From PodCast to Page: The Welcome to Night Vale Novel
By Sheila O’Neill
Back in October, I noticed that a package had arrived at my home, containing a book inscribed with the words Welcome to Night Vale A Novel. In the unlikely event that my perception of the world is in line with reality, I must conclude that such a novel exists. And, having since read it, I must conclude that it is good. Here is why.
Welcome to Night Vale began as a podcast in 2012, created and written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor and performed by Cecil Baldwin. The podcast mimics the style of community radio, as Cecil tells his listeners about the news, the weather, community events, and so on. If you’re familiar with either actual community radio, or Garrison Keillor’s News from Lake Wobegon, you understand what I’m talking about. The difference here is the town of Night Vale itself, where the dog park is forbidden, helicopters occasionally abduct children, and hooded figures roam the streets. (Do not approach the hooded figures.) It’s essentially a place where every conspiracy theory is true. And through the podcast, our window into this town is the calming voice of Cecil, describing the news of the day.
But this is not the case with the novel. While there are several “Voice of Night Vale” sections written in the style of the community radio broadcast, most of the novel follows the interconnected stories of two denizens of Night Vale: Jackie Fierro & Diane Crayton, as they deal with the problems caused by a mysterious man in a tan jacket. Jackie is a teenager who runs a pawn shop and Diane is a single mother, struggling to connect with her son. The relatable characteristics the women have and problems they face in their everyday lives help the reader find an entry point into the strange events of the plot, as Jackie and Diane must, each for their own reasons, find a way to get to King City.
This relate-ability is important, because the novel isn’t just for fans of the podcast. The book stands on its own, explaining the town in such a way that interlopers newcomers can understand what’s going on, while long-time Night Vale fans should find the explanations pleasantly familiar (rather than boring or repetitive). Do you know nothing about the glow cloud, or angels, or the city council? Good. You are not supposed to know about these things. And you do not need to know them in order to enjoy the book.
Beyond the quality weirdness, vivid imagery, and occasional emotional punches, the novel is also noteworthy for its representation of sexual orientation. It’s subtle (which is a large part of what makes it so good) but one great thing about Night Vale is the fact that none of the characters treat heterosexuality as default. It’s never an issue or even a noteworthy fact that Cecil is gay. Diane wonders if her son is romantically interested in any girls or boys. It almost defeats the purpose to point it out specifically, but with heteronormativity still running rampant in our culture, it’s refreshing to see someone handling it right.
There are many books and podcasts out there, and a lot of them are good. But what makes Welcome to Night Vale special is how much it draws people in. What started as a small podcast now has a large enough fanbase to go on International tours. And the fans themselves are incredibly devoted. A quick search for “Welcome to Night Vale fan art,” brings up pages upon pages of results. The Amazon reviews for the novel include several creative reviews written in the style of the show. Talented people find Night Vale and feel compelled to use their talent to express how this thing makes them feel. Fans of Night Vale don’t just listen to a podcast or read a book. They become enthralled by the world that Fink and Cranor have created: a world that’s as deep and rich as it is strange and frightening, full of interesting characters and secrets. Some secrets that we get to be in on and some that are better left unknown. The podcast has always been captivating and now it has become a book that will keep you turning the pages.
All in all, it’s a quiet, desert novel where the story is hot, the characters are beautiful, and both newcomers and fans can appreciate the mysterious lights passing overhead while we all pretend to sleep. Welcome to Night Vale is a novel worth your time, however limited that time may be. Whether you read it on the flesh of dead trees, as a series of ones and zeros, or forgo reading altogether and get the audiobook (which is read by the voice of Night Vale himself, Cecil Baldwin), you’re sure to enjoy it. And, as always, good night, readers. Good night.