It’s hard to believe that I had never read this book before, but I have finally gotten around to it. It was a popular book when I was a teenager, but for whatever reason, I just never read it. The book is very funny and full of witty parodies. I blew through it in no time at all and was thoroughly entertained from cover to cover.
I figure rather than writing a summary of the book, I would instead look at some of the parodies that stood out for me.
One of the first parodies that struck me was the Guide’s detailed explanation of the importance of a towel.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has a few things to say on the subject of towels.
A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapor; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand combat; wrap it around your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you—daft as a brush, but very very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.
(pp. 27 – 28)
Reading this reminded me of Rabelais, who also used long lists as a form of parody. What comes to mind are the pages in Gargantua and Pantagruel where he describes all the various things that one can use to wipe one’s behind.
Another scene which I found hysterical was when Ford and Arthur are captured by the Vogons and as a form a torture, they are forced to listen to Vogon poetry, which is considered to be the second worst in the universe. So not only does Adams parody bad poetry, but he pokes fun at pompous scholars who write criticism. He does this by having the captives try to come up with a critique of the offensive poetry to make it appear to be some form of high art.
“Oh yes,” said Arthur, “I thought that some of the metaphysical imagery was really particularly effective.”
Ford continued to stare at him, slowly organizing his thoughts around this totally new concept. Were they really going to be able to bareface their way out of this?
“Yes, do continue…” invited the Vogon.
“Oh… and, er… interesting rhythmic devices too,” continued Arthur, “which seemed to counterpoint the… er… er…” he floundered.
Ford leaped to the rescue, hazarding “… counterpoint the surrealism of the underlying metaphor of the… er…” He floundered too, but Arthur was ready again.
“… humanity of the…”
“Vogonity,” Ford hissed at him.
“Ah yes, Vogonity—sorry—of the poet’s compassionate soul”—Arthur felt he was on a homestretch now—“which contrives through the medium of the verse structure to sublimate this, transcend that, and come to terms with the fundamental dichotomies of the other”—he was reaching a triumphant crescendo—“and one is left with a profound and vivid insight into… into… er…” (which suddenly gave out on him). Ford leaped in with the coup de grace:
“Into whatever it was the poem was about!” he yelled. Out of the corner of his mouth: “Well done, Arthur, that was very good.”
(pp. 66 – 67)
The last parody I will discuss is a brilliant bit of satire that lampoons philosophers and workers at the same time. The philosophers are depicted as individuals who feel they have a monopoly on the truth. They are also extremely self-righteous and just like workers are ready to go on strike at a moment’s notice if things do not go the way they want. So in this section, the philosophers are incensed because a computer is being tasked with discovering the answer to the ultimate question of existence, which the philosophers feel is their domain and if the answer is discovered will jeopardize their jobs.
“I’ll tell you what the problem is, mate,” said Majikthise, “demarcation, that’s the problem.”
“We demand,” yelled Vroomfondel, “that demarcation may or may not be the problem!”
“You just let the machines get on with the adding up,” warned Majikthise, “and we’ll take care of the eternal verities, thank you very much. You want to check your legal position, you do, mate. Under law the Quest for Ultimate Truth is quite clearly the inalienable prerogative of your working thinkers. Any bloody machine goes and actually finds it and we’re straight out of a job, aren’t we? I mean, what’s the use of our sitting up half the night arguing that there may or may not be a God if this machine only goes and gives you his bleeding phone number the next morning?”
“That’s right,” shouted Vroomfondel, “we demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!”
Suddenly a stentorian voice boomed across the room.
“Might I make an observation at this point?” inquired Deep Thought.
“We’ll go on strike!” yelled Vroomfondel.
“That’s right!” agreed Majikthise. “You’ll have a national Philosophers’ strike on your hands!”
So as you read the craziness in the news and start to worry that the end of the world is nigh, just keep in mind the profound words of advice from this sage book: DON’T PANIC.
So long and thanks for all the fish.