A friendly desert community

Cover artwork by maXKennedy on DeviantArt

A friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep…—Cecil Palmer, Welcome to Night Vale, “1 — Pilot”

These words, said in that Voice, had me hooked immediately. I started listening to this podcast as I had just finished Serial and I was looking for something else: like most of us I googled “best podcasts to listen to” and this popped up.

I stayed listening to this podcast through its some 150-odd episodes, several live performances and four books due to its unique blend of comedy and horror; and the fact that you become so invested in this almost Lovecraftian desert community that you find yourself either grinning and laughing along with the announcements or waiting with baited breath as you are told that the Street Cleaners are passing by the Radio Station.

Also be warned that penalties for overdue library books have skyrocketed to 50 cents per day, and, after 30 days, jaw mutilation.—Cecil Palmer, Welcome to Night Vale, “10 — Feral Dogs”

The Voice of Night Vale is Cecil Palmer, and when you hear those words you know the “Voice” is capitalised even though he is reading you the news or giving you editorials on why mountains don’t exist. You can tell that he is weaving his will through this community and what he says is — or becomes — real by the sheer fact that he said it out loud. This just adds another depth to the whole thing, with the listener trying to figure out if what transpired occurred before or after it was said.

Welcome to Night Vale is a community radio show: it contains the usual community calendar, sports games announcements, traffic news, sponsors, updates from the sheriff’s secret police and the weather. All of it contains a twist of ‘other’ that is woven so well and thoroughly into the narrative and make-up of this town that you don’t find what you are being told unusual until you try and explain it to someone and end up mentioning the words ‘The Faceless Old Woman who secretly lives in your home’ like it is not odd.

The unique way they do the weather is something I haven’t come across before. I don’t know if this is just me or the creators are just that good — how you can tell the weather from a song, I have no idea — but every new weather I listen to I get a sense of what the weather would actually be telling me if this wasn’t “the most scientifically interesting town in America”.

Are we living a life that is safe from harm? Of course not. We never are. But that’s not the right question. The question is are we living a life that is worth the harm?—Cecil Palmer, Welcome to Night Vale, “46 — The Parade”

Over the episodes you come to know the other members of this odd little town and get caught up in their everyday lives: even if their lives have that tinge of horror and terror that your brain can’t quite work out. Also, no community would be without a beloved love story and while I usually don’t go in for all of that this one makes you sit up, listen and root for them the entire way.

The journey of the two characters through this love story is sweet, and comes with difficulties. Although we might never face, for example, the possibility of falling down into a tiny city under one of the lanes at the local bowling alley, those difficulties do come with underlying sentiments that we can relate to. The regret of saying something in the heat of an argument, feeling like you aren’t understood, and also those other moments. Whether it be sitting at an Arby’s and watching the mysterious lights overhead or sitting on your local park bench, that peace you feel when you are with your partner can be felt through Welcome to Night Vale as it weaves its tale.

At the end of each episode there is a little monologue. Some of them are truly profound; others just make me smile for a little as Cecil signs off; some make me breathe a little easier through my anxiety and stress; others make me cry a little at the beauty of the words. All of them leave me with a sense of thoughtfulness, and wanting for the next episode.

Everything about him, and us, and all of this is imperfect. And those imperfections in our reality are the seams and cracks into which our outsized love can seep and pool. — Cecil Palmer, Welcome to Night Vale, “31.5 — Condos”

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