Book Meme: ‘Psichore’s Day Twelve

The Book Meme Challenge: A book you used to love but don’t anymore

When I was about 15 or thereabouts, my brother John came home with a black hardbound book with gilded pages – and more notably, shapes like a planet sticking out its tongue decorating the cover.

I seized upon it whenever he put it down, and thus came to read The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide, which is a compendium of six stories by Douglas Adams.  It follows Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect through the universe, as they flee the destruction of Earth (demolished to make an interstellar highway), steal a spaceship from The Restaurant At the End of the Universe (temporally, not spacially), and do many other rather improbable things.
The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide
At 15, it made me laugh and laugh and laugh.  I bought my then-boyfriend a copy, convinced he would love it.  I delighted in asking friends if they knew where their towel was, puzzling over why six times nine should ever equal 42, and pondering the nature of mice and dolphins.

I reread it after graduating from college, with a new interest in how to make a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, and was surprised at how much less it charmed me.  All the lines about the universe being impossibly large and thus meaningless, and about people being deeply unhappy to be alive, and the emphatic insistence that life is random suddenly bore down on me.  Recognizing them as false did not, ultimately, make them funny again.

It is known that there are an infinite number of worlds, simply because there is an infinite amount of space for them to be in. However, not every one of them is inhabited. Therefore, there must be a finite number of inhabited worlds. Any finite number divided by infinity is as near to nothing as makes no odds, so the average population of all the planets in the Universe can be said to be zero. From this it follows that the population of the whole Universe is also zero, and that any people you may meet from time to time are merely the products of a deranged imagination.

The major problem — one of the major problems, for there are several — one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them.
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.

Ha ha.  So amusing, isn’t it?

And yet, all I feel is pity for the atheists who spend their lives trying to laugh themselves out of despair.

Now, the recipe for the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster is still there, as are many pages of amusing syntax.  I wouldn’t claim that the Hitchhiker’s Guide is utterly without purpose (having profited from its advice about towels if nothing else), but I just don’t love it as I used to.

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2 thoughts on “Book Meme: ‘Psichore’s Day Twelve

  1. Excellent choice. I read the same version (black hardcover with gold-gilded pages) sometime in high school, as a gift from my atheist aunt. Actually, the first time I tried to read it I had to stop shortly in, because the offhand comments about God disproving His own existence and such offended me. Later on I returned to it, knowing that I would disagree with the philosophy but that it was okay to enjoy anything genuinely good I found in it. It was hilarious, and I still chuckle at references to the importance of one’s towel or the absurd normality of 42. But I totally see what you mean. Adams is so relentlessly dark in his humor that you do sense this underlying despair permeating the entire series. In his mind, it seems, the only true happiness really is complete ignorance, for the more one knows the more one knows everything is wrong. This is what happens when a person can see the effects of a fallen, sinful world, but refuses to acknowledge how it got that way, or Who the solution is.

    Ah well. I do think he was on to something about towels, though.

  2. Terpsichore, your reflections on this book exactly match mine. I also read it at some point in high school (possibly when I was 15, though I’m not sure) and thought it was the funniest thing ever while having no clue about the philosophical outlook that was running through it. I tried to reread it in college and finally understood what it was all about.

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