt, however, derives from Hoban's relations with his son from his first marriage (see Haffenden 128). The novel has a great deal to do with the theme of fathers and sons, specifically a father who leaves his wife and son, but also with the entwined concerns of epistemology and ontology. As Jachin-Boaz tells his onomastically opposite son Boaz-Jachin, "Everyone in the world is looking for something" (12), an allegorical theme that becomes increasingly urgent in Hoban's later fiction. The Sea-Thing Child, a children's book that came out one year earlier (and was illustrated by a son from his first marriage, Abrom Hoban), has the same pattern: a character of indeterminate status who must make his way in the world. But the nature of the search is spiritual, even mystical, and, as the sea-thing child hears an eel singing, "The finding is in me, and the finding finds the way" (13). Knowing merges with being.
Hoban's next novel was Kleinzeit (1974), whose dissection of language and social institutions might seem deconstructive were it not for the cohering mythology of Orpheus at its core. It may also reveal the precarious mental state of Hoban at the time, checking into a hospital for diabetes complications and feeling the terror of mortality. But the arch manner in which Hoban handles the situation shows his background as an author for juveniles, from inanimate objects that talk, to comic mishearings of words. In 1974, the same year that Kleinzeit was published, Hoban put out How Tom Beat Captain Norjak and His Hired Sportsmen, which went on to win a Whitbread Award. Illustrated by Quentin Blake, who later collaborated with Dahl, the book also contains repressive adult figures like those in such works as James and the Giant Peach and Matilda. For obvious reasons, How Tom Beat Captain Norjak does not participate in the complex language play of Kleinzeit, but children's fiction has other compensations, in this instance a Seuss-like indulgence in games with names like womble muck and sneedball.
The mixed experiences in Kleinzeit participate in such syllabic play, but also extend further to figures of speech as they become figures of being. Apostrophe, for example, usually a one-sided trope, is answered here. The introduction to the basic ontological dilemma in the book, "Am I real?," could be a page from one of Hoban's children's books:
I exist, said the mirror.
What about me? said Kleinzeit.
Not my problem, said the mirror.
By the end, Kleinzeit has resolved this question sufficiently to go on. He has also made his peace with eventual extinction, but in a manner typical of Hoban, through a personification of death who gives a present to Kleinzeit. Abstractions are instantly turned into metaphors in Hoban's work, providing a necessary handle for young readers, but also a mythic con- sciousness for adult themes. As Neaera H. points out in Turtle Diary (1975): "The differences in scale and costume do not alter the event. Oedipus went to Thebes, Peter Rabbit into Mr. McGregor's garden, but the story is essentially the same" (52). Hoban may alter or even invert a traditional motif to make it more relevant to adults, however. As the father in The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz thinks of one fairy-tale paradigm: "Always the father was dead at the beginning of the story, and the young man went out with his few coins, his crust of bread, his fiddle or his sword" (26). Though the son Boaz-Jachin does indeed go on the road with his guitar, the father has preceded him in a midlife-crisis quest, and in fact the pair are almost two halves of one man, separated in time.
Turtle Diary takes a more reflective look at what may also have been two halves of Hoban's own psyche: the lonely, brooding man divorced from his family, William G.; and the burned-out children's book illustrator, Neaera H. Yet the observations throughout, as in all of Hoban's adult novels, are not only lively and inventive, but also the kind of remarks a child might make about strangers. Neaera H. remarks of her neighbor, "His eyes look as if he's pawned his real ones and is wearing paste" (10), just as William G. comments about a fellow-lodger, "He carries a briefcase, the kind that looks as if it might be full of sausages" (29). This kind of writing, applied to an adult consciousness, mimics a child's inquisitive manner. Similarly, the Frances series, in which all the characters are anthropomorphized badgers, undergoes a sea change in Turtle Diary : Neaera H. thinks of "the John Clare poem about a badger hunted out of his den by men and dogs and taken to the town and made to fight until he was dead. There's a line in which he ‘cackles, groans, and dies.’ William G. looked as if he might be going to cackle" (75). The emergent tone is a blend of cackles and groans, childish amusement mixed with middle-age angst. In a Wordsworthian sense, the children's writer is father to the author for adults.
In switching to an adult mode, however, Hoban also becomes less didactic and moralistic, more reliant on found symbols. His closely observed detail, the mind's speculative ruminations, and the seamless merging of naturalism and symbolism all bespeak a modernist texture, except for the tendency toward allegory that becomes more pronounced in Riddley Walker (1980) and Pilgermann (1983). As Gillian McMahon-Hill notes of the protagonist at the end of Kleinzelt : "He has not been presented with answers, but his perception has changed" (51). The same change occurs in Turtle Diary when William H. traces a manhole cover labeled "K257" to the catalogue listing of Mozart's Credo Mass in C, which translates into "I believe" (117). (The signifying manhole cover is repeated in Hoban's children's book Ace Dragon Ltd , where the etched words "Ace Dragon Ltd" refer to a dragon named Ace, of limited powers.) Added perception leads to a more meaningful existence; increased epistemology makes for a more satisfying ontology.
The succès d'estime of Riddley Walker in 1980 raised all these elements to new heights, from locale to language. Hoban's childhood exposure to fantasy and science fiction combines with Conradian pacing and a Joycean attention to language to form an apocalyptic fable of modernist complexity. But the children's writer remains visible. The narrator's language in the novel is unintentionally paronomastic, as awkward as it is clever. In fact, as Natalie Maynor and Richard F. Patteson argue, "the syntax in Riddley Walker suggests that of a child going through the necessary experimentation in mastering sentence construction" (21).
Pilgermann is a further meditation on the ruinous patterns of history, against a medieval tableau of surreal violence that resembles a canvas of Hieronymus Bosch. More and more in Hoban, as Jack Branscomb comments, one sees "the need for the individual to enter into a cyclical pattern larger than himself" (31). Or, to borrow a title from Leonard Woolf, the journey not the destination matters. Hoban's most recent novel, The Medusa Frequency (1987), presents a similar message, along with the same Orphic references as in Kleinzeit, no longer on yellow paper but on a computer screen. Both rely on the protagonist's disorientation to produce a disorienting narrative. As the hallucinatory head of Orpheus says to Herman Orff, one of Hoban's disenchanted artist-figures: "My story is not a sequence of events like knots on a string … all of it is happening now and any part of it contains the whole of it" (39). This is quite close to Virginia Woolf's famous pronouncement: "Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end" (150). Art can derive much of its complexity from sheer mimesis.
Hoban applies this kind of insight to children's books with mixed results. The Marzipan Pig (1986), tracing the sweetness from a marzipan pig to the mouse that eats the pig to the owl that eats the mouse, and so on, presents the same casual Joycean metempsychosis that Hoban attempts in his novels, but the story remains without closure—save an abstract sense of transformation and renewal. As A. Joan Bowers notes, Hoban's children's books have shifted from fantasy to metaphysics (94). Hoban himself confesses: "Recently my children's books and my adult novels are coming from the same place more than they used to" (qtd. in Heffenden 123). Equally revealing are his affinity for Zen Buddhism (Myers 15) and a statement in a 1990 address he made to a convention in San Diego: "What I want to do is come at you from several places at once" ("Russell Hoban Reads Russell Hoban" 96). In his striving for meaning in a densely psychological, achronological thicket, Hoban has increasingly adopted a more allusive style, less didactic but not necessarily more attractive to children: "I'm always having to bother with editors who will say, ‘Oh, could you change such and such a word for something simpler because a child won't take it in.’ I just tell them to get lost" (qtd. in Wilkie 118).
Like Dahl, Hoban has done quite well with a few adult and children's titles, while the rest of his output is not nearly so well known. With years of successful writing behind him, he no longer feels the need to adhere to a particular fictional pattern, or even a specific bundle of bound pages: "As my thoughts get more and more interesting to me, the output of books becomes less and less pressing" (qtd. in Haffenden 123). At this stage in his career, Dahl was writing his memoirs. Yet Hoban seems to have moved beyond sheer versatility to the omniscient consciousness of the modernists. And in moving back and forth from children's books to adult fare, Hoban has expanded his moral dimension from social behavior to a true spiritual ethos.
A writer like A. A. Milne fits into another class altogether, those for whom essays seem to come as easily as verse, or plays as effortlessly as novels. This is not to cheapen Milne's writing, no matter how copious. But for the versatile Milne, who came to the Punch round-table at age twenty-four, "shifting genres" seems questionable terminology. From the time of his Cambridge days at Granta, Milne simply wrote, producing everything from poetry to editorial commentary in a steady stream. His earliest efforts at light verse, often written in collaboration with his older brother Ken, show a clever emulation of the contemporary Punch style, a series of witty observations in the semblance of a dialogue, a poem, or an essay. The first piece he sold freelance was a parody of the latest Sherlock Holmes for Vanity Fair. As a contributing editor to Punch, Milne provided humorous write-ups of everything from missing a wrestling match to enduring a month of fresh butter when he preferred the salted kind (see Autobiography 144ff.).
This style of patter has its risk, a triviality that seems vapid rather than amusing. As the London Times once noted in a mixed tribute, "When there is nothing whatever to say, no one knows better than Mr Milne how to say it" (qtd. in McGrath 95). Trifling matters may suit a humorous column but fail in any prolonged treatment. One of Milne's early plays, for example, is all about whether a man will change his name to Wurzel-Flummery in order to claim an inheritance with that proviso. The Red House Mystery (1922), with its clever amateur detective Antony Gillingham, was famously singled out in Raymond Chandler's "The Simple Art of Murder" for its procedural errors. Milne's success, however, is undeniable: the one-acter Wurzel-Flummery enjoyed a double bill with a J. M. Barrie drama; The Red House Mystery saw thirteen printings in twenty years. In 1922, he had five plays running simultaneously in England and the United States, and his four children's books, published between 1924 and 1928, assured Milne an immortality at times vexing even to the author.
One can attribute this popularity not to the pleasant nastiness of Dahl or to the moral complexity of Hoban but to Milne's sheer cheerfulness. No character is allowed to languish for too long; no problem is proposed without some uplifting or at least amusing solution. The possibility of bigamy in Mr. Pim Passes By (1921) is relegated to a faulty memory; Eeyore's missing tail in Winnie-the-Pooh (1926) turns out to be Owl's bell-rope. The sheer smoothness of his technique (a quality some postmodernist critics deplore) carried him through, giving his works a rosy, upturned face. Almost as important was the fit between Milne's affability and the mood of the era—with the qualification that eras inevitably change, as Milne, like so many other writers of the '20s, suffered a decline in the socialist '30s. Milne's novel Two People (1931), for instance, involves Reginald Wellard, a man of independent means with a beautiful, pleasant wife named Sylvia. Reginald bemusedly finds that he has written a bestselling novel, which causes a series of minor irritations, from having to get a haircut to dealing with an unscrupulous publisher named Mr. Pump. The novel meanders on in a Wodehousian vein (it was indeed one of P. G. Wodehouse's favorite novels; see Thwaite 270), but without the narrative ingenuity. One needn't be a Marxist critic to wonder what supports such floating characters.
But then, this is the sort of minor matter that Milne could spin out at great length. It is the very essence of the two Pooh books, in which the lack of a birthday present is a crisis, or the deciphering of a written sign occupies an entire episode. And there are reasons why these have become canonical children's works. As in Dahl's and Hoban's best children's narratives, there is an urgency behind the charm: bees deliver both honey and stings, overeating has dismaying consequences, and a Heffalump is the inevitable confrontation with the Other that is an emerging part of oneself.
The verses in When We Were Very Young (1924), Milne's first book for children, work on the same double levels: a small child dislikes rice pudding—though the issue is over who controls whom; a king needs butter for his breakfast—why won't people comply with simple requests? As Milne commented on the situations:
When We Were Very Young is not the work of a poet becoming playful, nor of a lover of children expressing his love, nor of a prose-writer knocking together a few jingles for the little ones, it is the work of a light-verse writer taking his job seriously even though he is taking it into the nursery.
The same may be said of Ernest H. Shepard, whose illustrations stamp their images indelibly on the mind of the reader, to the point where any other vision of Kanga or Eeyore seems wrong.
The impetus for the rhymes and stories seems the same as Dahl's, and perhaps Hoban's: children in the household. On the other hand, as his son Christopher has observed in The Enchanted Places, his father enjoyed "a boyhood from which all his inspiration sprang" (158). A sort of permanent adolescence, which Ann Thwaite portrays gently in her massive biography of Milne and which Charles McGrath puts bluntly in his review of it, may account for Milne's ease in stooping, if indeed it was so for Milne. The verse "Halfway Down" perfectly captures the inertia of a child in his chosen spot, "Disobedience" the protective, slightly fearful love of a son for his all-too-capable mother. There is more, of course: "Disobedience" masks Oedipal attraction, and the poem, despite its jolly tone, is about a mother who never comes back. As Martha Wolfenstein has noted, much of children's humor—and no doubt adults', as well—consists of jokes to ward off anxiety (23).
The poems in Now We Are Six (1927) have a lower rate of success, to judge by which ones from each volume are still recited in various households (according to an admittedly informal poll). In fact, certain poems in When We Were Very Young have direct counterparts in Now We Are Six, in each case to the original volume's advantage: "Jonathan Jo," about a helpful, funny, rustic type, presages the calmer portrait in "The Charcoal Burner"; the same is true of James the snail in "The Four Friends" versus Alexander the beetle in "Forgiven." This kind of contrast raises the possibility that Milne, despite his famed versatility, nonetheless appeals most to a certain-age child, beyond which children grow faintly embarrassed or bored. Small children like him and many adults dote on him, but few teenagers repair to their rooms with a volume of Milne. What is invoked here may be the innocent urge for protection, so comforting when one is young, so irritating at an older age. As Dahl once articulated his aversion to When We Were Very Young: "It's that bloody nanny" (qtd. in Thwaite 266).
Milne's output is sufficiently varied at such an early stage in his career that the question of whether he wrote for adults or children first is almost irrelevant. In a curious way, even his novels are slightly childlike and unformed, while his children's books contain the intuitive insights into human nature that we expect from classics. The specifics are fluff, the generalities based on them true. Such are the multivalent paradoxes embodied by his polygraphy.* * *
The pantheon of writers noted for both adult and children's literature is growing yearly. Everyone seems to have a children's book that wants to be published, and well-known authors often have the audience to make these plans a reality, if not a success. Vagaries of the Zeitgeist, issues of marketing, and even the element of luck also play a part. A full-scale study of crossover failures should take these factors into account, as well as more immediate stylistic issues, since the critical field known as reader-response really depends on everything from social consciousness to aleatoric aspects, and must also explain why readers fail to respond to certain textual invitations.
Causation is complex—yet this is precisely where Dahl, Hoban, and Milne are most convincing in providing reasons for why we do what we do and how we come to be ourselves. If Roland Barthes was right in calling all the world a text, the opposite is equally true, and adults have just as pressing a need as children to understand the universe. Of course this need includes authors. In the long run, perhaps the genre-crossover from children's books to adult fiction or-vice versa is defined more by need and the art that bridges such frustration as it is by casual ambidexterity. Not everyone can travel this span successfully—not everyone wants to. As Hoban has written:
When we think about someone who writes fiction, I believe that we mostly think that the writer can pretty well make up whatever kind of story he likes. We are aware of course of individual limitations: writer A is best with short introspective novels; B does great epics; C excels in travel and adventure; D in the microcosm of every day. Within those limitations, we may suppose, A, B, C and D can do what they like. But of course they can't, any more than they can dream what they like when they're asleep. The dreams come from what is in the person.
("Time Slip" 40)
Apseloff, Marilyn Fain, comp. They Wrote for Children Too: An Annotated Bibliography of Children's Literature by Famous Writers for Adults. Bibliographies and Indexes in World Literature, Number 20. New York: Greenwood P, 1989.
Bosmajin, Hamida. "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Other Excremental Visions." The Lion and the Unicorn 9 (1985): 36-49.
Bowers, A. Joan. "The Fantasy World of Russell Hoban." Children's Literature 8 (1980): 80-97.
Branscomb, Jack. "The Quest for Wholeness in the Fiction of Russell Hoban." Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction 28.1 (Fall 1986): 29-38.
Chandler, Raymond. "The Simple Art of Murder." The Atlantic Monthly Dec. 1944: 53-59.
Culley, Jonathan. "Roald Dahl—‘It's about Children and It's for Children’—But Is It Suitable?" Children's Literature in Education 22.1 (1991): 59-73.
Dahl, Roald. "Let's Build a Skyscraper, But Let's Find a Good Book First." The New York Times Book Review (Children's Book Section) 1 Nov. 1964: 2, 53.
———. Matilda. Illus. Quentin Blake. New York: Penguin, 1988.
———. My Uncle Oswald. New York: Knopf, 1980.
———. Over to You. 1945. New York: Penguin, 1973.
———. Switch Bitch. 1974. New York: Warner, 1975.
———. The Twits. Illus. Quentin Blake. New York: Puffin, 1980.
———. The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More. 1977. New York: Bantam, 1979.
Haffenden, John. "Russell Hoban." Novelists in Interview. London: Methuen, 1985. 121-44.
Hoban, Russell. Kleinzeit. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1974.
———. The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz. New York: Stein and Day, 1973.
———. Medusa Frequency. New York: Atlantic Monthly P, 1987.
———. Nothing to Do. Illus. Lillian Hoban. New York: Harper & Row, 1964.
———. "Russell Hoban Reads Russell Hoban." Ed. Alida Allison. The Lion and the Unicorn 15 (1991): 96-107.
———. The Sea-Thing Child. Illus. Abrom Hoban. New York: Harper & Row, 1972.
———. "Thoughts on Being and Writing." The Thorny Paradise: Writers on Writing for Children. Ed. Edward Blishen. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1975. 65-76.
———. "Time Slip, Uphill Lean, Laminar Flow, Place-to-Place Talking and Hearing the Silence." Children's Literature in Education 9 (Nov. 1972): 33-47.
———. Turtle Diary. 1975. Simon & Schuster, 1986.
Krips, Valerie. "Mistaken Identity: Russell Hoban's Mouse and His Child." Children's Literature 21 (1993): 92-100.
McGrath, Charles. "School Days." The New Yorker 8 April 1991: 95-99.
McMahon-Hill, Gillian. "A Narrow Pavement Says ‘Walk Alone’: The Books of Russell Hoban." Children's Literature in Education 20 (Spr. 1976): 41-55.
Maynor, Natalie, and Richard F. Patteson. "Language as Antagonist in Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker." Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction 26.1 (Spring 1984): 18-25.
Milne, A. A. Autobiography. New York: Dutton, 1939.
Milne, Christopher. The Enchanted Places. 1974. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1975.
Myers, Edward. "An Interview with Russell Hoban." The Literary Review 28.1 (Fall 1984): 5-16.
Susina, Jan. "Editor's Note: Kiddie Lit(e): The Dumbing Down of Children's Literature." The Lion and the Unicorn 17.1 (June 1993): v-ix.
Thwaite, Ann. A. A. Milne: The Man behind Winnie the Pooh. New York: Random House, 1990.
Townsend, John Rowe. A Sense of Story: Essays on Contemporary Writers for Children. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1971.
Treglown, Jeremy. Roald Dahl: A Biography. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1994.
Warren, Alan. "Roald Dahl: Nasty, Nasty." Discovering Modern Horror Fiction. Ed. Darrell Schweitzer. 1985. San Bernardino, CA: Borgo, 1987. 120-28.
West, Mark. "Interview with Roald Dahl." Children's Literature in Education 22.1 (1991): 59-73.
West, Mark. Roald Dahl. New York: Twayne, 1992.
Wilkie, Christine. Through the Narrow Gate: The Mythological Consciousness of Russell Hoban. Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1989.
Wolfenstein, Martha. Children's Humor: A Psychological Analysis. 1954. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1978.
Woolf, Virginia. The Common Reader, First Series. 1925. Ed. Andrew McNeillie. New York: Harvest-Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984.
THE MOUSE AND HIS CHILD (1967)
Margaret Rustin and Michael Rustin (essay date 1987)
SOURCE: Rustin, Margaret, and Michael Rustin. "Making Out in America: The Mouse and His Child." In Narratives on Love and Loss: Studies in Modern Children's Fiction, pp. 181-95. London, England: Verso, 1987.
[In the following essay, Rustin and Rustin argue that The Mouse and His Child straddles adult and juvenile genres through its expression of an allegorical fable about territory and home.]
This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.
This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.
This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.
This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.
This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.
This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.
This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.
This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.
Carolyn Phelan (review date 1 December 2001)
SOURCE: Phelan, Carolyn. Review of The Mouse and His Child, by Russell Hoban, illustrated by David Small. Booklist 98, no. 7 (1 December 2001): 642.
Gr. 4-up—First published in 1967 with illustrations by Lillian Hoban, [The Mouse and His Child, ] this unusual book has had a small but devoted following, including many adults, who respond to its philosophical underpinnings and understated style. The original Booklist review described the book in these words: "An intricate but skillfully executed fantasy [that] chronicles the hazardous and heroic adventures of a broken windup mouse child and his father in search of happiness and security." This new edition includes new artwork by Small, who received the Caldecott Medal for So You Want to Be President? (2000), written by Judith St. George. Here, his dynamic yet sensitive black-and-white artwork will appeal to adults and children alike. The illustrations' economy of line, grace of expression, and underlying wit reflect the spirit and subtlety of the text.
RIDDLEY WALKER (1980)
Nancy Dew Taylor (essay date fall 1989)
SOURCE: Taylor, Nancy Dew. "‘… you bes go ballsy’: Riddley Walker's Prescription for the Future." Critique 31, no. 1 (fall 1989): 27-39.
[In the following essay, Taylor calls Riddley Walker "an expression of Riddley's two pasts, present, and future," that is, in itself, a reflection of our own society.]
Hell is where we are…. The question is whether we want to get out of where we are, whether we're so full of our large death that we have forgotten about life.
… that same thing that lives within us has shown us that it wants everything that can happen to happen. Is survival something that can happen? … Maybe we ought to look into it. There's no one else.
Hoban, ["It Cancels All Distance between Our Unthinking and the Unthinkable" ], 4.
In 1984, following two BBC2 programs on the effects of nuclear war, the British journal The Listener asked two men to write articles for its September 27th issue. One writer was a scientist who traced the development of scientists' belief in nuclear winter; the second was an American writer who makes England his home. His name is Russell Hoban, and he is the author of Riddley Walker, a post-holocaust novel set in England in the year "2347 o.c. which means Our Count."1 The epigraph, taken from Hoban's article, provides in miniature several clues to the nature of Riddley Walker, for pessimism, mysticism, and a desire for hope mingle in these few sentences much as they do in the novel itself.
The novel's plot centers on Riddley and the characters he meets during his travels around his world, the southeast corner of Inland. His father dies on Riddley's twelfth birthday, and Riddley inherits the role of shaman for his "form" (farm). He wants to create his own "tels" and "connexions" but quickly discovers that the Mincery—the ruling government—expects him to follow party lines in his interpretation of the old stories and myths handed down by word of mouth since Bad Time (the nuclear holocaust and its aftermath). Asserting his individuality, Riddley literally jumps the "fents" (fence) and strikes out alone to seek answers to the riddles that confuse him.
Striking out alone in the Inland of 2347 o.c. is equivalent to certain death, so here our hero is joined by a pack of dogs, whose leader speaks to Riddley with his eyes. Riddley and the dogs are then mysteriously drawn to the underground prison of the Ardship of Cambry, a horribly disfigured boy Riddley's age whom the Mincery has imprisoned because it believes he knows, from his ancestors, the secret of atomic fission. With the help of the dogs, Riddley frees the Ardship, and the two young men "road" together—one in search of the secret of destruction lost in the holocaust, the other in search of knowledge that will enable him to find his place in his world. Although they believe they are in charge of their own destinies, the Mincery has actually allowed them to escape, for it hopes these two "movers" will lead it to "yeller-boy stoan" (sulfur, the main ingredient in making gunpowder) and to the secret of atomic fission, the two things the Mincery believes will give it the power needed to maintain its dominance of Inland.
Riddley writes down his experiences—those with and those separate from the Ardship—in a broken language, for like books, "culture," and even mankind, language was almost destroyed during Bad Time. Hoban's carefully created language has drawn almost more critical interest than have the novel's plot and characters. Natalie Maynor and Richard F. Patteson devote an entire article to it, and David Dowling's fine article is as informative about Hoban's language as it is about Riddley's connections.
Hoban's created language is generally read phonetically, yet he manages to imbue its crudity with a poetry and irony all its own. "The Littl Shynin Man the Addom" thus plays on the inconceivableness of both the beauty and the horror of the atom and, at the same time, ties these concepts of beauty and destructiveness to atom's near homophone, Adam. "The Ardship of Cambry" implies that the Ardship's life is a hardship, and, since Cambry is the new word for Canterbury, Ardship may play on an ironic combination of lordship and archbishop. These ironies are deepened by Cambry's being the old center of power—not of religious but of nuclear power.
As these two examples illustrate, Hoban's language is fascinating, and undoubtedly it will continue to interest the critics. The novel itself, however, is equally as fascinating, equally as challenging, and certainly pertinent to the condition of modern mankind, yet few critics have attempted to discuss it. In fact, most reviewers and critics have viewed the novel in terms of its negative emphases. Benjamin Demott, reviewing the book in the New York Times Book Review, stated that the novel represents "a commanding summons to the reader to dwell anew on that within civilization which is separated from, opposite to, power and its appurtenances, ravages, triumphs" (25); although praising this theme as "valuable," Demott essentially emphasizes what the novel tells us to avoid. British novelist Penelope Lively correctly spoke of "the terrible and perhaps fatal duality" of the human mind, but Jennifer Uglow took the book to task for what she called its "pessimistic contempt for the masses which is hardly balanced by the promise of mystic intuition for an artistic élite," a reading I find totally misdirected. In a recent study, Jack Branscomb views the circular "roading" as suggestive of "the futile, destructive, repetitive nature of the human search for knowledge and power" (33), and in a recently published book, History and the Contemporary Novel, David Cowart sees Riddley Walker as a pessimistic statement concerning the grim and meaningless circularity of history.
Cowart does, however, recognize that the novel also speaks of the role of art in humanity's struggle to know itself in history and in its effort to recover its lost potential. My own reading of the novel takes its departure from this idea, for I believe Riddley Walker contains a positive statement about art's and man's roles in preventing a repetition of history. The novel provides some "vansit theary" (107) on the human heart, a "trants mission" (145) of hope for the human race.
Riddley Walker portrays two pasts, the present, and the future in almost equal proportions. The blasted landscape of the novel's present is a physical wasteland; its inhabitants, no less than Eliot's, exist amidst a confusion of moral values. Struggling forward toward what we would term "civilization"—an idea whose validity the novel and its author question—the "primitives" of Riddley Walker have come to a turning point in their history. The killing of the last wild boar, Riddley's questioning of the purpose of coming-of-age rites ("The woal thing fealt jus that littl bit stupid," 1), the growing dissatisfaction of "fents" communities with the power of the "forms" (with which the Mincery is in league)—all are indications of this turning point.
These important events are symbolized in the early chapters by the death of Riddley's father, the death of the newborn at Widders Dump, and the death of the black-and-red spotted leader of the dogs. Lorna, the tell woman, "reads" these three deaths as signals of the passing of old ways: connections (Hoban intends the double meaning) with the past are broken by Brooder Walker's death; the baby's death is a sign of what happens when farms dig up Bad Time. The dog's offering of itself in death to Riddley becomes an indication of the renewal of the possibility of "1st knowing." "1st knowing" is Lorna's term for, essentially, the garden of Eden. As a part of Time Back Way Back, this state of balance between humans, animals, and nature represents that good time in history when mankind "Dint have no mor fear in the nite they put ther self right day and nite" (18). But the death of the old dog leader also becomes a sign that Riddley is being chosen for something. It is "The far [old, old 1st knowing] come close took by the littl [Riddley] come big" (14).
Young Riddley is an English Adam, and, like those in R. W. B. Lewis's famous study, he is a figure "of heroic innocence and vast potentialities, poised at the start of a new history" (1). Riddley's moral posture is vulnerable, and one way in which he seeks knowledge about his condition is through dialogue with others. Like his American counterpart of the 1820s-1860s, Riddley questions the moral, intellectual, and artistic resources of man in a new society (Lewis 2), and his concerns are the same as the American Adam's: innocence, sin, experience, time, evil, hope, the present, memory, the past, and tradition (Lewis 2).
Unhappily, Riddley cannot emancipate himself from history. Nor can he in any way be considered Adam before the fall; too much of his world is there to remind him of that fall. Yet, like the American Adam, "he stands alone, self-reliant and self-propelling, ready to confront something with the aid of his own unique and inherent resources" (Lewis 5).
Riddley is also a picaresque saint. He is the creative rogue and law-breaker who strives to find meaning in a broken, seemingly hopeless world. Like his predecessors in this literary tradition, Riddley manages to eke out some sense of meaning, of purpose, for the life of the individual, despite the conditions in which that individual lives. This novel—Riddley's account of his search—is strong proof of his successful attempt to find some meaning for his life and the lives of others around him. The story of his journey is one of his gifts to his fellows, at least to those who read, and it offers us—its "modern" or "postmodern" readers—suggestions of ways in which we might respond to our society, which, like Riddley's, is at a juncture in its history—it offers us a means by which we can consider what reactions and what actions we ourselves might make and take in response to our society.
Given the cyclical character of history, how can we read Riddley Walker in any way other than as a prophecy that Riddley's society will, with its recovery of the secret of making gunpowder, only repeat that historical cycle and bring on a second nuclear holocaust? That Hoban does not concede man's recapitulation to history is implied by the presence of this novel, which I would argue contains considerable elements of hope to temper the pessimism. In an ar- ticle written prior to the novel's publication, in which he did "a littl as plaining about Riddley Walker, " Hoban describes the novel's inception. As he viewed the reconstruction of the wall painting of St. Eustace at Canterbury, the thing that most struck him was the bereft figure of St. Eustace in the middle of the river, praying: "there's nothing else he can do," Hoban says. Obviously Hoban knew that St. Eustace had only two alternatives: he could give in to the river and drown, or he could get out and go on living. "I found myself paying close attention to how it was with him [St. Eustace], and I went on paying close attention until I finished the book on Guy Fawkes Day in 1979" (Hoban, "A Littl As Plaining about Riddley Walker" 175). It was a portentous day on which to finish this novel, and it would be nice to think that the gunpowder plot in the novel is as doomed as its historical antecedent. But none of us doubts the eventual dissemination of the recovered gunpowder "seakert" or this future society's eventual use of it. Riddley knows this to be true, yet he goes on living; he refuses to stay in the river and just pray.
What Hoban offers us in this novel is what heroic art has always offered us: an example of the individual's refusal to knuckle under to Fate without a fight. That fight, that struggle—though it may end in total or partial defeat—allows the individual some sense of worth and of dignity within his own life. Such individuals change the course of history—or die trying. Such individuals are the only hope of any society, Riddley's or ours. As the epigraph states, "There's no one else." Through this novel, then, Hoban challenges us to become Riddley Walkers.
How does Riddley learn to be "a mover" and "a happener" (118)? He begins with the givens—his two pasts, his present, and his future. Each of these historical periods has a particular story associated with it, and from each story Riddley learns lessons. The bits and pieces he gathers from legends and myths combine with what he learns from interaction with people—Lorna, Fister, the Ardship, the dogs, Goodparley, Granser, Orfing, and Rightway and Deaper Flinter. To this combination of mythic and social knowledge he applies his ever-questing mind, from which comes two kinds of conclusions: those based upon his own "connexions" (his belief, for instance, that power lies in not struggling for power but in "just letting your self be where it is," 97), and those based upon the writing down of his thoughts (art is thus part of the learning process).
Riddley's learning begins where most learning begins—with myths that attempt to explain how the world and humanity got to be where they are. One of the stories associated with Time Back Way Back is "Why the Dog Wont Show Its Eyes." In it, man, woman, and animal (the dog) live together in harmony with nature, in 1st knowing. They "knowit the nite the same as the dog knowit…. They roadit on to gether with the dog and foraging to gether" (17). Such was the state of affairs before people got "clevver" (17).
But the rest of this story tells why the dog will no longer show his eyes, and it thus becomes one of three stories that relate to Bad Time. The second half of "Why the Dog Wont Show Its Eyes" describes man's first fall from grace. Man, thinking that if first knowing was so good, second and third knowing (by recourse to the Tree of Knowledge) would be even better, looked into the goat's "clevver eye" (18) and "los out of memberment the shapes of nite and worrit for ther parpety they myt get snuck and raidit" (19). Following this eviction from 1st knowing, mankind proceeds, through "The Eusa Story" (here sin is the greed for power), to Bad Time—nuclear holocaust. Yet even those who survive Bad Time have learned no lessons from history or myth, for "Hart of the Wood" describes man's second fall. After Bad Time, in exchange for creature comforts (food and the makings of fire), man and woman trade Mr. Clevver the "hart" of their child (the remnants of 1st knowing?). Punch's attempt to eat the swossage child is likely tied to this story.
The lessons Riddley should learn from these myths are obvious even to him, and the stories connected with his present (which will be discussed as we go)2 both confirm humanity's readiness to continue its fall and challenge Riddley to fight against that temptation. The stories tied to Riddley's future seem destined to be repetitions of the fall stories, but we will find that this is one part of history's cycle that does not have to be repeated.
If the old myths cannot point by themselves the way to a fracturing of history's cycle, Riddley's contacts with people and ideas might provide experience and knowledge that will help him understand his world. Goodparley and Granser play large roles in Riddley's life, and, although Riddley seems destined to be involved in their search for the "yeller-boy stoan" (147), he disavows any interest in it (he gives up the yeller-boy in order to protect his Punch figure). Goodparley, however, believes that with the recovery of the 1 Littl 1, "time" and "history" will begin again, that "bettering" (51) and "frontsward" (126) move- ment he mistakenly believes will solve mankind's problems. After paying the price of the loss of his sight, Goodparley seems to realize his mistake, yet later he encourages Riddley to watch Granser do the mixings on the 1 Littl 1. In essence, he has not changed—he wants to be part of the secret's power. Goodparley has so long been associated with power that it is too late for him to be "reborn." Riddley's desire to have nothing to do with the 1 Littl 1 is a good choice, powerfully portrayed by the images of Granser's head on the pole and of Goodparley's sitting upright with the pounder sticking out of his head. Riddley's dissociation of himself from power is thus a positive attribute, one on which he can perhaps build a new philosophy.
Riddley learns valuable lessons from others besides Granser and Goodparley. Fister Crunchman challenges him not to "keap on connecting them cow shit [Mincery] shows … youve got the follerme and I aint. You going to use it or not?" (65). From the Ardship and the dogs, Riddley learns 1st knowing, how to be a listener (discern truth), and how not to get ahead of himself (the dogs refuse to let him return to Granser until he has experienced what Cambry has to teach him and until he has fulfilled his moon brother responsibilities to the Ardship).
From Lorna, Riddley learns about the thing inside us that "aint us but yet its in us. Its looking out thru our eye hoals…. It ben here befor us nor I dont know what we are to it…. It thinks us but it dont think like us" (6-7).3 Riddley recognizes this thing in the black leader's eyes—"Eyes so fearce they cudnt even be sorry for the naminal they wer in," eyes "scareless to the las" (83). The Littl Shynin Man is "the showing of it" (40); the Eusa figure in Goodparley's show "made me think of that thing with no name looking out thru our eye hoals" (46). The Ardship's fit is "the outers of it" (108); "that hart of the chyld is in that same and very thing what lives inside us and afeart of being beartht" (161). This thing is what Riddley thinks of when he makes his first "connexion": "EUSAS HEAD IS DREAMING US" (61). This seemingly incomprehensible connexion means that that thing within us (the universal soul? God? Man's evil nature?) will direct our lives if we do not do our own directing. "The Lissener and the Other Voyce Owl of the Worl" proves this: "All it takes is for no 1 to be lissening everything back" (87).
Riddley often feels something is directing his life. When Goodparley traces Riddley's first day out of the fents (120), his interpretation implies that Fools Circel 9wys is leading Riddley around by the nose. Despite his recognition of the truth of Goodparley's assessment, Riddley refuses to give in. Already we have seen his refusal to kowtow to power in his talking back to Goodparley and Orfing (38-40). Riddley also refuses to knuckle under to Goodparley's "Prime Mincer" actions: "You cunt" (145), he calls Goodparley and then proceeds to cut down Belnot without asking permission. Later he tries to save Goodparley from Orfing and the Eusa people, first by cutting him down, too, and then by entering the fracas on Goodparley's side (175-78). Riddley has the courage of his convictions, and he acts on them.
If we look at other of Riddley's acts, we find they are affirmations as well. He breaks away from an unsatisfactory society. Even as a child playing Fools Circel 9wys, "I liket the busting out part" (5), he says. Like the boar, Riddley does "the reqwyrt": he turns and stands and clatters his teeth; he faces his present despite his fear, despite his recognition of death in the stance ("The Bloak As Got on Top of Aunty"). He searches for answers to his condition in life: he thinks, and he questions everything. He can admit two things man finds hardest to admit: that he has drawn wrong conclusions, and that he is afraid. Yet he does not let fear stop him from continuing the search: "Im afeart and Iwl go" (111). From Greanvine he learns a man's thing: "A woman shewl dy back in to the earf but not the same as a man. You cud see the knowing of that in Greanvines eyes. A man myt get 100s of childer but the onlyes new life growing out of him wil be that dead mans vine at the end of his run" (168). That dead man's vine is man's responsibility to keep the earth green, to keep the vines growing so that he will have something to leave to his children and something to show for his days on earth—new growth, new life, the possibility of renewal. Orfing says it best when he and the Eusa people have Goodparley strung up, and Riddley asks him, "Is this HOAP OF A TREE then?":
Yes it is. Which theres hoap of a tree if its cut down yet itwl sprout again. And them tinder branches theyre of wil not seaze. Tho the root of it works old in the earf and the stick of it dead on the groun yet even jus only the smel of water and itwl bud and bring forit bowing like the plan…. Inland may be cut down yet them branches wil keap coming. People may try to kil them branches only itwl be the peopl what fall down and dy them branches wil grow out of ther moufs which thats our blip and syn.
The earth will renew itself; however, it remains to be seen whether Inland and mankind will be part of that renewal. "O ter morrerwl come up Erny," says Rightway; "Ter morrer all ways comes up the thing is to be 1 of them as comes up with it" (210).
All the lessons of history teach us that man is not likely to come up with ter morrer; thus Hoban writes Riddley, who writes Riddley Walker. What, then, must man learn in order to keep coming up? What must man do in order to fracture history's cycle?
Riddley believes people must learn "right doing" (149). "Them as made Canterbury musve put ther selfs right" (162), he thinks, then says longingly:
If you cud even jus put your self right with 1 stoan youwd be moving with the girt dants of the every thing the 1 Big 1 the Master Chaynjis. Then you myt have the res of it or not. The boats in the air or what ever. What ever you done wud be right.
But how does one learn to put oneself right? One way is to pay for what one has done wrong. The Ardship heads for Cambry, knowing the danger to himself, because he is unwilling to leave Inland to Goodparley just yet (110). He pays by dying. Goodparley, after being blinded, is finally accepted by the dogs; Riddley says," … it could wel be them dogs wunt come in with Goodparley til hed paid some thing. They [the dogs, possessors of 1st knowing] had ther oan progams" (182). Goodparley pays again later for wanting to know the secret of mixing gunpowder.
Another way to make oneself right through paying for what one has done wrong is to accept and bear one's hump. The hump is sin, guilt, the fill, the 1 Big 1, Bad Time; it is each man's recognition of his individual and his collective guilt. The hump becomes the symbol of accepting responsibility for one's acts; accepting one's hump is one way of paying.
This symbol runs throughout the novel, beginning with the work song the men sing as they attempt to lift the machine that has killed Brooder Walker:
Heard it and the news of 10
Sling your bundel haul agen
Haul agen and hump your load
Every bodys on the road.
In Goodparley's and Orfing's Eusa show, the hump plainly represents an unwanted responsibility: "Eusa says, ‘… Which wud you rather? Have the worl in front of you and free or have some thing hevvy on your back for ever?’" (52). The Punch figure "had a hump on its back…. It wer a hump and it wer meant to be a hump" (72), Riddley says in shocked surprise. Brooder and Belnot are two of Riddley's humps; Goodparley's Drop John is Granser; and "… it wer on [the Ardship] to stop the owl so he begun to lissen every thing back" (86). The Ardship tries to raise Riddley's hump and teach Riddley to be his own black dog (98); "the goast of Power circelt blyn and oansome like a Drop John roun the los hump of Cambry" (197). "I dint have no 1 on my back only my self," Riddley says at one point, then realizes the foolishness of this claim:
Only my self! Looking at them words going down on this paper right this minim I know there aint no such thing there aint no only my self you all ways have every 1 and every thing on your back.
After learning these lessons—lessons that might bring about changes in history—Riddley must act; he must make some kind of move by which he will attempt to change his world. He does so by creating stories, and these are the real stories connected with the novel's future time. His "new show," which he tries to make sound like "Eusa Show" to avoid trouble, is his act, in both senses of the word. In his stories he will use not the Eusa figures, but the Punch ones ("Time back is in them Punch figgers," 205) and Mr. Clevver, the one figure who is the same in both sets. "If youre a show man," Riddley writes,
then what ever happens is took in to your figgers…. That boar kicking on the end of my spear hewl be in my shows I dont know how but hewl be there. That crow what callit, "Fall! Fall! Fall!" and my smasht father that greyling morning at Widders Dump and that old leader with his yeller eyes and woar down teef. Gransers head glimmering in the twean lite and Goodparley sitting qwyet … with the stoan in his head.
All that Riddley has seen and learned, in other words, will turn up in his shows. Perhaps his listeners will learn from the figures what the man who works them has learned. Perhaps art (the stories and the shows) will have a hand in shaping the future.
It is Orfing who gives Riddley the encouragement to do the shows. When Riddley discovers Orfing in the pile of rubble near Cambry, however, Orfing is the one who asks Riddley for help: "Riddley dyou think theres hoap of any thing?" Riddley, who, on his return trip to Cambry after Granser's and Goodparley's deaths, has noticed signs of the earth's gradual renewal (196), is able to reply positively to Orfing's question of despair: "Theres new earf on the barrens all the time" (198). After they exchange recountings of how each 1/2 of the yellow-boy "gone bang" (200), Orfing offers to be the little man and carry the fit up. It is he who later forces Riddley to leave the peace and safety of their hiding place in Cambry and start showing.
This show, along with its preliminaries and follow-up, best conveys Hoban's hope for Riddley's future and our own. "Parbly weare Trubba right a nuff" (209), Orfing admits to Rightway Flinter, Big Man of Weaping Form, the site Walker and Orfing choose for their first show. While Rightway's "thoughts [are] grynding in his head like mil stoans" (210) as he decides whether to allow the show men to enter the fence, Riddley wonders why he and Orfing have made this dangerous move. "Whynt we stay hoalt up? Whynt we go somers far away [from the place Granser and Goodparley were blown up]?" he wonders. Then he answers his own questions: "Becaws you cant stay hoalt up. Becaws there aint no far a way. Becaws where you happen is where you happen" (211).
Riddley's and Orfing's choice of Weaping Form for the site of their first show is an indication of the fracturing of the cycle because Weaping Form is not a part of Fools Circel 9wys. They are lucky in choosing Weaping Form because Rightway turns out to be a man who has done his own thinking. Rightway fears that Riddley and Orfing will be new Eusas and "fetch clevverness" into his territory. In a speech that contains some of the same truths Riddley has been learning, Rightway reminds Walker and Orfing that Eusa
done clevverness and fetching the same. So he had to pay for it dint he. All them what dyd when the wite shadders come they payd dint they. All them what ther seed gone crookit when the groun gone sour they payd dint they. You see what it is Erny youve got to pay for 1 thing befor you go on to the nex. You and your yung partner here youre Eusa which of coarse youve got your chaynjis to go thru youve got things youwd like to do nex only befor you get to them youwl have to pay for the las things what you done.
Immediately following this statement, Riddley takes Punch out of his pocket:
I ternt my back to the gate and Mr Punch come up looking at them over my sholder. He wer waving his stick he made his cock fessin noys. Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. He said, "Ah putcha putcha putcha." Which he begun to beat me with his stick.
Riddley is doing the very thing Rightway said was necessary: he allows Punch to beat him as a symbol of paying for. Rightway recognizes the symbolism of this act, and, as a result, he gives Walker and Orfing permission to enter. His decision is based on a term now familiar to us: "You myswel come in and do your show," he says. "Whats on you is on you. I wont bring nothing down on this crowd" (213, my italics). For Walker and Orfing, the show has become their hump.
Riddley's Punch show gets underway only after Easyer's angry defense of the old religion, the Eusa myth. When the time comes for Punch to eat the baby, Easyer, who had been so opposed to the new show, has become so involved that he personally intervenes:
No sooner does Punch get his hans on that babby nor comes a big hairy han which it grabs Punch and my han inside Punch.
Its Easyer he yels, "You littl crookit barset I tol you not to try nothing here!"
Over goes the fit up and me and Punch and the babby and Easyer with it.
The most significant result of Easyer's interference—and the most promising for the future—is that this time the baby is "saved." We are taken back, at this point, to the very first story in the book, "Hart of the Wood," in which the parents trade their baby's life to Mr. Clevver—and we are taken back to Goodparley's Punch show in which Punch beats both Pooty and the baby to death (136). Even though Riddley knows it is inevitable that Punch "wil all ways kil the babby if he can" (221)—man will always "fall," will always be guilty of performing acts of meaningless violence—Easyer's "inner fearants" (46) have set up the right kind of interference, the right response: he prevents the violence from happening; he prevents a repetition of history.
What follows the interrupted show is both important and indicative of something hopeful. Earlier in the book, Riddley takes pains to give us the background of the one "connexion" of his father's that Brooder considered his best. "He ben proud of his reveal for that 1 moren mos he done," says Riddley, "becaws for 1ce the crowd movit on his words" (59). "[N]ex thing we done we pult out of Crippel the Farn and come up to How Fents…. Reason we done it were Hoggem Form they wer right nex to us at Crippel the Farn they had the same look in ther eye as Dog Et had befor they swallert Littl Salting" (60).
Walker's and Orfing's new show brings about a repeat of a historical action; however, this repetition is of a positive nature (the crowd moves on Riddley's words), and it points to a new direction. Rightway and Deaper and their families—"the woal lot roadit out with us they jus slung ther bundels and a way" (219), Riddley says in amazement. The most significant fact is that this group is "going backwards," away from "civilization." They are returning to the roading life, not heading for one particular farm, fents, or burnt-out city. They are returning, in essence, to first knowing. Riddley is leading them, and "Drop Johns ryding on his back" (220).
When Riddley finds the HOAP OF A TREE drawing of Goodparley, with vines and leaves growing out of his mouth, Riddley takes a piece of "chard coal" and draws in the head and horns of the Stag: "There wer Goodparley in be twean the horns of the Hart of the Wud then" (120). In essence, is he not saying that the Littl Shynin Man the Addom is each of us, pulled apart by power, by the conditions of life? We must be our own saviors; we must be HOAP OF A TREE. Riddley and Orfing have taken this step; those who go on the road with them also make the choice. Undoubtedly there will be other Rightways and Deapers who join their group as Walker and Orfing play other towns. It will be the responsibility of these people to change history, to offer an alternative to the struggle for power. There are positive signs, hopes of a tree: new earth, new show, new roaders, this work of art so we will not lose things out of "memberment." But Ridley's future, like ours, is uncertain. There are dangers ahead, changes that will have to occur if Riddley and his roaders are to change the world. The Littl Shynin Man the Addom said to Eusa:
… wear 2 1/2s uv 1 thing you & me…. You let they Chaynjis owt & now yuv got to go on thru them.
Eusa sed, How menne Chaynjis are thayr? … Woan you pleas tel me how menne Chaynjis thayr ar? The Littl Man sed, As menne as reqwyrd. Eusa sed, Reqwyrd by wut? The Littl Man sed, Reqwyrd by the idear uv yu. Eusa sed, Wut is the idear uv me? The Littl Man sed, That we doan no til yuv gon thru aul yur Chaynjis.
Riddley and his group are going through their changes, and it is possible their new ways will change the course of history. To encourage them, they will have knowledge that Riddley gained from a conversation between Greanvine and Punch, a conversation that will undoubtedly find its way into Riddley's shows:
Greanvine said, "It dont matter how much balls youve got its all the same in the end."
Punch said, "No it aint the same its diffrent if youve got balls a nuff."
Greanvine said, "Hows it diffrent?"
Punch said, "Its different right the way up to the end and thats why the end is diffrent. If the way is diffrent the end is diffrent. Becaws the end aint nothing only part of the way its jus that part of the way where you come to a stop. The end cud be any part of the way its in every step of the way thats why you bes go ballsy."
The true subject of Riddley Walker, like that of A Clockwork Orange, Animal Farm, or Doris Lessing's Sirian novels, is not outer space or future societies, but our own society. Hoban does not deny our need for power, knowledge, myth, or a cultural past. In Riddley Walker, he emphasizes these in an unusual way by showing us how they affect Riddley. Hoban gives us a small and very human protagonist who makes the point Hoban wishes to make entirely clear: mankind's future is in the hands of each of us. At one point in the novel, Riddley asks in befuddled amazement, "Do you mean to tel me them befor us by the time they done 1997 years they had boats in the air and all them things and here we are weve done 2347 years and mor and stil slogging in the mud?" (125). In writing Riddley Walker, Russell Hoban wants there to be no occasion on which our civilization will have to ask this question.
1. Russell Hoban, Riddley Walker 125. Further references are to the text and will be placed in the body of the paper.
2. The story of the naming of Hagman's II, not discussed in the paper, is a story about the sources of art.
3. In the article commenting on the BBC2 programs about the effects of nuclear war, Hoban wrote:
… what if there is something moving behind a thin membrane of the apparent? Yes, something that animates the universe, something that continually offers it- self to our perception; it offers the atom for our discovery and it offers what can be done with the atom; it can't help it; it's the nature of this something to do that; it is its nature to offer new possibilities continually, it is its nature to want all possible action. And what if there is some nameless thing looking out through our eyeholes, and this nameless thing must make everything possible happen?
("It Cancels All Distance" 4)
Branscomb, Jack. "The Quest for Wholeness in the Fiction of Russell Hoban." Critique 28 (Fall 1986): 29-38.
Cowart, David. History and the Contemporary Novel. Carbondale: U of Southern Illinois P, 1989.
DeMott, Benjamin. "2,000 Years after the Berstyn Fire." New York Times Book Review. 28 June 1981: 1, 25.
Dowling, David. "Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker: Doing the Connections." Critique 29 (Spring 1988): 179-87.
Hoban, Russell. "A Littl As Plaining about Riddley Walker." The Bookseller 3890 (12 July 1980): 175.
———. "It Cancels All Distance between Our Unthinking and the Unthinkable." The Listener 112 (27 Sept. 1984): 3-4.
———. Riddley Walker. New York: Washington Square Press, 1980.
Lewis, R. W. B. The American Adam: Innocence, Tragedy, and Tradition in the Nineteenth Century. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1955.
Lively, Penelope. "Russell Hoban: Riddley Walker." Encounter LVI (June 1981).
Maynor, Natalie and Richard F. Patteson. "Language as Protagonist in Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker." Critique 26 (Fall 1984): 18-25.
Uglow, Jennifer. "Leavin the Worl Behynt." TLS (31 Oct. 1980): 1221.
Amanda Cockrell (essay date 2004)
SOURCE: Cockrell, Amanda. "On This Enchanted Ground: Reflections of a Cold War Childhood in Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker and Walter M. Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz." Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts 15, no. 1 (2004): 20-36.
[In the following essay, Cockrell describes the similar themes of codes, language, and post-Nuclear holocaust life in Walter M. Miller's Canticle and Hoban's Riddley Walker, ultimately concluding that the novels ascribe to different beliefs with regards to the potential reemergence of human culture.]
Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho
Joshua fit the battle of Jericho,
And the walls come tumbling down!
Good morning, brother Pilgrim,
Pray tell me where you're bound,
Oh tell me where you're traveling to
On this enchanted ground….
Those of us who were children in the 1950s will remember this scene: twenty-five first graders crouched under our desks, hands laced on the tops of our heads to protect us from the nuclear holocaust that, we gathered, the Soviet Union might loose upon us at any moment. If we had thought about it, and a few of us did, we would have realized that the "duck and cover" drill could protect us from nothing except pre-holocaust anxiety. Otherwise, why were all those people building bomb shelters in their backyards? As Yip Harburg wrote:
Hammacher Schlemmer is selling a shelter,
A pushbutton palace, fluorescent repose,
With elaborate devices for facing a crisis
With frozen fruit ices and cinema shows,
while civil defense films suggested providing tranquilizers to the inhabitants to "ease the strain and monotony" (qtd. in Henriksen 87). One shelter manufacturer provided a complete underground sanctuary fitted out with everything a family of five might need for a three- to five-day underground stay, including a "pick and shovel combination for digging out after the blast" (Editors, Time-Life 73).
Despite their promise of an almost normal existence while waiting out destruction's half-life, the shelter makers played on our darkest fears, and along with the government's presentation of the atom bomb as a "weapon of peace," produced, as Margot Henriksen describes it, "the belief … that the cosmos had suddenly come unhinged" (39-40). For much of his childhood, my husband lay awake at night listening to the roar of missile engines being tested at Rocketdyne, in the Southern California desert. When he figured out that his father helped design their guidance systems, the suggestion was unavoidable that one night some nuclear Joshua would blow his horn and all the walls would tumble down, leaving a blighted landscape ensorcelled with a dark magic, into which no one might venture and come through unchanged.
No wonder then that A Canticle for Leibowitz, published in sections in 1955, '56 and '57, and then reworked as a novel in 1959, and Riddley Walker, pub- lished in 1980 when we had given up on the idea of bomb shelters protecting us from anything, have such resonance. Both are in some ways uneasy books to read and both have produced criticism that crosses certain boundaries, as do the texts. Norman Spinrad hated Riddley Walker because it doesn't adhere to the conventions of science fiction (37-38; q. in Mullen, 392), and Walker Percy loved Canticle but was uncomfortable because it came from a genre he considered sub-literary (572).
However, while Canticle has been widely studied—M. Keith Booker calls it "perhaps the best known and most critically respected post-holocaust novel of the 1950s" (88)—Riddley Walker has been startlingly neglected. Paul Brians categorizes Riddley Walker as "one of the finest of all post-holocaust novels" (24), unique in its imagining of the human race as less intelligent as a result of the holocaust, rather than endowed with the telepathic powers, for example, so often ascribed in science fiction to the irradiated descendants of the bomb. Perhaps its neglect in science fiction criticism is partly due to the fact that, as Brians points out, British nuclear war fiction (Hoban, although American, settled in England in 1969) did not sort itself into as readily identifiable genres as did American writing on the subject (17). Nevertheless, the two novels have some interesting connections. They share two key themes: the degradation of knowledge into mystery, and the canonization, either literal or metaphorical, of scientists murdered in the aftermath of disaster and then venerated as their science is painstakingly reconstructed. In addition, each offers clear (although radically differing) conclusions about which social institutions will survive nuclear holocaust; and each envisions a centralized management of public opinion reflective of our own Cold War and post-Cold War spin doctors.
Neither author is a Cold War child—Miller was born in 1923, Hoban in 1925. Rather, Miller spent his youth flying bombing missions over Italy and the Balkans and participated in the bombing of the Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino, which bears a certain resemblance to the abbey of St. Leibowitz. Hoban, the son of Jewish immigrants, served in the infantry. Both returned from World War II to a world that now contained a weapon and a technology so fearsome it could melt the ground and remake the human body into something that could only be speculated about.
As Judith Spector has observed, the further development of nuclear energy was funded in large part by government response to the Cold War (338). While some science fiction writers were tackling the subject in the early 1950s, most other American writers ignored it, since as Brians points out, "most Americans feared communism more than the bomb" and it was not patriotic to criticize a "balance of terror" that favored the West (16). However, in 1954 the Atomic Energy Commission chair remarked to the press that a single bomb could destroy any city on earth. In 1955 the Russians announced much the same thing; the Eisenhower administration threatened the communist Chinese with nuclear weapons over the islands of Quemoy and Matsu; and a federal Civil Defense Administrator speculated about the possibility of creating a cobalt "doomsday bomb" (17). Public attention became uneasily focused on atomic warfare. A spate of novels on the subject appeared that year, including the first part of Canticle, and the Cold War became the engine that drove American foreign policy and shadowed American life for over thirty years. Perhaps with some connection to the surreal notion that the stuff of science fiction was a real possibility, and certainly with a connection to the nation's entanglement in Vietnam, as well as the presidency of Richard Nixon, the 1960s produced a rising cynicism still evident in 1980s Riddley Walker.
Perhaps the strongest link between the two novels is the queasy sense of cognitive dissonance, of trying in each daily task to untangle a code, read words whose meaning is transposed into an alphabet not our own. David Dowling's observation is significant: "More than any other fictions considered … these two novels take us into a new ‘mindscape’" (209). He notes, "In both these novels of a post-nuclear disaster waste land, small bands of dedicated thinkers try to rise above the bestial conditions around them…. For the wordsmith of such a world, the semiotic system of written and oral language is a teasing, enigmatic collection of signs whose references have been blasted to atoms and whose constituent parts have been mutated into strange new forms. Both novels foreground language as well as vividly realising a devastated landscape" (193).
As Cold War storytellers, Hoban and Miller share a mutual vision appropriately both pessimistic and yet tinged with absurd hope, a dark lens through which each author inspects the horrible results of human curiosity and inventiveness. Both books reject, as Brians has observed of Riddley Walker, "the vision of post-holocaust barbarism as an idyllic pastoral" as well as the assumption of much science fiction that a return to a technological culture is an easy thing to do (79). In addition, Thomas J. Morrissey sees both books sharing a common lineage as both try to find a voice to express the inexpressible, avoiding gadgetry to focus on "the moral basis of human behavior in the nuclear age and beyond…. the genetic chaos, and the collapse of social institutions … human beings struggling to understand and live with what has happened—even after years or millennia of trying" (201). It is a surreal and uniquely mid-twentieth century view that is offered us: the inevitable lemming rush over a precipice which was, ironically, clearly visible to the lemmings in question—Major Kong riding the bomb down in Dr. Strangelove. The view is softened only by the stubborn belief that humanity will somehow endure anyway and there will be something, however misshapen, left behind after it blows itself to bits.
It is in that notion of what survives that these novels diverge. Both posit a world nearly destroyed, in which the shelter has proved futile and the remaining humans inhabit a devastated land that still carries a fearsome and ancient magic not clearly understood. Both chronicle the gradual rebirth of a new civilization, destined to make the same mistakes as the first, rediscovery cycling to repetition of an inevitable fate. They differ considerably, however, in their view of which species of human will, like cockroaches, prove impervious even to nuclear radiation.
To Miller's mind, That Which Survives is the Church; to Hoban's it is the Bureaucracy. Canticle begins in "Fiat Homo"—Part One, which Booker considers "by far the most successful and richly realized of the three" (89)—with the coming of age of a young monk, Brother Francis, preserving knowledge in a new Dark Age; and Riddley Walker with that of the aptly named Riddley, through whom the government promotes its policies by means of traveling shows, interpreted for the populace by "connexion men." Both are destined/determined to resurrect old knowledge, and both, brought unwillingly to their task, embody the hero as described by Joseph Campbell, set apart and "other," often in trouble, and troubled by conscience and self-doubt (Hero 321-328; 1988, 41). The paths they take, however, and the civilizations through which those paths travel, differ sharply.
Both authors also create a post-holocaust mythology in keeping with the Cold War depiction of the Mad Scientist, whose self-absorption lets loose the monsters of our imagining. In reality, it was the government that was determined to push the envelope. J. Robert Oppenheimer, director of the Manhattan Project which developed the A-Bomb, saw what was coming and lost his security clearance for "lacking enthusiasm" for the H-Bomb project. But the post-war, Cold War government found others to take his place, as noted by that finger on the pulse of the mid-sixties, Tom Lehrer:
Don't say he's hypocritical,
Say rather that he's apolitical.
"Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down?
That's not my department," says Wernher von Braun.
("Wernher von Braun")
For fifteen years after World War II, von Braun worked with the United States Army in the development of ballistic missiles and then became director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. His official NASA biography lists his early interest in science fiction as an impetus to his future career both in designing missiles for the U.S. and earlier in dropping them on England for Nazi Germany. Before the Allies captured the German V-2 rocket complex, von Braun arranged the surrender of five hundred of his top rocket scientists to the Americans, throwing in for good measure plans and test vehicles. Like the scholar Thon Taddeo in Canticle—who, as W. A. Senior points out, is himself a representative of the mad scientist of horror film fame (334)—he served the ruler who would fund his research. In "Fiat Lux," the second part of A Canticle for Leibowitz, the monastery's resident poet offers a blue-headed goat to the Thon, remarking,
They say a new light is dawning. If there's to be light, then somebody will have to be blamed for the darkness that's past…. Crown him with the crown Saint Leibowitz sent you, and thank him for the light that's rising. Then blame Leibowitz and drive him into the desert. That way you won't have to wear the second crown. The one with thorns. Responsibility, it's called.
In both novels, the resulting disasters require the identification of a scapegoat, someone whose fault it all was, as the mid-twentieth century blamed Communism for every moral failing. Unable to get at the Communists, the populations in Canticle and Riddley Walker have turned on their own scientists, and, as the poet prophesies, very likely will again. When the abbot of "Fiat Lux" tries to return the goat to the old hermit Benjamin, Benjamin also advises him to "curse it and drive it into the desert," thus equating it, as Gary K. Wolfe observes, with the scapegoat Azazel of the Day of Atonement ritual, and as such, Wolfe says, "symbolic of the sins of the people from whom Leibowitz sought to protect learning" (142). But it can also be read as a warning that when the technology which the abbot's monks are rediscovering blows the world to hell again, someone is going to be the scapegoat and it may very likely be the technicians.
In both Canticle and Riddley Walker, a nuclear scientist is first murdered by an angry mob and later venerated by the populace as the keeper of knowledge. It is in the difference between Hoban's Eusa and Miller's Leibowitz that we see their diverging views of the resurgence of humanity, that Something Which Survives that is the essential core of us all.
In Miller's post-holocaust landscape the Roman Catholic Church has become what it once was in a previous dark age, the only church, and as Lewis Fried says, it is in some ways a sympathetic choice. "Opposing the totalitarian enslavement of the Catholic community in Eastern Europe and Russia, the Church could be seen, and was so seen, as speaking for an indomitable religious spirit" as opposed to the "godless Communists" of our Cold War nightmares (367). On the other hand, as Booker contends, "[t]here is no mention of the actual historical role of the Church in destroying and suppressing knowledge during its heyday in the Middle Ages. Nor does Miller show any recognition of the fierce opposition of the Church to the growth of scientific knowledge during the Enlightenment" (89).
Brian Attebery says in Strategies of Fantasy, "Science fiction began to separate from fantasy when science began to deliver on the promises made by alchemists and magicians" (106). In A Canticle for Leibowitz we are again in a world where science looks like magic.
The mob, in the angry aftermath of the Flame Deluge, an annihilating nuclear war unleashed in the late 1960s, has destroyed all information, all books, all knowledge, in a second great fire known as the Simplification. There exist only scraps hidden away in places like the Abbey of St. Leibowitz, the keepers of the written word, and even to them so much has been lost that the dreaded Fallout is envisioned not as death in the air but as a demon, a fearsome creature something like a dragon, born of the Flame Deluge. To the monks of Brother Francis's abbey, the salvaged scraps of formulas and blueprints look like magical spells designed to produce who knows what, and even after the Simplification has ended, their quest to salvage knowledge has its risks:
Monastic excavators, alert for ancient treasure, had been known to emerge from a hole in the ground, triumphantly carrying a strange cylindrical artifact, and then while cleaning it or trying to ascertain its purpose press the wrong button or twist the wrong knob, thereby ending the matter without benefit of clergy.
The Venerable Boedullus, who uncovered the remains of "an intercontinental launching pad, complete with several fascinating subterranean storage tanks" (21), blew up himself and a small village, and is now held to haunt the lake that formed in the crater, in the body of a catfish.
Miller's somewhat romanticized version of the Dark Ages, a period of mythic importance to our current culture, accepts at face value that such religious communities were, as Martha Bartter says, "benevolent, authoritarian, cooperative walled centers within which received knowledge was conserved by those who, by and large, remained ignorant of its use" (230). An elaborate mythology has built up around St. Leibowitz, originally a Jewish nuclear scientist who, after the Flame Deluge and the death of his wife, took refuge in a monastery. Later he took holy orders and founded a religious community dedicated to the preservation of such scraps of knowledge as still existed. Named for Albertus Magnus, teacher of St. Thomas and patron of men of science, the Albertian order's monks surreptitiously memorized the contents of salvaged books and buried them in kegs in the desert. Leibowitz was caught by the mob and horribly murdered, a martyr to knowledge. At the start of Canticle, his order awaits his canonization, still painstakingly preserving and copying texts they do not understand, ancient blueprints and crumpled grocery lists alike. In this landscape a little knowledge may indeed be dangerous, and Boedullus's literal shifting of the ground mirrors the textual distortion of the narrative, so that, as Senior concludes, "[t]he discontinuity between past and present value thereby highlights the discrepancies and obscurity in even doctrinaire texts" (333).
Like knowledge, humanity too has been misshapen. Outside the monasteries and the re-emerging villages is the Valley of the Misborn. Six-fingered, frog-footed, or two-headed, they are known as the Pope's children for the reason that the Church has forbidden the population to kill them. The will of the Church to serve as preserver, even of that which will ultimately be its downfall, is a thread which runs through all three sections of the novel, ending with "Fiat Volun- tas Tua," Part Three, in which mankind has rediscovered nuclear weapons and is obliterating itself with them once more. In the chaos, the Church clings to this imperative: urging the terminally radiation poisoned not to go to the Mercy Camps for euthanasia and launching a handful of monks and sisters and a group of children on a spaceship away from the doomed earth. With them travel the "Memorabilia," the sacred texts of St. Leibowitz, and in those texts rests the possibility that the cycle of knowledge to destruction to knowledge to destruction will begin again on another world; that it is in our blood, no matter what other human qualities may be mutated or destroyed.1
The characters in Canticle, from the book-preserving monks of "Fiat Homo" to the Abbot at his radio in "Fiat Voluntas Tua," are, as David Seed says in his chapter on Miller, Hoban, and nuclear war, "constantly found in the posture of examining signs and texts for their meaning" (161). W. Warren Wager calls Canticle "a critic's dream-book, rich with symbols and metaphors, open to many conflicting interpretations" (84). Perhaps Canticle has such resonance because for so long we picked up the newspaper or turned on the television to see if we could make sense of what was happening. As Walker Percy says, in a 1971 reconsideration that condescends annoyingly to science fiction in general but otherwise has some interesting things to say, "At the end of an age and the beginning of another, at a time when ages overlap" [certainly a fair definition of the Cold War] "views of man also overlap…. We get used to a double vision of man, like watching a ghost on TV" (574).
Riddley Walker's whole function is examining those signs, the "blips" that come his way. "Blipful" means full of portent, and Riddley's job as a "connexion man" is to explain the hidden meaning of things to the rest of his people. In Riddley's world there are the "Fents"—the "moving crowd" who make only temporary dwellings within their fences, hunting and scavenging the ruins of England's pre-holocaust civilization—and the "Forms," beginning to reclaim the land. The Mincery, the government, exists on the Ram, an island broken by the upheaval from the coastline around Canterbury, administered by men who bear the remnants of governmental titles conflated with similar sounding place names: The Pry Mincer, and the Wes Mincer.
This civilization of a new iron age knows that science is not magic, but its citizens do possess a certain ESP and a way of seeking knowledge that is more intuitive than empirical. Like their language, a kind of exploded English in which, as Hoban says, words have "[worn] themselves down into new words and new meanings" (226), their knowledge has been transmuted over the years into vague memories of "boats in the air and picters on the wind" (19) and the Eusa story, a muddle of the legend of St. Eustace as painted on the wall of Canterbury Cathedral and the story of the splitting of the atom.
The power of the great cathedral has become associated with the power of the atom, and Eustace has become Eusa, the embodiment of civilization's technical capabilities and death wish. (The lingering echo of USA in his name may be another clue in the wind.) In the Eusa story, Mr. Clevver persuaded Eusa to develop the "1 Big 1" and the "Master Chaynjis," nuclear power, and brought about the world's ruin. After the holocaust Eusa was stoned, mutilated, and his head put on a pole (121), from which it instructed the people to make a puppet show of him for warning and remembrance. In one telling, they "beat him to death with col iron" (81), calling on an older mythology than that of the atom in order to destroy the author of their troubles and marking him with the same eldritch gleam as earlier magical folk. Thus Eusa has been transformed into a mythical figure who is now accorded great reverence. The Mincery makes its policies known through Eusa shows, featuring Eusa and Mr. Clevver, who appears as a devil's head. The shows are then explained to the populace by the connexion men, whose job it is to unwind the threads of anything symbolic and to make sense of unexpected events, occasionally, like bewildered anchormen, surprised by their own footage. Walter Cronkite, for instance, said of the 1968 Tet Offensive, "What the hell is going on? I thought we were winning!" (Morrow, 21). Riddley's government too has been known to lie.
It is the disconnect between what the authorities, the Church in Canticle, and the Mincery in Riddley Walker, are telling the populace, and what the populace can see with its own eyes, that has such resonance for those of us who watched (and watch) our own leaders talk of "survivability" or recommend duct tape and plastic sheeting. The Church in Canticle speaks of Resurrection while the populace dies of radiation poisoning; and the government, insisting that it doesn't have a War Ministry but a Defense Ministry (242), sets up "Mercy Camps" for the expected radiation cases while simultaneously maintaining that "it is generally held that the cease-fire agreement will continue to be observed" (286), a fine example of what Senior calls "the contemporary practice of spin control and governmental euphemism" (335). Percy calls Canticle "like a cipher, a coded message, a book in a strange language" (572-73). Government's messages are coded as well, in both books. When the Eusa show proclaims that "this ain't no made up show this time its all trufax from the Mincery" (46), we and the audience both know the Mincery has a plan to put over on the populace.
It is Eusa, a talking head descended from the "experts" interviewed on 20th century television, who says what the Mincery wants people to hear. Mr. Clevver, the devil's head, represents the opposition, the wily enemy who is never to be trusted. Interestingly, a similar figure, found in a bag of ancient puppets, refers to himself as Mr. On The Levvil, not only a British rhyming slang reference to the devil, but also the earnest assurance of any politician to a gullible citizenry.
Despite the appearance of Mr. Clevver, Riddley's people have no sense of religion, as we or Brother Francis might define it. Life, death, and sex are all portrayed, sometimes simultaneously, by the dark figure of "Aunty," who has "stoan boans an iron tits and teef be twean her legs" and is mostly compounded of appetite (24). When Durster Potter is savaged by dogs, Riddley says, "It give us all jus that littl thrill. Watching Durster do it with Aunty. She took him in stead of us and us what wernt dead fealt that much mor a live" (68). Aunty isn't God as we are used to him, but a dark recasting of an ancient Mother goddess who in any case cannot be swayed by prayer. Finding an old ecclesiastical explanation of the St. Eustace story, they puzzle over it, and over what "the spirit of God" might be, finally deciding that it is "chemistery and fizzics" (145). Their deepest respect is accorded to the atom, personified as "the Little Shyning Man," in much the same way that Cold War political cartoonist Herblock's warheads always had a face and feet.
The Eusa Show repeatedly takes its audience through the saga of Eusa's downfall as a ritual penance, but although it does begin, as R. D. Mullen observes (404), with an ecclesiastical-sounding verse and response exchange between connexion man and audience:
I said, ‘Weare going aint we.’
The crowd said, ‘Yes, weare going.’
I said, ‘Down that road with Eusa.’
They said, ‘Time and reqwyrt.’
I said, ‘Where them Chaynjis take us.’
They said, ‘He done his time wewl do our time.’
I said, ‘Hes doing it for us.’
They said, ‘Weare doing it for him.’
The next and final four lines shift instead into the come-hither cadence of a carnival barker, holding out the possibility that next time, some time, things will be not the same, but different, and the wound will be mended. Maybe.
I said, ‘Keap it going. Chances this time.’
They said, ‘Chances nex time.’
I said, ‘New chance every time.’
They said, ‘New chance every time.’
That shift from the reassuring rhythm of priest and congregants into the patter of the carny barker typifies the unexpected ways in which Hoban flings us suddenly from assumed familiar turf into a foreign land. An old spacefarers' hymn has survived, transformed by other understanding, and they sing it at the funeral of Riddley's father to send him on his way. Note the shift in the meaning of "thine":
Pas the sarvering gallack seas and the flaming nebyul eye
Power us beyont the farthes reaches of the sky
Thine the han what shapit the black
Guyd us there and guyd us back
Straiter Empy said, ‘Thine hans for Brooder Walker.’
We all thinet hans then roun the fire and Straiter Empy wordit 1st. He said, ‘Brooder Walker. A good man and done good connexions. Done his bes for this crowd like his father done befor him. Like his son wil after him. Out of the dark he come and in to the dark he gone. In to the 1st knowing and the Master Chaynjis.’
Earl Rovit has noted in his essay on Russell Hoban in The Hollins Critic, that "[o]ne of the salient successes of the novel is its cogent presentation of humanity attempting to reinvent itself out of the largely illegible scraps of an exploded tradition" (10). Consequently, their sense of the supernatural centers on the power that blighted their world, and the heart of that power is in Cambry (Canterbury) around the ruins of a nuclear reactor. "Eusa's wife" is both the moon and "her what has her womb in Cambry" (144) those things that still hold power.
It is government, rather than the Church, which has survived in Riddley's world, pulling what scraps of the church have floated to the ground into its own machinations. The Mincery at the Ram pursues old knowledge through the imprisoned "Eusa folk," the descendants of those who lived and worked in the heart of the old power. They are the marred children of the fallout, with "faces like bad dreams," created when "ther seed gone crookit and the groun gone sour" (174). The Ram has secretly preserved them, breeding them to each other in the hope of recreating a Eusa who will tell them the secrets. But the secrets are lost, their truths as buried as those lingering in the child's rhyme game "Fools Circel 9wys," which the children of Riddley's fents play, listing the ring of dead towns around Canterbury:
Horny Boy rung Widders Bel
Stoal his Fathers Ham as wel
Bernt his Arse and Forkt a Stoan
Done it Over broke a boan
Out of Good Shoar vackt his wayt
Scratch 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 (5)
(Say "Sharna pax and get the poal" over to yourself several times.)
Like the conflation of Eusa with St. Eustace, the chief of the Eusa folk is known as the Ardship of Cambry, a last faint shadow of the Archbishop of Canterbury.2 Every twelve years, as soon as he has sired a son to be the new Ardship, his head is cut off by Abel Goodparley, the Pry Mincer from the Ram, and put on a pole in the hope that, like Eusa's, it will tell.
But like the Memorabilia found by the monk Francis in a ruined fallout shelter, the message is mysterious, arcane, and full of symbols, because the Eusa folk know only that they once possessed knowledge and that they can, in a kind of combined trance, remember the substance but not the particulars of those secrets. Their communal ESP produces only the memory that once they held power.
Everything in Riddley's world is turned on its head. In classic 50s horror movie form, dogs have become wild creatures who eat hapless travelers and children left unattended; in Hoban's words, "forlorn and murderous, full of lost innocence and the 1st knowing" (225). Men and women got their first knowledge from looking in a dog's eyes. But then they looked in a goat's eyes and began to own property and to count things, and eventually they counted the number of the Master Chaynjis and ruined the world.
Nothing only nite for years on end. Playgs kilt people off and naminals nor there wernt nothing growit in the groun. Man and woman starvling in the blackness looking for the dog to eat it and the dog out looking to eat them the same.
Finally day and night resume their course but both are "crookit": "Now man and woman go afeart by nite afeart by day. The dog all lorn and wishful it keaps howling for the nites whatre gone for ever" (20). Even the dogs can't forgive what we've done. When Riddley becomes "dog frendy," we feel that something has been righted in his world. That is the first of three rediscoveries of varying sorts that appear in novel. The second occurs when Riddley finds an ancient puppet, Mr. Punch, trickster progenitor of the Eusa show puppets, "so old he can't die" (227). The third is the rediscovery of gunpowder, in an experiment that puts one man's head on a pole, like Eusa's, and blows a stone pestle clean through another's.
Riddley Walker ends there, with Riddley pondering the ramifications of rediscovered knowledge. A Canticle for Leibowitz takes the tale to its foregone conclusion and then sets forth from there. Part One ends with the canonization of the blessed Leibowitz and the death of Francis at the hands of the misborn, much as Able Goodparley is blinded by the Eusa folk. Part Two chronicles the rediscovery of technology, beginning with the electric light. The abbot of that time counsels the scholar Thon Taddeo, scientist of the new learning, not to give technology to government again, to no avail. As a result only the buzzards feel that all is right with their world: "The buzzards strutted, preened, and quarreled over dinner; it was not yet properly cured. They waited a few days for the wolves. There was plenty for all. Finally they ate the Poet" (223).
At the end of "Fiat Voluntas Tua," not even the buzzards will survive. Nuclear war has begun again, the result of a weapons test gone awry and the "warning shot" fired back, nuclear brinksmanship as practiced by a coalition of Asian states and the West's unsettlingly named Christian Coalition. In Miller's view, our destruction is always the result of past sins, of allowing our governments to become as gods, "the colossus of the State, somehow, drawing about itself the mantle of godhood, being struck down by the wrath of Heaven" (260). A note of desperate hope sounds in the monks' singing as they lift the children into the ship. The Church's job is to preserve. If mankind destroys, that is the nature of mankind. This millennium's abbot, half buried in the rubble and waiting to die, throws stones at the buzzard waiting for him.
It would not have many meals to look forward to, he noticed, before the bird itself became a meal for another. Its feathers were singed from the flash, and it kept one eye closed. The bird was soggy with rain, and the abbot guessed that the rain itself was full of death.
At the end presumably only the shark, "brood[ing] in the old clean currents," survives, and "he was very hungry that season" (313).
The last monks and children have fled in their spaceship, appropriately led by Brother Joshua, named for the biblical figure who guided the Israelites out of the desert and into the Promised Land, and brought down the walls of Jericho—a catastrophe that must have seemed to the Canaanites inside very like the effects of a nuclear bomb, especially since Joshua then cursed the city, threatening anyone who tried to rebuild it with the death of his firstborn and his youngest, a prophesy that held good for four centuries (Telushkin 68).
Now it is Joshua's job not to bring down the walls that are already falling but to fly above them. With them, like original sin, the monks and children carry the Memorabilia of St. Leibowitz. But something is left behind; two somethings, in fact: Benjamin, the ancient Jewish pilgrim who appears first to Brother Francis and is still alive in "Fiat Voluntas Tua" more than three thousand years later, and Rachel, the suddenly awakened extra head on the shoulder of Mrs. Grales, the old tomato woman.
Benjamin is generally read to be the Wandering Jew of medieval folklore, interpreted by Miller in an alternate incarnation as Lazarus, raised from the dead by Christ but still not a Christian and so condemned to immortality until Christ's return. We meet him first in the desert, singing the traditional Hebrew blessing over bread, after which he points out to Francis the site of an ancient fallout shelter containing documents of the Blessed Leibowitz and a skull which proves to be that of Leibowitz's wife Emily. Thus he ultimately establishes her death date as occurring before Leibowitz's taking of Holy Orders, and so Leibowitz's eligibility for canonization. (As well as the absolute uselessness of the fallout shelters in which Leibowitz's government put its people's faith.) There are also odd hints that he may be Leibowitz, although he denies it vehemently, or that Leibowitz may somehow have been him. At any rate the statue of Leibowitz carved in Brother Francis's 26th century bears an uncanny resemblance to him.
At the end of "Fiat Homo," it is Benjamin who buries the dead Francis, and five hundred years later, when a village known as Sanly Bowitts has grown up near the abbey, Benjamin is known as a local hermit to the old abbot's successors. He lives on top of a mesa with a stone with the text of the Sh'ma ("Hear O Israel, the Lord Is Our God, the Lord is One") carved upon it, set as a mezuzah beside his doorway. The prior of that time calls him "Eleazer," (127) a variant of Lazarus, and the abbot refers to him as Benjamin Eleazer bar Joshua (160), again suggesting the conflated identity at which he arrives in Part Three, when we see him again as an old tramp now believed by village folklore to be "Lazar, same one ‘ut the Lor’ Hesus raise up … Auntie say, what the Lor' Hesus raise up, it stay up" (236), which could also certainly be said of the Wandering Jew. Benjamin contributes to this dual identity when the abbot of Part Two pays Benjamin a visit:
His eyes blazed for a moment. "For a Child is born unto us, and a son is given to us…." But then the anxious frown melted away into sadness. "It's not Him!" he grumbled irritably at the sky.
When the abbot accuses him of waiting for "One-Who-Isn't-Coming," the Jews' expected Messiah, Benjamin retorts, "He's already here. I caught a glimpse of Him once" (161), but the abbot does not understand. Later the abbot inquires of him, "So what are you looking for?"
"Someone who shouted at me once."
"I was told to wait, and—" Benjamin says, "I wait."
If Benjamin, required to wait for Christ's second coming, survived the first nuclear holocaust, it seems probable that he will survive this one, but for whom will he wait now? It seems unlikely that a human Christ will return to a planet devoid of human inhabitants. The only other being who seems impervious to radiation is Rachel.
Rachel begins as an extra head growing from the shoulder of Mrs. Grales, an old tomato seller. Such things are not uncommon even in 3781—Brother Joshua bears the scar of a sixth finger removed in infancy—and Rachel is seemingly inert, with eyes that never open. But old timers say that Rachel wasn't there when Mrs. Grales was born, and Mrs. Grales regards her as a separate entity. Now, with rumors of war flying, Mrs. Grales wants her baptized, to the horror of the abbot. It is Brother Joshua to whom Rachel first manifests herself in her new guise. She smiles at him from Mrs. Grales's shoulder, and later appears to him in a dream. "I am the Immaculate Conception," she says (257).
It is to the abbot, pinned in the ruins of the abbey, face to face with the ancient skull of Brother Francis and waiting to die, that she reappears after the holocaust. She is very new, only learning to talk by repeating his words. Her eyes are open now, and it is Mrs. Grales's head that sleeps. She smiles at the abbot. "It seemed a young shy smile that hoped for friendship" (309). Mrs. Grales's body has become young again, and the splinters of glass embedded in her arm bring forth almost no blood. Mrs. Grales's head appears to be withering away, and soon there will be only Rachel, this new creature.
The abbot attempts to baptize her, and she leans away quickly. Rachel has no need of baptism, being herself born, as Morrissey points out, from "the chalice of salvation" (207), the Grail. Instead she feeds the abbot the Host.
"… cool fingertips touched his forehead, and he heard her say one word:
Then she was gone. He could hear her voice trailing away in the new ruins. "la la la, la-la-la…."
Miller seems to suggest Rachel as a new Eve or Mary, "born free" of original sin and named for the biblical matriarch who was regarded as the one of the mothers of her people, including of the biblical Benjamin whom she died bearing. The abbot attempts to teach this new Rachel the words of the Magnificat because "he was certain that she shared something with the Maiden who first had spoken them" (311). But a more feminist reading might suggest instead that it is Rachel that Benjamin is waiting for. Something new has been created, a new kind of being, not human, but intuitive, and born free not only of original sin but of a sensitivity to radiation.
Walker Percy claims that "When he finishes Canticle, the reader can ask himself one question and the answer will tell whether he got the book or missed it. Who is Rachel? What is she?" (578). It may be possible to "get" Canticle without knowing who or what Rachel is, but certainly this is the true from the abbot's point of view. "Getting" Rachel gives him the courage to die.
The radiation-born children of the films and comic books of the Cold War were monstrous, ready to devour anything that crossed their paths; or else magically endowed with extraordinary powers and ready to save the world. Rachel, on the other hand, simply is. Her miracle is survival at all, and presumably reproduction. The abbot sees "primal innocence in those eyes, and a promise of resurrection" (312). That being the case, perhaps we hear no more of Benjamin because he can now die, leaving Rachel to be both mother and father of some strange new brood. In Rachel, Miller offers a chilling conclusion for 2004, an era in which it looks less likely than it did in 1959 that man will go to the stars, and more certain that we will have to stay here and take whatever we bring upon ourselves. Something will survive but it won't be us.
Although Isaac Asimov thought of it first ("Hell-Fire," 1956), the face of Satan in a mushroom cloud has become a stock image, repeating itself in interesting variations on the covers of tabloids such as the Weekly World News—the April 29, 2003 issue carried the headline "Devil appears in Baghdad bomb cloud! SATAN'S FACE OVER IRAQ!" despite the fact that we are not, I trust, using nuclear weapons over there. Miller implies a similar vision at the end of Canticle, when the monks loading their spaceship watch as "[t]he visage of Lucifer mushroomed into hideousness above the cloudbank, rising slowly like some titan climbing to its feet after ages of imprisonment in the Earth" (312). To Miller, whose final civilization has code-named nuclear war "Lucifer," the end to which this technology is put, although not the technology itself, is literally of the devil. And the devil will get us if we don't watch out.
Hoban is more ambiguous. And so he is more disturbing and more hopeful at the same time. Aunty will get everyone in the end ("Your tern now my tern later" .) But Aunty isn't the devil, or even malevolent. She is just the earth taking back what it has sprouted. Like the language he has upended, Riddley's world is stark and compelling, shorn of all that is not necessary, and imbued with a dark, poetic philosophy. This is the opening paragraph of Riddley Walker :
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 hadn't ben none for a long time befor him nor I ain't 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 were 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 were dead and the steam coming up off him in the rain and we all yelt, ‘Offert!’
"Offert" to whom or what is never said. To Aunty, maybe. And this is the last:
Riddley Walkers ben to show
Riddley Walkers on the go
Don't go Riddley Walkers track
Drop Johns riding on his back.
Stil I wunt have no other track.
Like Brother Francis and Brother Joshua, Riddley has his track, the way he must go, in a landscape where normal signposts have been obliterated. That disconnect between what the public can see is happening and what the authorities, in this case the Mincery, are telling them grows stronger.
Carrying the lingering image of Abel Goodparley with a stone pestle through his head, Riddley begins to show Punch: not a Eusa show, but a show with complementary questions. As Morrissey points out, Riddley has become the first original playwright since the nuclear holocaust who is not controlled by the government (212). Art will make something happen now, but art is tricksy in itself. Derived from the original Punch and Judy, handed down over centuries, Riddley's Punch is still a crook-backed trickster who will eat his wife and baby if he gets the chance. Punch too may be original sin, but Riddley sees no sure conclusions.
"Why is Punch crookit? Why wil he always kil the babby if he can? Parbly I wont never know, its just on me to think on it" (220), he says.
As it was on those of us who lay awake listening to Mr. Clevver's missile engines in the night. In the post-Cold War era, when different monsters crowd our dreams and our government puts on its perpetual show, parading for us the "trufax" of the moment, we watch the television news for our connexion men and find Riddley's world not as strange as we thought.
1. This may account for some of the apparent ambiguity in narrative point of view regarding the Mercy Camps in the final section. M. Keith Booker comments on this question that "Miller's suggestion that the fallen nature of humankind ensures that the species will never be able to prosper is so pessimistic that it seems to make all secular human effort meaningless—which might be why he felt the need, in the third novella, to include an extended (and not very convincing) argument against suicide" (90).
2. David Dowling contends that both A Canticle for Leibowitz and Riddley Walker contain "a central theme of religion in the waste land" (143) and sees in the Ardship of Cambry a representation of the old power of the priests, and of religion, versus the remnants of science lingering in the ruined nuclear power plant. However, the Ardship is a conflation based on distorted knowledge, the figure who is expected to return scientific formulae to humanity. A more accurate assessment of his position might be to say that he represents mysticism.
Asimov, Isaac. "Hell-Fire." Fantastic Universe May 1956: 97-98.
Attebery, Brian. Strategies of Fantasy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992.
Bartter, Martha. The Way to Ground Zero: The Atomic Bomb in American Science Fiction.
Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1988.
Booker, M. Keith. Monsters, Mushroom Clouds, and the Cold War: American Science Fiction and the Roots of Postmodernism, 1946-1964. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2001.
Brians, Paul. Nuclear Holocausts: Atomic War in Fiction, 1895-1984. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1987.
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1968.
———. The Power of Myth. New York: Doubleday, 1988.
Dowling, David. Fictions of Nuclear Disaster. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1987.
The Editors of Time-Life Books. This Fabulous Century, Vol. VI 1950-1960. New York: Time-Life Books, 1970.
Fried, Lewis. "A Canticle for Leibowitz: A Song for Benjamin." Extrapolation 42.4 (Winter 2001): 362-373.
Harburg, E. Y. "For the Man of Extinction" from "Rhymes for the Irreverent." On Slightly Irreverent, The Mitchell Trio, Mercury Records, c. 1968.
Henriksen, Margot A. Dr. Strangelove's America: Society and Culture in the Atomic Age. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.
Hoban, Russell. Riddley Walker. Expanded edition. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.
"Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho." By Paul Robeson, New York, December 29th, 1945. On cassette "The Power and the Glory." New York: Columbia Legacy, 1991.
Lehrer, Tom. "Wernher von Braun." On That Was the Year That Was, Tom Lehrer, Reprise Records, recorded at the hungry i, San Francisco, July 1965.
Miller, Walter M. Jr. A Canticle for Leibowitz. New York: Lippincott, 1959; New York: Bantam Books, 1978. (Citations refer to the 1978 edition).
Morrissey, Thomas J. "Armageddon from Huxley to Hoban." Extrapolation 25.3 (Fall 1984): 197-213.
Morrow, Lance. "1968." Time January 11, 1988: 16-27.
Mullen, R. D. "Dialect, Grapholect, and Story: Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker as Science Fiction." Science Fiction Studies 27 (2000): 391-417.
Percy, Walker. "Walter M. Miller, Jr.'s A Canticle for Leibowitz: A Rediscovery." The Southern Review 7.2 (1971): 572-78.
Rovit, Earl. "The Fiction of Russell Hoban." The Hollins Critic 34.5 (December 1997): 1-13.
Seed, David. American Science Fiction and the Cold War: Literature and Film. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1999.
Senior, W. A. "‘From the Begetting of Monsters’: Distortion as Unifier in A Canticle for Leibowitz." Extrapolation 34.4 (1993): 329-39.
Spector, Judith A. "Walter Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz: A Parable for Our Time?" The Midwest Quarterly 22.4 (Summer 1981): 337-45.
Spinrad, Norman. Science Fiction in the Real World. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1990.
Telushkin, Joseph. Jewish Literacy. New York: William Morrow, 1991.
Wagar, W. Warren. "Round Trips to Doomsday." The End of the World, Eric S. Rabkin, et al, eds. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983.
Weekly World News. Cover photo, April 29, 2003
"Wernher von Braun (1912-1977)." http://history.nasa.gov/sputnik/braun.html. accessed 4/24/2003
Wolfe, Gary K. The Known and Unknown. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1979.
THE TROKEVILLE WAY (1996)
Publishers Weekly (review date 11 November 1996)
SOURCE: Review of The Trokeville Way, by Russell Hoban. Publishers Weekly 243, no. 46 (11 November 1996): 77.
Nick Hartley is having a hard time [in The Trokeville Way ]. He is the class bully's target of abuse; he has a crush on the older sister of a friend, a girl he compares to the elusive beggar maid in a famous pre-Raphaelite painting; and he's smart enough to know that the world around him isn't always what it seems. Nick's perceptions change when he comes across a ne'er-do-well magician who tells him, "Winners get what they want and losers get what they deserve." The magician sizes Nick up and sells him a "juzzle," a gyroscope plus jigsaw puzzle that, when used in tandem, bring Nick into a surreal world called The Trokeville Way. There, everything is more than a bit off-kilter, beginning with the language: a bridge is a "brudge"; a forest is a "little would." More urgently, the people who loom largest to Nick—his parents, the bully, the older girl—have been blown off course, too. While they seem sturdy enough in the ordinary world, in Trokeville they wander in an almost dreamlike state, easily trapped by obstacles (i.e., not sure how to maintain their chosen direction in life). A new book by Hoban (The Mouse and His Child ; The Marzipan Pig ) will be welcomed by many, but the philosophical asides and existential regrets may be frustrating for young readers, who will find them digressive and incomprehensible in some cases. An overly neat ending and a general lack of plot and character development also prove disappointing. Ages 10-up.
TROUBLE ON THUNDER MOUNTAIN (1999)
GraceAnne A. De Candido (review date 1 June 2000)
SOURCE: De Candido, GraceAnne A. Review of Trouble on Thunder Mountain, by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Quentin Blake. Booklist 96, nos. 19-20 (1 June 2000): 1892.
Gr. 2-4—Both lighthearted and heavy-handed, [Trouble on Thunder Mountain, ] this cheeky fable pits the family O'Saurus against the developers of Mega-fright Mountain. Mom, Dad, and Jim O'Saurus, a cozy dinosaur family, live happily on Thunder Mountain with their vegetable patch. One day a letter arrives from J. M. Flatbrain, telling them that they've been displaced, and Thunder Mountain will be razed to make Megafright Mountain, a clean, tidy entertainment park with a Tunnel of Terror. The family packs up and moves out, but they have a plan to get their mountain back, which involves their buddies the ants and moles, and a lot of Monsta-Gloo. They reconstruct Thunder Mountain (behind a huge curtain), divert Megafright's parts to Endsville, and amply illustrate that people like real air, real mountains, and even real ants. The illustrations are in the endearingly goofy "high and wobbly fooling around" style that Quentin Blake made famous, and Mr. Flatbrain gets a fitting comeuppance in the text.
JIM'S LION (2001)
Cynthia Turnquest (review date 1 January 2002)
SOURCE: Turnquest, Cynthia. Review of Jim's Lion, by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Ian Andrew. Booklist 98, nos. 9-10 (1 January 2002): 865.
Gr. 2-4, younger with an adult—In [Jim's Lion, ] this oversize picture book for older children, Jim, who is very sick, is worried that if he is put to sleep during an operation that "the doctors might send me somewhere that I can't get back from." Friendly nurse Bami, from Africa, tells him about the "finder," an animal "in [his] head," that can look for him and bring him back. She teaches him to imagine a place that makes him feel good, where he will discover his finder. Then she presents him with a small gift that helps him face his fears and gather the courage to embrace his finder, a lion. Soft pastel illustrations, including a number of large close-ups, provide a gentle companion to this complex, touching story that will make a good springboard for discussing difficult questions about hospitalization and mortality.
Allison, Alida. "Living the Non-Mechanical Life: Russell Hoban's Metaphorical Wind-Up Toys." Children's Literature in Education 22, no. 3 (September 1991): 189-94.
Explores the roles and potential meanings of mechanical toys in Hoban's children's works.
Hoban, Russell, and Rhonda M. Bunbury. "‘Always a Dance Going on in the Stone’: An Interview with Russell Hoban." Children's Literature in Education 17, no. 3 (September 1986): 139-49.
Hoban discusses his evolution from didactic storyteller to philosophical novelist.
Hoban, Russell. "‘I, that was a child, my tongue's use sleeping ….’" In A Russell Hoban Omnibus, pp. 771-82. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1999.
Reprint of a 1984 speech in which Hoban discusses his childhood and his views on the "American Dream."
Mullen, R. D. "Dialect, Grapholect, and Story: Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker as Science Fiction." Science Fiction Studies 27, no. 3 (November 2000): 391-405.
Examination of Hoban's unique use of language in Riddley Walker.
Mustazza, Leonard. "Myth and History in Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker." Critique 31, no. 1 (fall 1989): 17-26.
Contends that Riddley Walker depicts a society on the verge of great change.
Additional coverage of Hoban's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale: Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction: Biography & Resources, Vol. 2; Children's Literature Review, Vols. 3, 69; Concise Major 21st-Century Writers, Ed. 1; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8R; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 23, 37, 66, 114, 138; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vols. 7, 25; Contemporary Novelists, Eds. 4, 5, 6, 7; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 52; DISCovering Authors Modules: Novelists; Literature Resource Center; Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults, Eds. 1, 2; Major 20th-Century Writers, Eds. 1, 2; Major 21st-Century Writers, Ed. 2005; St. James Guide to Children's Writers, Vol. 5; St. James Guide to Fantasy Writers; St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers, Ed. 4; Something about the Author, Vols. 1, 40, 78, 136; Supernatural Fiction Writers, Vol. 2; and Twayne Companion to Contemporary Literature in English Ed. 1:1.