… This planet has – or rather had – a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.
And that’s how this book starts. A mad mad book. Absolutely hilarious and with a logic so warped that you give up on it, Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a comedy sci-fi adventure novel (if there is such a genre in the first place that is) that redefines all three – comedy, sci-fi and adventure.
It starts off with our hero, Arthur Dent, being whisked away by his friend Ford Prefect (who is in fact an alien who is desperate to get out) onto a spaceship minutes before his house and all of Earth for that matter is demolished to make way for an Intergalactic Highway. Imagine being so insignificant that the entire planet is nothing more than a boulder to be pushed out of the way in the whole scheme of events in the universe. Puts individual problems into perspective.
Moving on, Arthur Dent finds himself in this spaceship with another human being and a two headed President of the Galaxy who is on the run for stealing the very spaceship they are in. Together with a depressed robot (yes, depressed robots. You’d be depressed too if you are made to do menial tasks like bringing tea when you have the brain with a functioning capability of a planet) they set out on a journey to find, well, with no particular purpose at all.
And this madness is only the beginning. What follows is not just a plot that beats all the obvious predictions you can make as a story unwinds, but also a style of writing that leaves you part laughing part snickering at the turn of every page. Dry wit. At its best. Douglas Adams is my absolute favourite when it comes to humour and creativity. Read him once and you’ll know why he has the cult following that he does.
The strange things you come across in this book is mind boggling – from Babel Fishes that are put in one’s ears to translate all the languages of the universe to your own to Perceptive Elevators that not only know where you want to go but also where you will be such that they can be present on your floor to pick you up even before you hit that button.
My favourite is a little part with a whole discourse on the grammar of the languages of the Universe which can get complicated because of time travel and all that ensues. There is a book one must refer to called Time Traveller’s Handbook of 1001 Tense Formations. And apparently the farthest most readers get to is the Future Semi-Conditionally Modified Subinverted Plagal Past Subjunctive Intentional before giving up. How this tickled my senses I can’t even begin to describe!
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a cult book. Not because of its crazy characters or the wild plot or the amazing adventure they set on to or the creativity in it all or the wit or the sheer brilliance of visualisation throughout the novel that makes you see all the absurd quirks of nature out there. No. I think it has such a following for the beautiful snippets of wisdom woven in it. Little dialogues that hit the right note.
“… Trouble with a long journey like this, is that you end up just talking to yourself a lot, which gets terribly boring because half the time you know what you’re going to say next”
Little nuggets of wisdom that make more sense than tons of philosophy books out there. Points of view so ironical that it seems more real than the truth we’ve conditioned ourselves to believe.
You might feel like I am hyping the book and the author a little too much and all this might just dampen your experience of actually reading the book. Try it. You’ll be just as shocked as I promised.
If mind boggling creativity bordering on absurdity is your cup of tea, then this book is a whole restaurant you need to dine at.
And I am still not exaggerating!
Throw on a towel and Don’t Panic! You’ll love the ride.
Photos: Remya Nair