Riddley Walker concerns the efforts of leaders in post-holocaust England to recapture what they perceive to be the glories of civilization destroyed by what the reader knows to have been nuclear war. Unfortunately, the leaders do not realize what the reader knows, and their efforts to reclaim past glories focus, ironically, on reconstructing the invention that led to the destruction of civilization: the atomic bomb. The novel’s young hero, Riddley Walker, must decide what part he will play in these efforts.
The novel begins with Riddley, as a twelve-year-old member of a hunting party, killing a wild boar that seems about to throw itself on Riddley’s spear. This is the first but not last of the almost mystical phenomena associated with Riddley. It is this aura of specialness that causes Abel Goodparley, leader of the ruling party, to seek out Riddley to be the new “Eusa man,” a traveling performer who puts on the “Eusa Show.” This puppet show contains the culture’s prime myth and tells the story—in allegorical terms—of how the old glorious culture was destroyed. Riddley also is sought out by a mysterious pack of wild dogs who seem intent on leading him away from Goodparley and toward some unknown end.
Not quite willingly, he follows the dogs, who lead him to the Ardship of Cambry, an eyeless boy living in the ruins of a once-great city. His Ardship and other young maimed men much like himself apparently are...
(The entire section is 437 words.)