Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

While The Far Side and The Twilight Zone imagine vague, alternate worlds, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy imagines alternate realities in a very real context: outer space. The book is about a boring earthling named Arthur Dent who, along with his secretly alien friend Ford Prefect, hitchhikes off of the Earth moments before it is destroyed. Arthur is blindsided by the destruction of his planet, and upon raising objections to a very regimented alien race called Vogons, is told that he should not be surprised because the plans for the destruction of the planet were available to the galaxy in some intergalactic library for fifty years. As a work of fiction, it must be said that though the world of the story has its own unique aspects upon which the reader is unfamiliar, the world that Arthur comes from is written to be from reality; he, much like the audience, is not aware of any other intelligent life forms or life on other planets. Therefore Arthur, along with the reader, is thrown into an entirely new world.

The novel uses wit and creativity to satirize philosophy. In one of the subplots it is revealed that humans were so obsessed with finding the meaning of life that they built Deep Thought, the second most intelligent computer ever to have existed, and asked it to provide the answer to the meaning of life, the Universe, and everything.  Once asked, the computer assured the humans that it must think about the answer for seven and a half million years.  After waiting the allotted time, Deep Thought finally revealed his answer: 42.  The humans were wildly confused, and when asked the meaning of the answer, Deep Thought explained that he had checked and re-checked his work, and was sure that it was correct. Deep Thought informed them that they did not understand the answer because they were not sure of the question they were asking, and once they located the question, the answer would be understood. Deep Thought built the most intelligent computer to ever have existed and called it Earth. He designed the program to run for ten million years, and it would “generate the Question to the Ultimate Answer.” Ironically, the Vogons destroyed the Earth five minutes before the completion of the program. The satire comes from the humorous situation where the answer to a philosophical question makes no sense, leading to the need for a better understanding of the question. Like the Socratic method, questions are essential to understanding.  Two humans were chosen and raised to hear the answer of Deep Thought, and upon hearing the answer of 42 one man says to the other, “[w]e’re going to get lynched, aren’t we?”  This comical situation of waiting millions of years, only to get a nonsensical answer, is enhanced with the reaction of the men.  The honest reaction grounds the reader to reality, and the reader is left imagining what would happen if they were put in that situation.

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