Douglas Adams and the Reliability of Reality

Douglas Adams took us hitchhiking through both the highly fashionable and the unfashionable realms of the galaxy. He is absurdly quotable, the balance of his particular syntax and his special humor makes him easily recognizable even without a reference. His phrasing rings through the mind at unexpected intervals, long after the last page is turned.

The best way to gain recognition is through humor. The ability to make people laugh is a powerful talent, and Adams possessed this talent in abundance. Dissection of his most quotable lines displays this undeniably.

“It’s unpleasantly like being drunk.”

“What’s so unpleasant about being drunk?”

“Ask a glass of water.”

This exchange took place between Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent just before Arthur’s first jump through hyperspace. Ford was explaining the effects. Adams was a master at taking his reader by surprise in text form, this is a difficult thing to do. He does it, seemingly with ease, page after page in each of his works. He forces you into thinking, imagining something specific and automatic, then he jerks you out of what he wanted you to think and presents you with something unexpected and provoking.

“Let us think the unthinkable, let us do the undo-able. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.”

This is just a rather delicious turn-of-phrase from Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (recently made into a 90 minute television adaptation by the BBC). It is a satisfying passage, “if we may not eff it after all.” The dissection of words can lead to strange and unnerving places, and Adams was cavalier in his irreverent deconstruction of axiomatic English.

“There is an art, or rather a knack, to flying. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.”

This is an entry in the Guide about flying, which is eventually achieved in the books. Adams had a way of considering things that were perfectly uncommon, but he always presented his ideas in such a matter-of-fact way that one is inclined to believe. Whether this theory actually works, this writer does not know.

“The Guide is definitive. Reality is frequently inaccurate.”

From The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. This is one of those types of things Adams will write that seems ridiculous at first, but the longer one considers the implications of the philosophy, the more sense it makes.

Adams left a legacy of subtle, mocking humor and highly imaginative science fiction that, with any luck, will continue to span generations.


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