Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Annotation Project: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

See, I told you we’d get around to it! This is a very funny book. One reason that it got pushed pack was that I’d never finished the series, so I decided to finally read all four of the original books (everyone including Adams was imploring me to skip the belated fifth one, so I did.) I’ll have more to say about it! Download the doc here.


Nick said...

Excellent! Looking forward to this! I definitely agree about song lyrics adding depth to the world too. Harry Potter's 'Odo the Hero' springs to mind.

Melewen said...

It wasn't until I was an adult that I learned that in the UK, a Ford Prefect was basically the equivalent of a Ford Taurus in the US.

James Kennedy said...

Insightful as always.

I wanted to chime and mention that if you're analyzing the artistic decisions Douglas Adams makes here, the key to understanding them is that the book is more or less just a direct transcription/expansion of his original "Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy" radio series on BBC. If you listen to the original radio show, or read the radio scripts, some decisions that might seem odd or idiosyncratic for a book make complete sense in the context of a radio show. For instance, the transition you characterize as clunky, using the phrase "none at all" as a kind of forced segue, comes across more naturally in the radio show as a kind of meta-joke about clunky transitions and forced segues. Same with the switching between characters that you characterized as "ADHD." It seems natural on radio.

Similarly, the generous amounts of snappy dialogue in the book is more an artifact of it starting as a radio show than a deliberate literary choice on the page. Adams is just cutting and pasting dialogue from the program. Significantly, as the Hitchhiker's series went on, Adams ran out of radio-show material to mine for his books, there was less and less of this Wodehouse-by-way-of-Vonnegut snappy patter. And that's partially why the later sequels aren't quite as good, I feel.

You wrote "We began with praise for Jesus on page one, and indeed this is a rather Christian book, in the best sense of the word, finding empathy for different points of view." It may be true that this book finds empathy for different points of view, but that's not necessarily a uniquely Christian idea. The root of this book, in fact, is happy-go-lucky nihilism, and a kind of cheerful hostility to religion. After all, God -- whom I gather is somewhat central to Christianity -- is clowned as early as page 2 ("Where God Went Wrong," "Some More of God's Greatest Mistakes," and "Who is This God Person Anyway?") and then God vanishes "in a puff of logic" during the explanation of the Babel fish before we even each page 50. This is Douglas Adams sending a very particular message to his readers: In his universe, God is a joke. (And the meaning of life, when it's revealed just a few chapters later, is similarly absurd.) God is dismissed, the Earth is blown up, and the meaning of life is revealed to be a farce. Douglas Adams is a wrecking ball, but what should read as metaphysically horrific actually feels oddly freeing and joyful. It's the cosmic despair that grounds and powers the humor, and that's why none of "Hitch-hiker's" many imitators ever succeeded . . . until the similarly nihilistic "Rick and Morty" cracked the same code (encapsulated in its classic line, "Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody's gonna die. Come watch TV.").