Sunday, 11 October 2015

Where Have They Gone?

by Sian Latham

The cast of the original BBC radio production of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
(author Douglas Adams, third from right)

“In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”

This was the line that opened the second novel in Douglas Adams’ collection entitled the Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe. The series follows the adventures of the normal man, Arthur Dent, after the Earth is destroyed to make way for an Intergalactic highway. The story follows erratic storylines, philosophical questions and the issue of who we are and what life truly means.

Monty Python's Holy Grail
“I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.”

A Frenchman’s insult directed at King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table in Monty Python’s Holy Grail. The film is the tale of King Arthur’s search for the Holy Grail, encountering peasants who question the democracy of the feudal system, religious monks who hit themselves in the head, witches, killer rabbits and coconut carrying pigeons. Even more, they do all this by foot, followed by servants using coconuts to mimic the sounds of horse hooves.

dining at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe (BBC TV version)

Within these polarized pieces of media, one thing is captured and made timeless: a sense of confused order. The wit and skill used to craft lines such as: “The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t” and “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so”, seems to be a skill that modern writers just can’t quite capture in the same way. The closest I have seen come to lines such as these are authors such as John Green and Terry Pratchett, but one fails to capture the ludicrousness of the statements and the other fails to grasp the intricacy of the rationally irrational argument put across.

Douglas Adams, within the context of two-headed characters, Vogons, hitchhikers and one very confused human man, manages to question how we view important elements of our lives while blasting you through a whirlwind of adventure. What is love? What is worth sacrificing everything for? Is all that we consider fact just waiting to be overturned by new knowledge? Is the meaning to life, the Universe and everything really 42?

The Monty Python cast, while not making us philosophically question everything, detach us from the problems and behaviours of the world. They use comedy and wit to challenge our perceptions of so called ‘rational’ actions, all while running around the countryside dressed as knights and fighting off killer rabbits.

So where has this skill gone? Why is there no new material that comes close to this level? Well, in the words of Douglas Adams’, “I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don’t know the answer.” Perhaps, one fears an inability to capture what was so masterfully created, or perhaps there is a lack of want for such novels by modern authors. In truth, it shocks me how few appear to have read the Hitchhiker's books. I often find myself voicing quotations such as “so long and thanks for all the fish” only to be looked at with queer bemusement and sometimes worry for my state of mind. Of course, the worry doesn’t abate when I explain that the quotation is the final words of the Dolphins before they leave the planet after spending so much time trying to warn us, the lesser evolved species, of the Earth’s impending destruction. Dolphins! Why am I the only one that wants to sing the praises of this genius from the rooftops? Here is a man who writes an entire series (radio, TV, book and film) on the principle that the Earth was a giant living computer created by mice in order to find the ultimate question to life, the Universe and everything.

If that doesn’t make you want to run out and buy the book (or film if you must) this minute, I don’t have a clue what would make you. The creativity of the Monty Python team and the sheer intelligence of Douglas Adams’ works are of a level far exceeding the everyday writer. However, their works appear to have become a bit of a niche market. They are too erratic, too confusing, too ‘over-the-top’ for the normal consumer. I refute this. They aren’t too anything. They are merely different, and shouldn’t we celebrate that which alleviates the monotonous drone of the ordinary?

If you are a fan of Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman, please, I beg you, indulge me. The works of Douglas Adams will quickly become a favourite that you’ll be quoting and gushing about to people just as much as I do now. Alternatively, if you enjoy slapstick comedy, or Harry Hill, or any other ‘over-the-top’ comedy, Monty Python is a definite for you. In truth, I think there’s something for everyone if both sets of works, comedy, philosophy, history, sci-fi, etc, etc.

If nothing thus far has persuaded you to leaf through some pages or watch some moving images perhaps this last quotation will;

“There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.

There is another theory which states that this has already happened.”

1 comment:

  1. much missed and never to be replicated


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