Douglas Adams’ Parody of Modern Mannerisms

“[The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy] was a substantially expanded version of the first four episodes of the radio series, in which some of the characters behaved in entirely different ways and others behaved in exactly the same ways but for entirely different reasons, which amounts to the same thing but saves rewriting the dialogue.” (Adams, ix). Douglas Adams, the creator of the hit British radio series, The Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy, has placed his work in a genre unfamiliar enough to be called “madcap” and “zany” by radio announcers. This group includes shows like “Monty Python” and “Not the Nine O’Clock News,” which are known for their unconventional style. In 1979, Douglas Adams successfully made a “job of media transplant” when he published the first book of a to-be quintology, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Clute). In this and ensuing novels in the series, Adams uses parody, satire, and humor to mock modern mannerisms and cultural habits.

Among the several things that Adams mocks are the worship of the automobile and jogging, the pedantry of committee meetings, and also religious enthusiasm. The Hitchhiker’s Guide novels have an imaginative energy that comes from a continual parody of the English world of cricket, dressing gowns, and bypasses (Brown). For example, Arthur Dent, the protagonist and last surviving Terran wears, throughout the entire five novels, the dressing gown in which he left Earth just minutes before its destruction. In The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, the Earth is recreated and repopulated by the planet Golgafrincham’s hairdressers, public relations executives, opinion pollsters, and the rest of “an entire useless third of their population.” Set down on a prehistoric earth, these wayward settlers are at a lost of what to do. Consequentially, they hold daily committee meetings that accomplish absolutely nothing. They would like to invent the wheel, but encounter some difficulties. Ford Prefect, a researcher for The Guide who travels with Arthur asks a marketing girl why they hadn’t yet invented the wheel. She responds, “All right, Mr. Wiseguy. . .you’re so clever, you tell us what color it should be” (Adams, 296). Such a mockery of today’s corporate world brings a smile to the reader’s face while being brutally honest.

Adams also comments on the mania of certain things in society: one of Arthur’s biggest regrets about the demolition of Earth was that all the Bogart movies had been destroyed with it. Adams is commenting on the trendy love of seemingly random actors and/or movies.

In addition, Douglas Adams pokes fun at the general apathy of society. One of Adams’ characters, Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged, got so bored with immortality that he decided to travel about insulting everyone in the entire universe alphabetically. Wowbagger could have dealt with immortality, but

“it was the Sunday afternoons he couldn’t cope with, and that teribble listlessness that starts to set in at about 2:55, when you know you’ve taken all the baths you can usefully take that day, that however hard you stare at any given paragraph in the newspaper you will never actually read it, or use the evolutionary new pruning technique it describes, and that as you stare at the clock the hands will move relentlessly on to four o’clock, and you will enter the long dark teatime of the soul.” (Adams, 317)

Critic Howard says, “It is not le silence eternel of these infinite spaces that terrifies, but the incessant smart-aleck chatter of creatures like the nastier plastic things that come out of cornflake packets” (Howard). There is also a seriousness in this silliness: a Vonnegut-esque appreciation of the futility of life and the universe which allows Adams to slip in moments of sly terror which freeze the smile on the reader’s face in an instant (Hutchinson). It is mainly the third novel, Life, the Universe, and Everything that:

“gives way. . .to the inherent gloominess of Adams’ temperment. His irony was always bitter, underlaid – and indeed fuelled – by the supposition that things can and must not only go wrong, but go wrong in the most grotesque possible fashion.” (Stableford)

For example, one of the alter-Earths that Arthur visits, a planet called NowWhat, was home to the NowWhattian boghog. The few residents of NowWhat, a thoroughly dreary place, often wondered how the boghogs kept dry in the wet marsh, but the answer was simple:
“The boghogs were as cold and wet as anyone else on the planet. No one had the slightest desire to learn the language of the boghogs [to find this out] for the simple reason that these creatures communicated by biting each other very hard on the thigh. Life on NowWhat being what it was, most of what a boghog might have to say about it could easily be signified by these means” (Adams, 679).

These lines show the bitterness that pervades Adams’ writing. The reader need not worry, however, for he soon follows up such dismal passages with his usual silliness, often at the expense of society’s rules of etiquette.

Aside from creating parodies of modern mannerisms and society, Adams mocks science fiction itself. One of the main reasons his novels are so “unputdownable” is because of its comedic surreal creativity and imagination used in mocking science fiction (Kemp). He describes the planet Golgafrincham as “rich in legend, red, and occasionally green with the blood of those who sought. . .to conquer her” (Adams, 273). The Hitchhiker’s Guide quintology is filled with grotesque creatures with silly names, gibberingly sentient computers and doors, satiric farce, and beautifully absurd landscapes. Most of the humor comes from a variety of “pseudo-high-tech misinformation” (Brown). Adams has made a unique contribution to future mock, although humor isn’t rare in science fiction. He often violates sci-fi taboos, yet obviously regards them with a deep and abiding affection; he only hurts the genre he loves (Hutchinson). Reminiscent of Stanislaw Len’s work (excepting his underlying seriousness) and of Vonnegut, The Hitchhiker’s Guide series is entertaining and silly, while still successfully mocking the worst science fiction novels (Morner). Adams’ work falls into a rich vein of satire, which suggests that science fiction, at times, can be too serious and no more interesting than reading the daily newspaper. Some critics, however, believe that Adams is too satirical and silly, that despite “music-hall premises,” The Hitchhiker’s Guide series can be damagingly sophomoric with an ever-present taint of collegiate wit in naming things with silly names, and in fact, “the smooth finger-licking cynicism of the book does sometimes remind one of Kurt Vonnegut’s lesser moments” (Clute). Perhaps it is such critics and serious novels at which Adams is trying to poke fun.

Works Cited

Kemp, Peter “Wise-Guy-Sci-Fi” The Listener (Dec 18 & 25, 1980) Vol 104 #2692 reprinted CLC 27

Jonas, Gerald “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” New York Times Book Review (Jan 25, 1981) 86:24-5

Clute, John “Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction” (Feb 1982) Vol 62 #2 reprinted
CLC 27

Hutchinson, Tom “Hitching Another Hike to the Stars” London Times (Sept 9, 1982)
reprinted CLC 27

Brown, Richard “Posh-School SF” The Times Literary Supplement (Sept 24, 1982) #4147 reprinted CLC 27

Morrison, D. “So Long and Thanks for All the Fish” Time (March 11, 1985) 125:72

Adams, Douglas The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide. Wings Books, New York, 1996

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