The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (THHGTTG), the first book in the science fiction series has been around since 1979. It was followed by The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Life, the Universe and Everything, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, and Mostly Harmless, the last in the series in 1992.
I had not read any of them until a few months ago, and I will never forgive myself for this outrage. You see, such have I revelled in the experience, that I’m absolutely certain that I would have read the entire series, a few times by now, had I bothered to make the effort even a few years ago, before the Hollywood film adaptation was released.
There’s not much of a plot in any of the books in the series. It chronicles the mis-adventures of a wacky bunch of characters, both earthlings and aliens, through multiple dimensions of space and time. And it’s flipping hilarious.
But that’s not the reason I found it hard to put down, until I had finished reading them all consecutively, over a period of a few weeks. And it was not because of the most improbable cast of characters ever to have been dreamt up: Arthur Dent the clueless Englishman, Ford Prefect the alien from the vicinity of Betelgeuse who travels the galaxy posting ridiculous facts about the places he visits in the guidebook of the title, Zaphod Beeblebrox a two-headed alien, Trillian, another earthling, Marvin the Paranoid Android, Slartibartfast of the planet-building planet Magrathea, who designs coastlines, Zarquon the prophet, Wonko the Sane another earthling, Random Dent, Arther’s daughter through a sperm donation, Protestnic Vogon Jeltz the Vogon captain hell-bent on destroying earth, Old Thrashbarg a shaman from the planet Lamuella, Oolon Colluphid the famous author of such books as Where God went Wrong, Some More of God’s Mistakes and Who Is This God Person Anyway? and many, many more.
But apart from the characters, you will come across some of the strangest places in the galaxy: the Folfanga star system, Frogstar World A, B and C, the Megabrantus Cluster where the Vogons hail from, the Squornshellous star system, the Ydsdllodins star system, the Planets Arkintoofle Minor, Bartledan, Blagulon Kappa, Eroticon [no explanations needed], Gagrakacka, Golgafrincham, Kakrafoon, Krikkit, NowWhat, Voondon and many others.
But it’s not about the strange star systems and planets either. No.
What makes this series of books so utterly amazing is what I believe to be the ultimate goal of Douglas Adams in writing them. He writes about the utterly bizarre, and the ridiculously improbable, not to show that all things are possible as some have been lead to believe, but that skepticism is the most essential tool for understanding life and the universe. The weird and wonderful people and places in the galaxies that are visited by our heroes in the books are actually metaphors for the strange beliefs people hold in religions, superstitions, pseudoscience, alternative medicine, homeopathy, astrology, the paranormal and other dogmas.
And did I mention that it’s funny as hell?
I think you’ll agree as I sample some of my favorite quotes from the various books.
From The Restaurant at the End of the Universe:
The Jatravartids, who live in perpetual fear of the time they call the Coming of the Great White Handkerchief, are small blue creatures with more than fifty arms each, who are therefore unique in being the only race in history to have invented the aerosol deodorant before the wheel.
One of the major problems encountered in time travel is not that of accidentally becoming your own father or mother. There is no problem involved in becoming your own father or mother that a broadminded and well-adjusted family can’t cope with.
To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem.
From Life, the Universe and Everything:
Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?
From So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish:
For a moment he felt good about this. A moment or two later he felt bad about feeling good about it. Then he felt good about feeling bad about feeling good about it and, satisfied, drove on into the night.
There is a feeling which persists in England that making a sandwich interesting, attractive, or in any way pleasant to eat is something sinful that only foreigners do.
Mark Knopfler has an extraordinary ability to make a Schecter Custom Stratocaster hoot and sing like angels on a Saturday night, exhausted from being good all week and needing a stiff beer.
‘It seemed to me,’ said Wonko the Sane, ‘that any civilization that had so far lost its head as to need to include a set of detailed instructions for use in a packet of toothpicks was no longer a civilization in which I could live and stay sane.’
…a scientist must also be absolutely like a child. If he sees a thing, he must say that he sees it, whether it was what he thought he was going to see or not. See first, think later, then test. But always see first. Otherwise you will only see what you were expecting.
Let’s be straight here. If we find something we can’t understand, we like to call it something you can’t understand, or indeed pronounce.
From Mostly Harmless:
Few things are worse than fall in New York. Some of the things that live in the lower intestines of rats would disagree, but most of the things that live in the lower intestines of rats are highly disagreeable anyway, so their opinion can and should be discounted. When it’s fall in New York, the air smells as if someone’s been frying goats in it, and if you are keen to breathe, the best plan is to open a window and stick your head in a building.
Surely the notion that great lumps of rock whirling in space knew something about your day that you didn’t must take a bit of a knock from the fact that there was suddenly a new lump of rock out there that nobody had known about before.