There’s No Place like Night Vale

Image Credit: CommonPlace Books

Image Credit: CommonPlace Books

Listening to the smooth and calming monotone voice of Cecil Baldwin, you are convinced that you have been catapulted into a parallel world.

Instead of imagining witches, munchkins, and ruby slippers, you are informed of lurking dark hooded figures that regularly eat at the local pizzeria, of interns constantly disappearing, and of a mysterious glowing cloud that emerges and hovers over the town. Although this is all a bit abnormal, you discover that this is not a different dimension. These are some of the normal occurrences and inhabitants of the small desert town, Night Vale, located in the American southwest.

Welcome to Night Vale, is a twice-monthly podcast written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, and published by Commonplace Books. It is framed as a radio show that purportedly contains local news, weather, and announcements or updates for the Night Vale community.  Though the spotlight typically falls on Cecil, the public face of Night Vale’s radio journalism, Welcome to Night Vale has featured a few guest voices. They have featured Mara Wilson as the Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home, Jasika Nicole as Intern Dana, and Molly Quinn as Fay, the sentient computer. These characters help flesh out Night Vale and lend us insight into Cecil’s personality and his place in the town.

Welcome to Night Vale began in June 2012 and has gained quite a following. This should not be surprising since the episodes never cease to surprise. The writing is impeccable, the series’ strong suit. The descriptions have a tendency to form a mirage and even though you know that it’s an illusion, the crisp and concise phrases grasp your imagination and transform the words into something real and concrete.

Proof of their distinctive terminology can be found in the first episode, spoken by Cecil of course, “A friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep.” The words are simple but this combination alludes to a deeper rooted meaning.  One can only ask, what is this place?

Image Credit: Calvin P.

Image Credit: Calvin P.

Since Cecil only gives you ambiguous descriptions of the town and its normal inhabitants, much of what Night Vale and the characters actually look like is left to the fans’ imaginations. The series has an enthusiastic following dedicated to depicting just what the inscrutable obelisks and screaming rocks in the desert might look like.

Critical reception has been similarly positive.  Sarah Dobbs, a writer from the website Den of Geek, raves that, “It’s an amazingly imaginative work of fiction, full of ideas that’ll make you laugh or shiver – or both.”1 Amelia Roberts, a writer for the online magazine The Artifice, dedicated an article to explaining the top ten reasons on why you should listen to the podcast. She exclaims, “There is no single film, book, game, TV or radio show, let alone a podcast, that comes close to what Welcome to Night Vale achieves…”2 It might take awhile to get used to the taste of this strange fruit, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself looking forward to the next time you hear a certain certain radio journalist utter the phrase, “Welcome to Night Vale.”




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