What can one say about The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy that hasn’t already been said? There are a plethora of reviews for this book, so what makes it so special to me personally?
Part of it is in the way Douglas Adams never lets you think he is absolutely certain of anything. I’m a Christian, and he was an atheist. But some hints in the book made it seem to me like he wasn’t truly convinced. For example, he makes fun of the way that atheists over the ages have felt the need to denounce God so strongly that it seems like they actually believe in him but don’t want to.
For example, in the Hitchhikers universe Oolon Colluphid is the author of the “trilogy of philosophical blockbusters” entitled Where God Went Wrong, Some More of God’s Greatest Mistakes, Who is this God Person Anyway?, and Well, That About Wraps It Up For God. The joke seems to be that if you really don’t believe in God then surely writing four books to state that claim so forcefully is just a little bit of overkill. Surely Oolon Colluphid would have better demonstrated his atheism by simply ignoring God. Richard Dawkins could take note of that. He’s like a real-life Oolon Colluphid (and was a personal friend of Douglas Adams, so I’m told). I mean, if he doesn’t believe in God, then why is he so angry at him? How can you be angry at someone you don’t believe exists? This desperation to disprove God, repeatedly and vitriolically, suggests that Dawkins actually knows in his heart that God is there. Oolon Colluphid seems to be doing the same thing, trying repeatedly and unsuccessfully to write God away. Anyway, I digress.
Something I appreciate about Adams’s humour is that it’s never mean or nasty. Yes, he pokes fun at things, but as I’ve already pointed out he does it in a way that isn’t quite ridicule. I never found myself offended while reading Douglas Adams. In the whole series I can only recall one use of an actual swear word, and that’s a restraint he didn’t have to show, given the tone of most other modern-era writing. His work is childish, yet sophisticated. It bridges the age ranges so well that the film of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy quickly became one of my children’s favourites while they were still quite young. I thought I would let them get a bit older before encouraging them to read the books, but I probably needn’t have done.
Adams often takes particularly wacky concepts to their logical conclusion. Some of his ideas, though presented with scientific plausibility, are utterly bonkers. And yet he treats them as fully reasonable story elements and uses them as part of the… should I call it drama?
That’s just a couple of observations on The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. I recommend it highly, as I do most of Adams’s other work. Before Hitchhikers he did some excellent work for Doctor Who, much of which he reused in his Dirk Gently books. He was a well rounded writer of comedy, and the only one who could reliably make me laugh out loud while reading.
I miss Douglas Adams.