Greetings and salutations, readers of Nerd Cactus and welcome to the latest edition of Boozy Books Friday, in which we, your literary sommeliers, take you on an adventure of the mind and the palate. This week, we’re hopping on the Heart of Gold, launching the improbability drive, and hoping to avoid Vogons reading poetry (or maybe building interspace highways). That’s right, this week we’re delving into the madcap and thoroughly absurd world of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
I should make it known that I am simply doing the first book in the series and not the entire thing, though of course I have no problems with reading the extended books, either. A trip to the Restaurant at the End of the Universe is always in order after all and, so long as you’ve got your towel, I can’t see any reason why you can’t keep drinking and reading. You know…so long as you’re safe about it. I wouldn’t want to encourage any excessive drinking.
Please note: there may be some of you who believe we should have delved into the Discworld books in honor of Sir Terry Pratchett. Believe me, we wanted to, and there is every intention on our end of presenting a pairing for his series, but there simply wasn’t enough time to devote to figuring out the perfect pairing. We don’t just pull them out of thin air, and rushing to get something together seemed like more of an insult than taking the time to do it right. So no worries, we’ll take a trip to the Unseen University soon. Promise.
Now…let us begin…
“Space,” it says, “is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”
I think, ladies and gentlemen, that for all the amazing quotes and characters and hilarity that have come from the pen of the late Douglas Adams, that quote best sums up everything there is to know about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Why, you may ask, when it tells us the answer to life, the universe, and everything?! Well, for one, what is the question? We can hardly be expected to understand the answer without the question, can we? For another, as big as space is, Douglas Adams’ imagination is just as big. He starts off with Arthur Dent waking up on the day the Earth is going to end and ends with him nearly murdered by hyper-intelligent mice before going off for a bite to eat at the aforementioned Restaurant at the End of the Universe. And that’s just the first book in the six book trilogy!
What makes this book so wonderful is its whimsy and deceptive silliness. It is full of quintessentially British humor, which makes one giggle, but that isn’t all, and it isn’t the most important. This book–and the entire series that follows it, of course–manages to say some very poignant things in between calling people hoopy froods and dropping a surprised whale from the atmosphere above Magrathea. That is not to say, of course, that its contributions to pop culture can be discounted; one needs only read this post to see just how much Adams has contributed to the zeitgeist. But, as important as towels and 42 and DON’T PANIC are as contributions to the collective that is pop culture, there is a great deal of satire to be found within these pages. One of my favorite quotes in the entirety of the book is this one: “Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.” Why? Because it’s…rather true. The people who’d make the best leaders are often the ones that would make the worst politicians and vice versa.
Where Douglas shines for me is in his use of language. His sentences are often so evocative simply because of their sheer inanity. They twist, taking the reader to a place that they never expected to go, really. Take this sentence for example: “The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.” Vogon ships are lumbering and graceless, hanging in the sky only because that is what they’re meant to do. And from this sentence, we are able to extrapolate so much about the Vogons themselves: they are like their ships. A few chapters later, when Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect (he took his name because he incorrectly deduced that cars were the dominant life forms on Earth) are trapped in a Vogon ship, your beliefs are confirmed. So much from one little sentence. Not only that, but an incongruous sentence that manages to take the traditional form of the simile and twist it on its head. And this incongruity doesn’t just find its way into sentences, either; it’s all over the book. These sorts of build-ups for weird or slightly disappointing payoffs seem to form the heart of the book’s humor. Why is the Earth ending? Some catastrophic event? Plague? Intergalactic warfare? No. It’s being destroyed to make way for an interspace highway. The big bad Vogons? Obsessive bureaucrats! Arthur Dent, the last man on Earth? A regular man wandering around, completely lost and wanting nothing more than to go back to a home that doesn’t exist (or at least find a decent cup of tea–another of those distinctly British jokes).
Douglas Adams’ satire is so very different than Jane Austen’s, or Jonathan Swift’s. This is, of course, because there are multiple forms of satire, but also because Adams seems to have invented a form of satire all of his own. It’s so distinctly Douglas Adams, at once full of irony, mischief, and keen social observation, and delightfully whimsical and idealistic. As bad a week as Arthur Dent is having–and having one’s planet destroyed counts as bad, I’d say–the book is still optimistic. This might be, of course, because Earth isn’t really that important in the grand scheme of things. Space, remember, is big. Really big. And Earth, if you consult the Guide, can only be classified as mostly harmless.
Now…there are three choices one can make here insofar as libations are concerned, two of which include booze (unless one wants to throw a little tipple into the third). The first is just a good, old-fashioned ale from down the pub. It’s good. You’ll want the beer (and the peanuts–can’t forget the peanuts) to help you as you escape Earth’s destruction, in any case. Make sure it’s an English ale, please (so no Guinness or Blue Moon, or anything). Something like Newcastle or Boddingtons, or whatever suits your fancy. The second choice is the ever-present cuppa (cup of tea), which the English seem to have decided is the perfect panacea for everything from a paper cut to, well, the planet being destroyed along with everyone and everything on it. It’s up to you if you wish to add a little something. Third, is, of course, the Pan-galactic Gargle Blaster, which is best described as “like having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick.” There are many recipes all over the internet for adapting the thing, so prepare one to your taste and sip away. Careful, though…they’re lethal.
Well, there you have it, ladies and gents! Another edition of Boozy Books Fridays! Join us next time, when we’ll give you more books, more booze, and perhaps some Babelfish! Until then, so long and thanks for all the fish!