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4 of 28 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars 42 is not enough, 30 May 2013
This review is from: The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy: A Trilogy in Five Parts (Hardcover)
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is incredibly funny and incredibly smart. Let's all accept that from the start. End of. Period. Full stop. That's not in question for me. So why the one star? I admit that part of my purpose is provocative; I'd like to start a little debate here. But most of it is due to the persisting sense of despondency that the book has left in my mind, like a lingering shadow, each time I remember it. It seems that diversion and delight are not the same, after all.

Forget about the funny incidents, look at the big picture. The Earth and virtually all of its inhabitants are destroyed for trivial reasons. The Earth is literally a planet-sized computer, the construction of which could earn extra-terrestrial beings a prize. The universe is ruled by (either) a megalomaniac idiot or a being who is not sure about what actually exists. The answer to the question of the meaning of life is absurd i.e. both silly and hollow. It's possible to watch the entire cosmos collapse from the viewpoint of an eatery at set intervals.

Isn't this tragedy rather than comedy?

'But it's the little incidents that you're overlooking that make the novel funny in the first place. You're not supposed to take any of the rest of it seriously. The sci-fi structure is merely a platform from which to lunch chuckles at the whimsy of a certain type of Englishman. There is no tragedy here, no downgoing, no fall, no hubris and flaw. Lighten up, dude! It's a literary, novel-length joke, nothing more.'

Good points. Let me retort with a question that will divide you.

Can any subject form the subject matter for a joke?

For example, is a racist joke still funny if it's racist? Those who answer that certain things cannot be counted as funny admit that jokes have their limits. Well, for me, at a primitive, emotional level, jokes about the meaning of life and death of the Earth/universe are in the same category as racist jokes, only more so. And to those who answer that nothing is outside the field of the risible, I answer, I don't believe you unless you are a nihilist, holding nothing as intrinsically significant or valuable at all.

Which is exactly where I feel THGTTG takes me: nihilism. Everything - including genocide, torture, and totalitarianism - is the object of mirth within these pages. There are problems with this, ethically and logically. Do you truly want to maintain they everything on earth is funny? For example, is child abuse funny? And if everything is funny, then nothing is funny, because 'funny' cannot be defined in contrast to the non-funny.

My point is not legalistic. I'm not saying that one ought not to laugh at certain things, like a po-faced, prissy puritan. My point is, what does the fact that we do laugh about these things say about us? What effect does such laughter bring in the longer term? The more you laugh at high and deep things, the less there are great or profound things about which to laugh. Life becomes a flatland, with the death of a light entertainer as noteworthy as the death of a village, or a rainforest, or a star. Oh, wait, that's where we are, isn't it?

'It's only a comic novel, a work of light entertainment, not a philosophical treatise. Douglas Adams wasn't purporting to offer an accurate worldview in THHGTHG.'

Really? So why, then, on certain websites that promote a philosophical viewpoint, do we find this quote?

"Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea."

I read this and smirk. But after the smirk has vanished, what remains?

42. That's what.

Only 42.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 10 Sep 2013 15:51:04 BDT
JLR says:
Enough of the pseudo-post-deconstructionist fake existentialism. It's funny, right? So laugh.

In reply to an earlier post on 12 Sep 2013 20:40:54 BDT
Last edited by the author on 12 Sep 2013 20:41:53 BDT
Allen Baird says:
JLR, thanks for the kick up the proverbial!

Yes, it's funny. Yes, I laughed many times, often aloud.

I did write the review hoping to stir up discussion a little. Perhaps Amazon isn't the place for that, I don't know.

Does listening to 'Paranoid Android' by Radiohead make you want to dance? Was Hitler 'mostly harmless'? Please 'don't panic' at my confirmation of Godwin's law...

And "fake" existentialism? You almost hurt my feelings. So let me give you the real deal instead.

"Perhaps I know best why it is man alone who laughs; he alone suffers so deeply that he had to invent laughter."

Personally, I prefer to aim my laughter at the little things. To laugh at life, the universe and everything is way too painful, implying, as it does, scorn and contempt toward its object.

Posted on 2 Jan 2014 21:23:17 GMT
Craig Layton says:
whilst 42 is what your left with, i feel you unhappiness comes from the fact you didnt, infact, know the question ;)

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Jan 2014 14:40:09 GMT
Allen Baird says:
Perhaps so. But maybe, just maybe, there's more this this answer of 42 than I first realised - http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/feb/03/douglas-adams-42-hitchhiker !!
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