The HitchHiker is 20th century satire, probably at its best, which is an implicit condemnation of all other competitors to that title. Adams has a few quotes in these books that rank right up there with the best of them. I particularly liked his description of humankind as - ape descended life forms (who) are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea. We humans are prone to be so distracted by novel and neat ideas that we never quite get around to assigning them a value that really reflects their place in the wider scheme of things. This is Adams at his best.
The problem with the Hitchiker is that its message is delivered through farce and farce wears extremely thin after about an hour. After two hours all hope of entertainment is lost and all that remains is gold-mining, sifting through endless grains of sand, in the hopes of finding another nugget that makes the whole enterprise worth while.
Adam's primary message is that the universe is absurd, having no sense or purpose to it at all. He cannot quite break away from his humanist roots and there is within his writing, a certain nostalgic longing for the days when truth and virtue actually meant something to people. But Adams is way too far gone to ever grant his characters any real contact with virtue and truth. The one character who comes closest is probably Trillian, the woman who left earth before it was destroyed in search of ... something. Even here, we see Adams lampooning the idea of virtue as a guide to wisdom. Virtue is too easily mislead to be a strength. It's not a bad point. But it is tiresome to have it endlessly repeated through pie-in-the-face slapstick, even if it is imaginatively done.
There is power in the argument that the world is absurd. But it is the power that lives in the world of impressions, not the world of realism. A fellow called "The Preacher" wrote about that 3500 years ago in a book called Ecclesiastes. He makes the same point a lot more clearly and, quite frankly, with far more zeal.
Live life, enjoy what you get out of it, take pleasure in doing the work God has given you to do and contentment is possible.
But thanks for all the fish anyway.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
So long, and thanks for all the fish
John A. Van Devender reviews The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams: