“Listeners be warned. There is a murderer in our midst.
Oh, wow, sorry that was megadramatic of me. Let me start off with some pleasantries. Hi. I’m Cecil. Welcome to my show on Night Vale Community Radio. Got some news and stuff coming up later. How are things going with you?”
Does this sound like the voice of your local public radio host? If not, it’s because Cecil, the heart and soul of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast (created by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor) and its book adaptations (Harper Perennial), has a far more familiar relationship with his listeners than real life radio hosts.
As the audience surrogate into the weird, “Twin Peaks”-on-steroids world of Night Vale, Cecil is at once established as an authority on the town, and both a fly-on-the-wall observer and active participant in its politics and conflicts. Volume 3 of the book adaptations, The Buying of Lot 37, opens with two hooks carried over from the previous volumes: the first is that Cecil’s boyfriend, the highly likable scientist Carlos, has disappeared and is trapped in the “desert otherworld.”
The other is that Item 37, which is, absurdly, Cecil himself, has been sold at auction to an unknown buyer. Confused? That’s okay! While you could go back and read Volumes 1 and 2, titled Mostly Void, Partially Stars and The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe, respectively, Cecil’s narration at the start of Volume 3 does a great job catching up returning readers and initiating new ones.
The world of Night Vale is a curious approximation of our own, differentiated by surreal elements such as the ever-present (and hardly secret) Secret Police but grounded by realistic relationships and cultural allusions—Norah Jones exists in-universe, as does Sir Mix-a-Lot.
The storytelling style is a mix of serialized, long-form stories that run between episodes and volumes and funny non-sequiturs that serve to demonstrate just how damn weird this town is. This makes Volumes 3 and 4 accessible for those who’ve never dipped their toes in the waters of Night Vale before but also allows longtime fans to notice patterns in the series’ formula.
Starting with Volume 3, the episodes in these collections delve deeper into character work than ever before. Cecil is a man in the midst of multiple major life crises, yet life goes on. He has to go into work and deliver the news to all those tuned in to Night Vale Community Radio. This brings a degree of normalcy to the absurdist fever dream that is life in this town, even if the news Cecil is delivering concerns things like an enigmatic dog park—a dog park teased in the very first episode of the series, and finally given closure in Volume 4 (Who’s a Good Boy?).
With so many narrative threads weaving through Welcome to Night Vale, it’s easy to forget about plot elements or write them off as things that will never be resolved. Non-sequiturs can either be just that, non-sequiturs, or seeds that Fink and Cranor have planted, to be elaborated on later. If you’re comfortable jumping into the fray, pick up Volumes 3 and 4. You can always retrace your steps and visit Night Vale from the first episode onward later.
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