You guys—you guys—have you heard the Night Vale podcasts, yet?
Those twenty-minute combos of Dot’s homegrown radio hour from Fried Green Tomatoes* and Lovecraft’s subconscious , performed in low, soothing tones reminiscent of that guy in Good Morning Vietnam whose show was right before Robin William’s? The ones with the five-headed dragon being hunted by the Sheriff’s secret police for insurance fraud and Rico’s Pizza and angels and hovercats and the Glow Cloud (which just is)?
Those of you who are nodding and/or looking smug right now—yeah, you—why didn’t you tell me?
“Saturday, the public library will be unknowable. Citizens will forget the existence of the library from 6am Saturday morning until 11pm that night. The library will be under a sort of renovation. It is not important what kind of renovation.”
(Episode two: “The Glow Cloud”)
I first heard about Night Vale from an image posted on Celeste Doodles. It was an artistic concept of Cecil Baldwin, the deep-voiced host of the town’s community news radio program, which is the general premise of each podcast.
Anything Celeste draws that I don’t immediately understand is sure to be worth the research time, so I googled it and was immediately intrigued by the whole idea of this strange desert town, whose citizens choose to live there for the same reason people live on the side of active volcanoes, but with more in the way of elder gods and feral librarians.
“A friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep. Welcome to Night Vale.”
(Episode one: “Pilot”)
I started noticing references to Night Vale from multiple sources, including a great review on Tor.com, but for one reason or another, I never got around to listening to it. Approximately ninety percent of my time is spent sitting still, yes, but I’m generally also doing things that don’t mix well with radio shows, or I’m in the company of library supervisors and/or small children who also don’t mix well.
So it wasn’t until this past weekend, while I was setting up my new eeeBox (about which more later, to the tune of “Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush”) and messing with cords and apps and applications that would apparently take somewhere between eleven minutes and twelve hours to install (All Hail Microsoft), that I realized that I finally had time to give Night Vale the attention everyone said it deserved.
So I downloaded the pilot on my laptop and had a listen.
And fell in love.
“Listeners, we are currently fielding numerous reports that books have stopped working. It seems that all over Night Vale, books have simply ceased functioning. The scientists are studying one of the broken books to see if they can understand just what is going on here. The exact problem is currently unclear, but some of the words being used include ‘sparks,’ ‘meat smell,’ ‘biting,’ and ‘lethal gas.’
For your own safety, please do not attempt to open a book until we have more information on the nature and cause of these problems. The city council has released only a brief statement, indicating that their stance on books has not changed, and that, as always, they believe that books are dangerous and inadvisable, and should not be kept in private homes.”
(Episode 3: “Station Management”)
This town is the Mayberry of Fox Mulder’s wildest dreams.
It has bake sales (for blood space wars) and PTA meetings and pteranodon attacks (at the PTA meetings) and City Council Elections that involve benign hostage-taking, and devastating earthquakes that no one feels, and a dog park that is forbidden to all, six extra boy scout levels after Eagle—including Blood Pact Scout and Dreadnaught Scout—and a secret police force that offers stop sign immunity in exchange for community assistance.
It also has Cecil Baldwin, our velvet-voice conduit to Night Vale.
“Hello, radio audience. I come to you live from under my desk, where I have dragged my microphone and am currently in the fetal position.”
(Episode Three: “Station Management”)
Part journalist, part commentator, part cheerleader, part early warning system—and preternaturally calm in the face of anything but contract negotiations and barbers who dare to touch the perfect hair of his beloved—Cecil welcomes us to his small town and provides community announcements, news items, social commentary and sensible precautionary advice for surviving the various quirks of Night Vale life.
The weather reports—which non-residents might call states of mind, set to music**—are particularly catchy:
(there’s a YouTube Channel for the rest of the reports, too)
Of course, it isn’t all Shabbith-Ka sightings at the supermarket.*** Night Vale has the same struggles as any small American town:
“The Night Vale Daily Journal has announced that they will be cutting back their publication schedule to Monday through Thursday only, due to the economic downturn and a massive decline in the literate population . . .”
Though the stories always have that special touch of local color:
” . . . The Thursday Daily Journal will now be called the Weekend Edition, and on Sundays, newspaper kiosks usually filled with important newsprint will be filled with 2% milk. When asked why milk, the Journal’s publishing editor Leanne Hart said, “It is important that we maintain an unbiased approach to news reporting.”
(Episode Three: “Station Management”)
But it’s Cecil’s personality and personal commentary—plus his blatant adoration of the exquisitely-coiffed scientist Carlos, who arrives in the first episode to study Night Vale’s oddities, as so many have previously attempted—that allow us to accept and embrace his home town, a place that seems to be an extreme testing ground for the adaptability of the minds, bodies, spirits, and souls of the
huma—the bipedal— the various sentient(ish) species who make it their home.
“Night Vale is an ancient place, full of history and secrets, as we were reminded today. But it is also a place of the present moment, full of life, and of us. If you can hear my voice, speaking live, then you know: We are not history yet. We are happening now. How miraculous is that?”
(Episode Four: “PTA Meeting”)
I remember reading somewhere that one of the reasons Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor wrote these scripts was to get people to read more stuff by H. P. Lovecraft, who is mentioned in the production credits in the end of each show.^
This is a noble cause and I fully support it, but I’m getting something from these podcasts that Lovecraft rarely, if ever, put in his stories: a sense of community and hope.
After all, if Cecil can survive and thrive , find love, and even detect the silver
stomach linings of the deepest dark^^ in a place like Night Vale . . . than maybe we can, too, wherever we happen to be.
And have a laugh or two while we’re at it.
Give these a try, please, and tell me what you think.
Some of the transcripts are available here, it text is better for you, but if you can, please listen—Cecil’s delivery is half the awesome.
I can’t wait to get to episode twenty: “Poetry Week”!
*In the book, not the movie. Yes, there’s a book. Go find it, it’s good.
**This is more or less my personal definition of weather, anyway.
***I’m making that up, though I’m only up to the fourth episode, so who knows? If I remember my Lovecraft correctly—which is something I don’t normally try to do—there have been quite a few cameos already.
^Don’t skip these—you don’t want to miss the moral!
^^Again, not yet. But I have my suspicions.