If you Google “42” Wikipedia offers the following explanation:
‘The number 42 is, in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything”, calculated by and enormous supercomputer named Deep Thought over a period of 7.5 million years. Unfortunately, no one knows what the question is.’
Even if you’ve never read the book, I’m sure, like me, you’ve heard that 42 is the answer to everything. I have been itching to find out more about this mysterious answer and I finally got round to the audiobook version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979), read by Stephen Fry.
(No spoilers!) Arthur Dent is just your average human with everyday problems. Like the fact that his house will be demolished due to a rezoning debacle. Things take a weird turn when his friend, Ford Prefect, admits he’s an alien and that the earth will be demolished in an intergalactic rezoning debacle. Ordinary Arthur Dent’s world is turned upside down in this humorous science fiction novel. He escapes his fellow humans’ fate and, as last human alive, embarks on a wild, and often bizarre, space-adventure.
A book that doesn’t take itself very seriously and, at the same time, takes itself very seriously. It hovers in that murky space between insightful observations and self-consciousness cleverness. But it does so deliberately and with apparent enjoyment. This book breaks all the writing ‘rules’ without batting an eye. Perhaps this is why it’s been so popular. It’s different. It’s fun. It’s silly. And at times, it’s profound.
“The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.”Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
This book is, however, taken very seriously by its devout followers. There’s been considerable hype around Douglas’ series for over 40 years. Here’s what people are saying:
‘To read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is to step into the garden shed of a maverick genius while he’s out, to discover what ideas he has left lying around. But it is also as though Douglas Adams is speaking to you personally, gently, as he guides you through a perplexing world, assuring you “Don’t panic”.’
‘He did this not only literally in the story’s plot, but by taking 1970s and 1980s preoccupations – being an unimportant dot in a petty system; the constant disappointment of “progress” – and turning them into a layered, profound, imaginative and hilarious story that transcended the era. Regardless of how many digital watch jokes snuck in.
It’s all summed up in its most famous joke: the randomness of the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything. You don’t need to know the books to know that the answer turns out to be 42, and that it is as good an answer as any ever proposed.’
‘Astonishingly, it is 40 years since Douglas Adams published The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. We’ve since replaced digital watches with smartphones and virtual assistants, and we rarely describe them as “neat”. Yet the themes of the book have hardly dated. As ecosystems are destroyed to make way for roads, artificial intelligence (AI) threatens to get seriously unruly and the Universe continually reveals it’s a lot more complicated than we thought, Adams’s creation and its deadpan surreality never seem to fade.’
“For a moment, nothing happened. Then, after a second or so, nothing continued to happen.”Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
With all the super fans out there, I’ll be very cautious when I say that the line between annoying and enjoyable was razor-thin, for me. There were many moments when I actually laughed out loud but these moments were balanced with a few eye rolls and a general feeling of ‘get on with it/where’s this going?’ It’s down to the style of humour and, perhaps, I would’ve enjoyed the book a lot more if 2020 wasn’t the year it was. Or if I was 18 again and laughing at Monty Python films. All things considered, Stephen Fry’s hilarious reading tipped the balance in favour of an enjoyable listen.
I’m curious- do you love The Hitchhiker’s Guide? If so, where were you in your life when you first encountered the book? Let me know all about it in the comments below!
Have a lovely day!