Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Hitchhiker's Trilogy: A Discourse

I've never actually read The Hitchhiker's Trilogy before and, due to the fact they are library books, I wasn't able to give them the attention I would have liked to have given them. Nevertheless, I have enjoyed reading them for the most part because

1. The style is wonderful
2. Marvin the Paranoid Android
3. I "get it" when 10 said that he was very Arthur Dent in that Christmas special.

Yes, toddling onwards....

The Universe, as has been observed before, is an unsettling big place, a fact which for the sake of a quiet life most people tend to ignore [. . .] For when you are put into the [Total Perspective] Vortex you are given just one momentary glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation, and somewhere in it a tiny little marker, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot which says, "You are here." -- The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

Very Doctor Who, I thought.

The Universe -- some information to help you live in it.

1. AREA: Infinite.

The Hithhiker's Guide to the Galaxy offers this definition of the word "Infinite."

Infinite: Bigger than the biggest thing ever and then some. Much bigger than that in fact, really amazingly immense, a totally stunning size, real "wow, that's big," time. Infinity is just so big that by comparison, bigness itself looks really titchy. Gigantic multiplied by colossal multiplied by staggeringly huge is the sort concept we're trying to get across here.



It is known that there are an infinite number of worlds, simply because there is an infinite amount of space for them to be in. However, not every one of them is inhabited. Therefore, there must be a finite number of inhabited worlds. Any finite number divided by infinity is as near to nothing as makes no odds, so the average population of all the planets in the universe can be said to be zero. From this it follows that the population of the whole Universe is also zero, and that any people you may meet from time to time are merely the products of a deranged imagination. -- The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

Which, in turn, was very Life on Mars.

It is worth repeating at this point the theories that Ford had come up with, on his first encounter with human beings, to account for their peculiar habit of continually stating and restating the very very obvious, as in "It's a nice day," or "you're very tall," or "So this is it, we're going to die."

His first theory was that if human beings didn't keep exercising their lips, their mouths probably shriveled up.

After a few months of observation he had come up with a second theory, which was this -- "If human beings don't keep exercising their lips, their brains start working." -- The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Besides generally precipitating a further loss of faith in humanity, this actually reminded me of The Screwtape Letters, in which one of the writers (the titular character probably) recommended that his young apprentice fill the world with noise, noise, NOISE so that a body could scarce hear one's self think. And sometimes, I just wonder if both Adams and Lewis actually had a point as I once more valiantly determine to no longer utter inane, mundane platitudes.

I feel that pointing out similarities in one work of fiction to three other works of fiction ought to depress me. Where is the inspiration, I ought to ask, wringing my hands. I ought to follow through with with a general bewailment over the lack of true originality, shaded with a hint of hysterics to emphasize the tragic importance of this discovery. But no. It was like running into an old friend. Hello, Sam. Fancy meeting you here on this end of the Universe. Are you surprised to see me -- if works of fiction are real, do storybook characters perhaps, somewhere deep in their subconscious, harbor suspicions that their audience is simply the delusion of overblown egos in desperate need of some perspective? Ah look - there's Lewis. Let's give him a bit of a wave and then firmly turn our backs on him for what he did to poor Susan. I say, do you remember that time you popped into the red phone box to make a call? Ever fancy it was a TARDIS in disguise?

And then, I imagine, we all could have hooked arms with each other and gallivanted all over the Universe together - because that's what friends they do.

Number Two's eyes narrowed and became what are known in the Shouting and Killing People trade as cold slits, the idea presumably being to give your opponent the impression that you have lost your glasses or are having difficulty keeping awake. Why this is frightening is an, as yet, unresolved problem.

He advanced upon the Captain, his (Number Two's) mouth a thin hard line. Again, tricky to know why this is understood as fighting behavior. If, while wandering through the jungle of Traal, you were suddenly to come upon the fabled Ravenous Bugblatter Beast, you would have reason to be grateful if its mouth was a thin hard line rather than, as it usually is, a gaping mass of slavering fangs. -- The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

It was generally inconvenient to read this because I happened to be sitting in the doctor's office, waiting an obscene amount of time, and everybody knows it's impolite to laugh out loud (wildly and uncontrollably) in such a dour establishment.

But believe me, I was in hysterics on the inside. Especially since it seemed he was poking fun at all the body language tropes so many writers fall prey to (such as The Nod, the Turning-on-the-Heel, and the Biting of the Lip, etc).

It is worth mentioning at this point that I did read the Trilogy (though, due to an impending due date and a mess of other books to read, skimmed the last two and a half), I only had a pen handy for, well, only one of the five.

However, I did sally forth to find a pen when a certain passage in So Long and Thanks for all the Fish caused me to nearly cry:

A crash of sorrow on the shores of earth. [. . .] A fugue of voices now, clamoring explanations, of a diasaster unavertable, a world to be destroyed, a surge of helplessness, a spasm of despair, a dying fall, again the break of words.

And then the fling of hope, the finding of a shadow Earth in the implications of enfolded time, submerged dimensions, the pull of parallels, the deep pull, the spin of will, the hurl and split of it, the fight. A new Earth pulled into replacement, the dolphins gone.

Then stunningly a single voice, quite clear.

"This bowl was brought to you by the Campaign to Save the Humans. We bid you farewell."

And then the sound of long, heavy, perfectly gray bodies rolling away into an unknown fathomless deep, quietly giggling.

I don't understand why - perhaps it's because dolphins understand the human condition (plight?) and seem to be more aware that we are in desperate need of saving or that we ought to just buckle down and save ourselves or something.

It was, simply, unexpectedly poignant.

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