Saturday, 26 May 2012

42

I've just had a lovely evening of geeking out with friends to Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  This year, Dave turns 42, which every Hitchhiker fan knows is the Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything.

The books (at least the first few) are hilarious, but it's a verbal sense of humour.  Sadly, this means it doesn't translate well to film.  The movie version of Hitchhiker is great for fans but I imagine it's probably rather incomprehensible for those who aren't familiar with the material.

I discovered Hitchhiker when I was a teenager.  The description of a hapless ordinary Joe who bumbles through the universe after the Earth is destroyed by an interstellar construction force appealed to my dark sense of humour.  The revelation that the Earth was a giant computer program built by aliens and run by mice appealed to my hormone-fueled paranoia and burgeoning conspiracy awareness.  And the wonderful and unexpected descriptions brought me back to the series again and again.

Who doesn't love description such as "they hung in the sky in the exact way that bricks don't" or "a beverage almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea"?  Douglas Adams probably sparked my lifelong love of witty and unusual wordplay.  Not to mention steering me towards science fiction.

I've heard people complain about the silliness of it all.  But a little silliness is good in life.  Otherwise we'd all be like Marvin the Robot, smart and horribly depressed.  Silliness can restore you in ways all the good intentions in the world can't manage. 

Maybe that's why the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything is 42.  It's absurd and silly, practically meaningless.  If there's no grand plan to life (which certainly seems possible some days) then laughing at it is the best defence we have.

In Babylon 5, the character Marcus utters something to the effect that he takes great comfort in the unfairness of the universe.  Because it would be awful if we deserved all the horrible things that happened to us.

I take comfort in our neverending ability to find meaningless and inappropriate humour in the face of great tragedy.  As long as we have that, we'll get through somehow.

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