Quentin Blake has turned his iconic illustration style gritty for the latest Folio Society book

All illustrations by Quentin Blake from The Folio Society edition of Riddley Walker. © Quentin Blake

The Folio Society has released limited edition copies of Russell Hoban’s dystopic classic Riddley Walker featuring the iconic artwork by much-loved illustrator and long-term collaborator with Russell, Sir Quentin Blake.

Even if you do not recognise the name, you may still recognise Quentin Blake’s work – particularly if you're a fan of Roald Dahl. It’s hard to imagine classics like The Witches, Matilda, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory without instantly recalling Quentin’s wild and childlike ink drawings and soft colour washes.

Those who grew up with Quentin’s illustrations can now see him evoke grittier and darker themes with the Folio edition of Riddley Walker. Russell’s critically acclaimed science-fiction novel, originally released in 1980, imagines a post-apocalyptic England after a nuclear calamity. Set 2,500 years into the future, Hoban conjures a society in disarray: people live in fenced settlements, the government communicates through traveling puppet shows, and the English language has devolved into a broken patois called Riddleyspeak. 

In fact, the whole book is narrated in Riddleyspeak by the titular protagonist. He introduces himself with: “Walker is my name and I am the same. Riddley Walker. Walking my riddles where ever they’ve took me and walking them now on this paper the same”. The Folio edition of the novel will also include Russell Hoban’s A Short Guide to Riddleyspeak

While Quentin preserves his beloved artistic style for Riddley Walker, he also swerves towards a starker and more desolate tone to better suit the ethos of the novel. We see landscapes overpowering figures, eyeless and noseless mutants, menacing characters and torture victims. Folio is only releasing 1,000 copies of this edition - all which will be numbered and signed by Quentin – containing 39 illustrations by the artist. 

Quentin’s illustrations for Russell began four decades ago with How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen and continued through to Russell's final tale, Rosie’s Magic Horse, in 2011. 

Riddley Walker will also be the latest addition to The Folio Society’s recent upswing in dystopian, fantasy, and science fiction releases. Other classics include Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, Frank Herbert’s Dune and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods

From canon literature, to cult favourites, to philosophy and children’s fiction, The Folio Society showcases the stunning artworks of international illustrators - just take a look at Dave McKean’s illustrations for American Gods and Federico Infante’s work for Lolita.

The Folio Society relishes the timelessness of books. They write, “We offer the reader an opportunity to pause and reflect; to spend time appreciating beauty and wisdom. The books we select for publication are timeless – and in the editions we produce, they will be enjoyed and valued now and in generations to come.” This certainly rings true for what they have done with Riddley Walker, which comes packaged in a clothbound slipcase and features more of Quentin Blake’s art on the cover. 

Whether or not a post-apocalyptic future awaits us, fans will undoubtedly continue to cherish Sir Quentin Blake’s provocative style and imagination.

Buy a limited edition Riddley Walker for the launch price of £265 / US$475 from The Folio Society

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