Many books have attempted to make their mark on the genre of satire, but I believe none have done so as well as Douglas Adams’ masterpiece, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Whereas many media satirize certain aspects of life in bite-sized, boiled-down chunks (think Saturday Night Live or even Don Quixote), Hitchhiker’s Guide pokes fun at life itself.
In the story, Arthur Dent, an average Brit, is saved from the destruction of Earth at the last possible second by an undercover alien. The pair proceeds to hitchhike around the galaxy, exploring and royally messing things up. The book is full of seemingly meaningless and absurd events happening because of an invention called the Infinite Improbability Drive. Adams seems focused on subverting his readers’ expectations of how the world works and what will happen in the story. It is this unpredictability and improbability that causes much of the absurdity of Hitchhiker’s Guide.
The book demonstrates the absurdity and insignificance of each person’s life, especially against the immense backdrop of an entire universe, as well as the meaninglessness of life in general. One of the most recognizable scenes is when a group of philosophers and scientists have a supercomputer built which is supposed to find the answer to the ultimate question of “life, the universe, and everything.” Instead of giving an intelligible answer, the machine spits out the number 42. Unfortunately, no one knew what the question actually was.
Another example of the satire of the story is the Hitchhiker’s Guide itself, a book supposedly containing all knowledge in the universe. However, it is absurdly specific, with articles on how to prepare a stiff drink and alien parakeet anatomy. Arthur must eventually come to terms with the fact that the knowledge of the universe is too broad to ever be collected all in one place. Arthur himself, as the last remaining human in the galaxy, is simultaneously insignificant and of great importance as the last representative for humanity.
At its most basic, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a clear-sighted, humorous take on the world around us and a playful prod at the human tendency to look for meaning in everything. When faced with the ultimate insignificance and absurdity of life, we might as well laugh. Adams certainly is.
To get an audio version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy from Audible, click here. If you want to learn about how the themes of meaning and absurdity play out in the TV show Rick & Morty, click here.