Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker and Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange are both science fiction novels which explore similar questions about the underlying nature of humanity through visions of dystopian futures. Each novel features a unique form of English which is used not only as a language spoken within the novel but as the narration of the entire text. By utilizing transformed versions of English, both Hoban and Burgess are able to manipulate how the reader experiences the text, and create a unique framework through which the events of the novel are understood. The invented forms of English in each novel are also used by Hoban and Burgess to communicate ideas and details about the themes, motifs, and settings of their novels through unique neologisms, ironic references, and creative examples of wordplay.
Riddley Walker's narration is composed in a transformed and broken version of British English that the reader is thrust into from the opening sentences. Immediately after reading Riddley's description of his "naming day" (Hoban 1), where he "kilt a wyld boar....[that] come onto [his] spear"(Hoban 1) it becomes clear that the text of the novel disregards many grammatical rules - for instance, Hoban uses commas only when introducing speech within quotations, and most of Riddley's limited vocabulary, including small words and articles, has a phonetic spelling that would be incorrect by today's standards. The immediate effect of being confronted with such a warped form of English is confusion on behalf of the reader. Russell Hoban deconstructs the standard method of reading a novel, as instead of being able to discern immediately what is occurring within the novels plot, the reader has to tackle each word individually and try to create a rough understanding of Riddley's experience. Because of the inability to read Riddley Walker as most books are read, Hoban's invented form of English manages to successfully alienate the reader on the basis of linguistics alone. As Riddley's relative alienation within his community is expanded on after the death of his father, when "every 1 begun to look at [him] different" (26), the previously established estrangement of the reader allows them to identify with the protagonist, transforming their experience of the entire novel.
It is important to note that Riddley's broken English and minimalist style is not necessarily a detriment to the clarity of the text. Hoban manages to masterfully use the simplistic nature of Riddley's written communication to highlight the primal qualities of life within Riddley's world, and eventually communicate a theme within the novel that would be challenging for the reader to comprehend otherwise. A clear example of how the broken and sparse quality of Riddley's written expression transforms the reader's interpretation of events in the text is Riddley's father's death, where Riddley states that "he wer all smasht up you cudnt tel whose face it ben it mytve ben any bodys" (11). Brooder Walker dies in a gruesome manner - however, Hoban presents the description of his body in a straightforward manner, neither elaborating on his injuries nor skimming over the reality of them. The crudeness of Riddley's vocabulary also comes into effect here - the descriptors for the incident are graphic, yet the childlike spelling makes the reader unable to simply skim the passage. By doing so, Hoban forces the reader to confront the reality of Riddley's fathers' death, and demonstrates how, for Riddley Walker, the concept of death is placed into a unique context as a regular part of life, frightening but inevitable at the same time.
Just as Russell Hoban uses a broken version of the English language as the main text in Riddley Walker, Anthony Burgess creates a hybrid language in A Clockwork Orange that shapes the readers experience of the novel. Unlike the bare and simplistic text in Riddley Walker, however, Burgess' created language is chaotic and complex. Called "Nadsat", it is formed partially of standard English, and partially of fictitious slang based on Russian terms. The use of punctuation within Nadsat could be described as excessive, with frequently occurring long winded passages composed of run on sentences. While Riddley's use of English disarmed the reader by breaking grammar and spelling rules and forcing the reader to read closely to understand the message, A Clockwork Orange's Alex confronts the reader immediately with an overload of unfamiliar slang terms and loosely constructed narration. This can be seen in the opening paragraph of the novel, when Alex is describing a drug laced milk bar, and says "you could peet it with vellocet or synthemesc or drencrom or one or two other vesches which would give you a nice quiet horowshow fifteen minutes admiring Bog And All His Holy Angels and Saints in your left shoe with lights bursting all over your mozg" (Burgess 3).
However, regardless of the stylistic differences between Riddley's written style and Alex's, Alex's narration has a similar effect on the reader as Riddley's did. The reader is unable to completely understand what Alex is saying without taking time to analyse the individual words of the narration. To complicate this, Burgess's use of long sentences without breaks in combination with repeated Nadsat slang such as "viddied" (Burgess 12) and "devotchka" (Burgess 18) often leads to the reader becoming disoriented and confused. This state of chaos is mirrored in the character of Alex in much the same way that Riddley's alientation was mirrored in his narration.
Anthony Burgess takes advantage of the chaotic feeling of Nadsat to demonstrate a key aspect of Alex's world and his identity to the reader. In moments of intense violence in the novel, the chaotic aspect of Nadsat forces the reader to view the attacks from Alex's perspective rather than their own, and by extension demonstrates one of the novels themes. An example of this can be found in Alex's description of the assault of an elderly man:
"...we began to filly about with him. Pete held his rookers and Georgie sort of hooked his rot wide open for him and Dim yanked out his false zoobies, upper and lower... the old veck began to make sort of chumbling shooms - 'wuf waf wuf' so Georgie let go of holding his goobers apart and ust let him have one in the toothless rot with his ringy fist... then out comes the blood, my brothers..." (Burgess 7)
Throughout the description of the attack, words that have a light sound to them, such as "rookers", and "zoobies", are used to prevent the reader from fully grasping what is actually occurring until it is revealed in the final, climactic moment when the word "blood" is recognized by the reader. The fact that Alex's Nadsat language imposes a casual quality to actions which would otherwise be considered horrific highlights the ambiguous nature of Alex's humanity, which is one of the novels most prominent themes. Both Burgess and Hoban use their invented languages to mirror their protagonists and involve the readers in the story . However, the uses of their unique forms of English continue through out the text in
Russell Hoban's use of transformed English in Riddley Walker transcends the typified use as simply the means of telling a story, and instead makes it an integral part of the story itself. Through irony and wordplay, Hoban often exposes and highlighting ideas that he wishes to communicate directly to the reader. There are countless examples of this in the novel, some of which are repeated often and others that are more difficult to notice. Some of the most frequently mentioned examples of the hints for readers that Hoban hid in his fictitious language center around terms and identifying names whose meanings have been lost to Riddley's age.
As is evidenced through Riddley's interactions with the people of his town, terms that are associated with technology of today are a part of Riddley's society's language, although the meaning of the words have been warped. For example, "blip"(13) is often used to describe a significant or meaningful event ; "printowt" (171) is a term that is used to describe a conclusion one reaches or a decision that has been made; "program" (211) is used to refer to fate or lack of choice. The loss of the connection of these terms to their original meanings is something that Riddley is unaware of - to him, the origin of them is nothing beyond what he has known them to be used for. However, to the reader the origin of the terms are obvious, and Hoban's use of them acts as a signal to the reader to notice their significance. The prevalence of references to past technologies in Riddley's language, even though they have long since lost the knowledge of it, is evidence of the intense impact science had on the Eusa people who were fabled to have caused the "1 Big 1" that destroyed civilization. As well, the frequent references of science, although Riddley is unaware of them, reinforce the novel's central idea that knowledge beyond what needs to be known ultimately leads to man's destruction, an idea which Hoban proves with Goodparley's death at the climax of the novel.
Hoban's use of naming as an opportunity for irony also showcases clues about the meanings of certain character or ideas to the reader. The Eusa Story is a clear example of this, as Eusa's name can be taken as a reference to the U.S.A, or Saint Eustace. Each of these references imply ideas to the reader that directly relate to the novel's themes - the United States's association with scientific advancement reinforces the idea that science is responsible for the 1 Big 1, while the legend of Eustace, who underwent many hardships while being tested by God, features a lion and a wolf as characters who rob Eustace of his children. This idea directly relates to the original Eusa story, when Eusa's children leave him by following the dogs and "they wun luk bak" (Hoban 34) . It's clear that the language Hoban uses in Riddley Walker has a lot of complexities to it, and by investigating the specific terms Hoban uses
Like Russell Hoban, Anthony Burgess uses wordplay, and particularly focuses on irony, in order to convey hints to his readers about the society Alex lives in. The most frequently mentioned of Burgess's ironic wordplay is found Alex's slang and colloquialisms. As an extension of the way Nadsat camouflages the violent nature of Alex's behaviour from the reader at first glace, many of Alex's commonly used descriptors are terms whose apparent definitions are used ironically. For instance, when beating on an old man, Alex remarks that he "cracked him with a few good horrorshow tolchocks" (Burgess 12). The word "horrorshow" is used by Alex frequently to describe something he finds particularly wonderful or enjoyable. The contrast between Alex's definition of the word and the one the reader identifies with it adds to the chaos of the novel's atmosphere, but also suggests a feeling of backwardness to the reader. This idea directly relates to the novels central discussion of good and evil.
Both Riddley Walker, by Russell Hoban, and A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess, are dystopian novels written in transformed versions of the English language. Hoban and Burgess use the structure and style of their languages to manipulate the reader's views of the text and communicate feelings of alienation and chaos that allow their audience to connect with their protagonists. Additionally, both authors infused their invented languages with ironic examples of word play which, upon investigation, reveal important aspects of the novel's themes, motifs and settings.