SparkNotes Blog

The 5 Biggest Theories About Welcome to Night Vale

So the Welcome to Night Vale book has been out for a while now, giving you the opportunity to douse yourself in the innards of the most brilliant podcast to ever exist (A DELICIOUS 80 EPISODES). But even if you have earned your Eternal Scout patch and gone deep into the viscera and bones of the fandom, it’s highly likely you still don’t entirely know what’s going on.

We are not about to help that. Equip yourself with some chamomile tea and a lavender eye pillow, because you’re in for a headache, minor memory loss, and a spontaneous taste memory that will make you feel unexplained nostalgia for that time you shared a look with a stranger who was reading the same book as you, only upside down and in a language you did not recognize. WE ARE ABOUT TO EXPLORE THE MOST MIND-MELTING FAN THEORIES ABOUT WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE.

WARNING: if you are not up to date with all of the Welcome to Night Vale podcasts, this post may contain the dangerous predators known as spoilers, which feed off the human joy of exploration.

Theory #1: Night Vale is an experiment, or the result of one.

This theory makes a lot of sense. But we need specifics! *shakes fist* We actually get them in the Pilot episode. Isolated from the world—almost outlawed—it’s totally viable that Night Vale acts as an extended social experiment (Divergent anyone?). In fact, who’s to say that our favorite scientist, who mysteriously appears from the University of What It Is, isn’t there to check up on the proceedings of the project?

A more extreme variation on this theory is that Night Vale is the result of a nuclear accident during an experiment. In episode 40, The Deft Bowman, Night Vale gets an unexpected visit from Nulogorsk, its sister city in Russia—unexpected because the visitor comes via a submarine to a town in the middle of a desert, sure, but also because Nulogorsk was supposedly destroyed by nuclear attacks in 1983 (a cheeky reference to Able Archer). Some theories hold that Nulogorsk and Night Vale are sister towns by the way of being so completely wiped out by nuclear bombing (cue some serious timey-wimey stuff) that some of their timelines got wiped. While Nulogorsk’s timeline is stuck on a loop and will always take plq 1983, Night Vale’s timeline reset almost instantly and continued on (which would explain some of the unusual events and behaviors.

The nuclear radiation caused mutations in humans and animals (give it up for Khoshekh, our favorite feline!), as well as deviations in time, space, and perhaps moral perception. The theory is explored in a bit more detail here. Note that Night Vale is also sister towns with Desert Bluffs, and so the theory could be applied to their despised neighbors to some degree. Could Desert Bluffs be a control group to Night Vale’s experiment or vice versa? The next theory is almost an afterthought of this one.


Theory #2: The Smiling God is the nuclear explosion itself.

Remember how Kevin’s eyes are burnt out? Well it’s actually possible this ties in with the nuclear experiment concept. Above, I talked about the effects of radiation on the general area of Night Vale and Desert Bluffs, but what of the actual explosion itself? In A Story About Them (Episode 45), we hear that “the light is alive, and malicious, and vast, and encroaching. It buzzes and shines, and everything about it hurts those that are close to it, and destroys those who are within it… It is a Smiling God of terrible power and ceaseless appetite” (thanks Night Vale Wikia!) Doesn’t that sound a hell lot like a nuclear blast? We have numerous mentions of various characters staring into “the sun” for unusual amounts of time (think Pamela Winchell in #18 and John Peters in #74), but we also hear of the sun behaving somewhat oddly (at least to us)—setting rather loudly and at varying times, not to mention multiplying in Water Failure (#60).

Let’s go back to the theory that Night Vale’s timeline has being reset, while Nulogorsk’s is stuck in a time loop. Since in The Deft Bowman, something from Nulogorsk eventually makes its way out of the loop, it is possible that somehow those sister lands exist in the same planes of time, while post-nuclear time-distortion effects allow the nuclear missiles to return again and again out of sync with time, noisily replacing the sun every morning.

Kevin fits right into this theory: his eyes have most likely been burnt out by one of the Smiling God missiles, which continuously return, with “a ceaseless appetite.” Kevin and Steve (DAMN YOU STEVE CARLSBERG) have offered up some tidbits about general transparency and underground missile testing sites in the blog, which in turn gave rise to the loop theory, so it’s actually very uncanny how much sense it makes. Neat!

Tyrine Carver

Theory #3: Night Vale and Desert Bluffs are actually the same town.

There are many takes on this theory, some more complicated than others, but because we’ve just gone through the whole shattered timeline ordeal (tbh more convoluted than the Sherlock special), we’re going to go with one that’s a bit easier on the brain cells, but no less cool!

It’s pretty obvious that there are numerous parallels between Night Vale and Desert Bluffs, but at the same time they couldn’t be any more different. Even in fan art, the general canon is that Night Vale likes its purples, while Desert Bluffs strays towards the Smiling God yellows; Kevin generally elicits a sense of eerie ickiness, while Cecil is usually a source of fuzzy affection. So what on earth could make us think the two were the same place?

Well the most obvious associations between the towns’ colors are day and night, right? I mean duh, Night Vale after all. So what if we’re to assume that each of them exists in its own set of shades because one is a day version and the other is a night version of the same town? As proposed by scotsomighty in another Welcome to Night Vale theory blog, Night Vale and Desert Bluffs could in fact just be names for varying perspectives of the same town, dependent on the position and influence of the sun\Smiling God. After all, every Night Vale broadcast seems to take place in the late evening, with several mentions of Cecil going back home late to Carlos so they can watch documentaries. If we compare The Sandstorm 19A & B, we never get a clear indication of which part of the day Cecil starts his broadcast on, while Kevin clearly states that his broadcast is happening during the day. And of course we have the famous Cecil farewell (“Goodnight Night Vale, good night.”) as opposed to Kevin’s (“Until next time.”). Also, Desert Bluffs is described as “Greater Desert Bluffs Metropolitan Area,” suggesting it’s bigger than Night Vale and you know, skyscrapers. Just like scotsomighty suggested, it could actually be a case of the sun\Smiling God stretching out the shadows of the buildings and changing the perspectives of the town and the people who live in it, so that when the sun goes down, it again turns into the tiny town of Night Vale.

Theory #4: The ancient society of radio management play a larger role, and intern mortality is no coincidence.

After having looked into the Intern Theory posed by Theories of Night Vale, I couldn’t help but come up with a little theory of my own. By now everyone, including Cecil, has come to terms with the fact that death is just a casual occupational hazard while interning at Night Vale Community Radio. But there are exactly three interns who have been specifically named as to have survived the Night Vale Community Radio Internship: Cecil, Dana and Maureen. Why is that?

As we have been already informed, Cecil’s role as the Voice of Night Vale was orchestrated well in advance. In Cassette (#33), we find out that Cecil was always meant to replace Lenard Burton as the host of Night Vale Radio. One day he looked into the mirror and we can suppose that right at that moment his destiny was fulfilled and the ancient spirit of the Voice possessed him, anointing him the new Host. This explanation is full of unintentional ambiguities, as he becomes not only a radio host but also a Host for a heritage of Radio legacy; moreover, the ancient spirit—station management—seems almost equivalent to a secretive, Illuminati-like society, striving to maintain balance in the world of radio. Or perhaps Radio, since these guys don’t mess around.

It doesn’t seem like it’s just radio they’re involved with though. Dana? She remains a massive question for cause and effect. Did she survive the internship because she was destined to be mayor, or she was chosen to be mayor because she survived the internship and managed to find her way round the Desert Otherworld? If it’s the former, that would mean that station management was in communication with other similar “societies,” like the Hidden Gorge, which influence the destinies of Night Vale’s residents.

Then we have Maureen. As of yet, nothing significant has happened to her, although the last time we saw her (A New Sheriff in Town, #80), she was in the company of a previously unknown man who Cecil was very disapproving of. Could this inclusion in the elite club of Night Vale Community Radio Internship Survivors mean great things to come for Maureen?

Meadow Rue

Theory #5: The theory that breaks your heart.

I left this for last because I kind of hate it, but also love it because MY GOD THE DAMN FEELS, it’s so cute. In a way. According to a certain tumblr user, it’s possible that Carlos isn’t real. Believing such an outlandish theory and relegating Carlos to the realm of the imagined is as attractive a proposition as forgiving Telly the Barber for his abhorrent crimes against the luscious locks of Carlos’s prematurely but sophisticate grey hair (I have this secondary theory that this is exactly why the person’s Tumblr is no longer available—they didn’t want to share Telly’s fate of ostracism). I JUST DON’T WANT TO BELIEVE THIS THEORY.

But it’s worth entertaining for the sake of… well, mind-crunches. Following the affairs-that-never-quite-happened while he was in Europe, Cecil invented Carlos to complete his life in Night Vale. In support of this, it *does* seem a bit odd that no one seemed to object to Carlos sticking his perfectly sculpted, outsider nose into Night Vale business. And a beloved radio host with an imaginary boyfriend wouldn’t be the weirdest thing to happen to the in town, so I can see Cecil’s fans just going along with it.

In The Traveler (#18), we’re made aware of the existence of the Sheriff’s Secret Police’s Manual on Interlopers, which clearly advises against any interaction with or acknowledgement of outsiders (since Night Vale is pretty hard to actually get to, so those who do actually get there are probably hella shady). That said, how is it that Carlos bears so much resemblance to the Guglielmo Marconi that Cecil met while on his trip to Europe? If we remain in denial of Carlos not being real (and I think I’ll probably stick around), I think there might be some deeper destiny thing going on. Someone *cough*station management*cough* might be aware of Cecil’s quiet loneliness and working to keep him happy for the sake of some greater (subjective) good.

In terms of the other aspects of the theory, it just really rings a reluctant bell with me that Carlos only ever talks in vague science-y terms when trying to explain something scientific. You never actually find out what kind of a scientist he specifically is, other than “a scientist.” Oh, okay.

As a side note on Carlos, Theories of Night Vale explores a theory about Carlos’s evil double, Diego. The theory was written up a while ago and since then, we have seen a reunion between Cecil and Carlos, who returned from the Desert Otherworld. But what gets me suspicious is that I was under the impression Carlos was on his way to tell Cecil that he will be devoting his life to science. That was my initial impression, but this part IS highly ambiguous, because really, since Kevin was sad about what he read in the letter, it could actually be science that Carlos was abandoning. But if I suspend my initial impression for a moment, what changed Carlos’s mind so suddenly? We don’t know what happened to him on the way between the Desert Otherworld and Night Vale, but the theory that an argument between Cecil and Carlos would be a sign that Diego has taken over gives me a mad case of the sad purples. The letter isn’t exactly an argument, but it’s a sign that things were no longer as perfect as they should be between Carlos and Cecil. So is the Carlos that is currently in Night Vale with Cecil the real Carlos?

Addendum: What does Cecil actually do during the weather? 

This. Definitely this.

Also, just what is the deal with Cecil constantly changing the topic when Earl asks him about the year they graduated?! Answers on postcards, please. Or just the comments section.


All images are used with permission from the artist.