the hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy

There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.

There is another theory which states that this has already happened.

—  Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
50 book asks
  • the adventures of huckleberry finn: do you think kids or their parents are responsible for their beliefs?
  • the alchemist: what are your current plans for the future? will you be upset if they don't work out?
  • alice's adventures in wonderland: how do you react to absurd situations?
  • and then there were none: do you think murderers deserve to die?
  • artemis fowl: how much do you depend on technology?
  • beowulf: is it always worthwhile to hear both sides of an argument?
  • the canterbury tales: if someone is hypocritical, do you point it out?
  • cat's cradle: do you think it's better to believe a lie than to live with an unpleasant truth?
  • charlotte's web: what's your favorite art form?
  • coraline: if you could change your family, what would you change?
  • the crucible: how heavily do you depend on others when forming opinions?
  • fahrenheit 451: do you think there's any knowledge that should be kept secret?
  • the fault in our stars: if you could have one conversation before you died, who would you talk to and what would you say?
  • flowers for algernon: how much potential do you think you have?
  • frankenstein: is it wise for humans to attempt to create life?
  • the giver: talk about a favorite memory
  • the great gatsby: what would you sacrifice for money?
  • harry potter: if you could bring someone back from the dead, would you? if so, who would it be?
  • the hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy: what do you think is the meaning of life?
  • the hobbit: do you think the average person has the potential to be a hero?
  • holes: if someone poor stole from someone rich, who would you sympathize with?
  • howl's moving castle: how quickly do you form opinions about other people?
  • the hunger games: would you kill someone if they planned to kill you?
  • identical: how clear is your perception of reality?
  • the importance of being earnest: are you flattered or annoyed by gentlemanly behavior?
  • inferno: do you think you belong in hell? why or why not?
  • jonathan livingston seagull: is perfection a good goal?
  • the joy luck club: describe your family
  • jurassic park: do you think it's wrong to use animals as attractions and accessories?
  • the kite runner: if you could, what social issue would you spread awareness about?
  • les misérables: do you think people should revolt if the government is corrupt?
  • life of pi: if you were stranded, would you be able to take care of yourself?
  • the lightning thief: what would you be the god/goddess of?
  • the lion, the witch, and the wardrobe: if you could start a new life in a new world, would you?
  • lord of the flies: what motivates you best?
  • lord of the rings: is it important to work for the greater good of the world?
  • of mice and men: would you kill your closest friend to save them from a worse fate?
  • the perks of being a wallflower: does listening to other people's problems help you or weigh you down?
  • the phantom of the opera: how much do you judge others on physical appearance?
  • pride and prejudice: are you romantic?
  • the princess bride: what's your best feature?
  • a raisin in the sun: what is your most important possession?
  • romeo and juliet: have you ever done anything ridiculous for love? what?
  • stargirl: do you value uniqueness?
  • the taming of the shrew: would you be willing to be in a relationship with someone who is very dominant?
  • the tell-tale heart: is there anything you feel guilty about right now? what?
  • to kill a mockingbird: do you believe something has value simply because it's beautiful?
  • twilight: how consistent are your feelings about people close to you?
  • watership down: do you think your right to life is any greater than an animal's?
  • the westing game: if you died now, what would you want to happen to your possessions?

Seriously though, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy conveys “the universe fundamentally does not care about you” better than just about any cosmic-horror story I’ve ever seen.

Its whole theme is, “the default state of life is a parade of ridiculous out-of-left-field nonsense and disaster and beauty which does not care about your personal virtue” and it can embrace and celebrate the weirdness without getting bogged down in overwrought elder pantheons.

And it’s packed with non-sequiturs and shaggy-dog stories and rambling detours but they’re all in service of that message, and the story’s just gleefully having fun with concepts like an immortal alien who’s determined to insult everyone in the galaxy to their face in alphabetical order.

Basically, the Hitchhiker’s Guide is the guy on the right:

This actually did happen to a real person, and the real person was me. I had gone to catch a train. This was April 1976, in Cambridge, U.K. I was a bit early for the train. I’d gotten the time of the train wrong. I went to get myself a newspaper to do the crossword, and a cup of coffee and a packet of cookies. I went and sat at a table.
I want you to picture the scene. It’s very important that you get this very clear in your mind. Here’s the table, newspaper, cup of coffee, packet of cookies. There’s a guy sitting opposite me, perfectly ordinary-looking guy wearing a business suit, carrying a briefcase. It didn’t look like he was going to do anything weird. What he did was this: he suddenly leaned across, picked up the packet of cookies, tore it open, took one out, and ate it.
Now this, I have to say, is the sort of thing the British are very bad at dealing with. There’s nothing in our background, upbringing, or education that teaches you how to deal with someone who in broad daylight has just stolen your cookies.
You know what would happen if this had been South Central Los Angeles. There would have very quickly been gunfire, helicopters coming in, CNN, you know… But in the end, I did what any red-blooded Englishman would do: I ignored it. And I stared at the newspaper, took a sip of coffee, tried to do a clue in the newspaper, couldn’t do anything, and thought, what am I going to do?
In the end I thought, Nothing for it, I’ll just have to go for it, and I tried very hard not to notice the fact that the packet was already mysteriously opened. I took out a cookie for myself. I thought, That settled him. But it hadn’t because a moment or two later he did it again. He took another cookie. Having not mentioned it the first time, it was somehow even harder to raise the subject the second time around. “Excuse me, I couldn’t help but notice …” I mean, it doesn’t really work.
We went through the whole packet like this. When I say the whole packet, I mean there were only about eight cookies, but it felt like a lifetime. He took one, I took one, he took one, I took one. Finally, when we got to the end, he stood up and walked away. Well, we exchanged meaningful looks, then he walked away, and I breathed a sigh of relief and sat back.
A moment or two later the train was coming in, so I tossed back the rest of my coffee, stood up, picked up the newspaper, and underneath the newspaper were my cookies.
The thing I like particularly about this story is the sensation that somewhere in England there has been wandering around for the last quarter-century a perfectly ordinary guy who’s had the same exact story, only he doesn’t have the punch line.
—  Douglas Adams, well known for writing The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy shares a very British story
  • Danny: You know, it's at times like this, when I'm trapped in a ghostly cage in an island made of traps, and about to die in a different dimension, that I really wish I'd listened to what my mother told me when I was young.
  • Tucker: Why? What did she tell you?
  • Danny: I don't know. I didn't listen.
Lancelot and Guinevere

Merlin: You know, it’s at times like this, when I’m trapped in the tunnels of Andor with an idiot prince, and about to be shredded by giant subterranean rodents that I really wish I’d listened to what my mother told me when I was young.

Arthur: Why, what did she tell you?

Merlin: I don’t know, I didn’t listen.

Douglas Adams' Footnote on Towels

As it’s Towel Day, I thought I would post what Adams had to say in the Hitchhiker Radio Scripts book.  I saw some speculation about how he borrowed this from a hitchhiker’s guide to Europe book which is incorrect.  Here’s Adams’ footnote:

This is an idea that got completely out of hand.  It started as a private joke which I was therefore slightly reluctant to waste script space on.  I put it in anyway because I then couldn’t think of anything that wasn’t just as much a waste of space and was then astonished to find that everyone else seemed to find it funny as well.

The way it came about was this: a year or so earlier I had been on holiday in Greece, staying in a small villa with friends.  Every morning we would start out for the beach, or rather try to start out for the beach and then have to delay for upwards of half an hour while I would try to find my towel.  I could never find it, ever.

Whilst I was tearing my hair out in frustration, searching the bathroom, the washing line, the bedroom, under the bed, even in the bed, everyone else in the party would sit waiting patiently, drumming their fingers on their own rolled up towels.

I realized that my difficulties with my towel were probably symptomatic of the profound disorganization of my whole life, and that it would therefore be fair to say that anybody who was a really together person would be someone who would really know where their towel was.

I discovered, after I had inserted this phrase into the script, that a lot of other people must have had the same trouble as I had.