Enjoy this guest post from our friend Philip Bates, editor of The Doctor Who Companion…
They say that all good quotes come from Oscar Wilde or William Shakespeare. I think there’s a third candidate.
Search on Google for “Douglas Adams quotes” and you’ll see thousands of results. In fact, search for long enough and you’ll likely piece together the entirety of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – probably the full “trilogy of five.” If you need a head start, it begins:
“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.”
But why is Adams so quotable?! What’s the secret to his magic? How can we extract that absurd wit and inject it into our everyday lives? What can we learn from the ridiculousness of the late, great Douglas?
The most popular Douglas Adams quotes
It’s true that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is full of great quotes – from “The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t” to “you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space” and everything in between and beyond. You’ll sadly find more Douglas Adams quotes online from Hitchhiker’s than his Dirk Gently books, his Doctor Who stories such as City of Death (rather unbelievably), and his Meaning of Liff tomes, made with John Lloyd, although they all boast a wealth of brilliance. (It’s a shame because Liff is especially packed with great witticisms.) You may put that down to the availability of those Hitchhiker’s stories – not just the five novels, but the radio plays (its original medium), the stage shows, the film, and the TV series. But the majority of lines quoted by the masses come from the books.
We can likely put this down to the cult following Hitchhiker’s quickly amassed. Douglas Adams became cool in a niche kind of way. You’re hipster-cool if you know the importance of taking a towel with you, who the Tenth Doctor referred to in The Christmas Invasion when mentioning his pyjamas were “very Arthur Dent”, and mutter “so long, and thanks for all the fish” whenever you see dolphins.
And if you don’t? “Shee, you guys are so unhip it’s a wonder your bums don’t fall off.”
So wide was its proliferation that some quotes have become distorted or misunderstood. The most notable example of this is 42, commonly known now as the answer to the meaning of life. It originates from a computer that’s been mulling it over for some 7.5 million years. “‘Forty-two,’ said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm.” And that was that.
Except it wasn’t and it isn’t. “I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question is”, continued Deep Thought. The computer wasn’t looking for the answer to the meaning of life; instead, in a wonderful technicality, it was looking for the answer to The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. And we don’t know what that question is. Deep Thought went on, “So once you do know what the question actually is, you’ll know what
the answer means.”
That is likely the key to good Douglas Adams quotes – indeed, the key to any good quotable quote, no matter its source. Aphorisms remain relevant and relatable. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy contains an excess of loaded lines that mull over existence, specifically its perpetual mystery. The most well-known of these is, “In the beginning, the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move” – ideal for those experiencing an existential crisis.
But of course, there are many more truisms nestled in those pages:
- “The chances of finding out what’s really going on in the universe are so remote, the only thing to do is hang the sense of it and keep yourself occupied.”
- “A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.”
- “There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for 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.”
- “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”
- “He felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it.”
The most joyous Douglas Adams quotes
Hitchhiker’s is gloriously uplifting. It revels in the wonders of everyday life – by completely destroying Earth, our fragile little planet becomes negative space; the focus of the piece, despite its absence. Adams asks, “Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?” He tells us, “man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much — the wheel, New York, wars and so on — whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man — for precisely the same reasons.” He promises, “There is a moment in every dawn when light floats, there is the possibility of magic. Creation holds its breath.”
Finally, there’s the one that will be most familiar to all fans, a remark that should cling to the fabric of your soul in times of hardship: “Don’t Panic.”
Maybe that’s why Hitchhiker’s is so quotable. It means something slightly different to everyone who reads it. It’s quotable because it’s witty. It’s quotable because it’s deep. It’s quotable because it’s too whimsical to be deep. It’s quotable because… it’s quotable.
Then again, maybe we shouldn’t question its mad alchemy – we should just be glad of it, then sit back, and start re-reading. C’mon, everyone together now: “Far out in the uncharted backwaters…”
But tell us – what are your favourite Douglas Adams quotes? Do you ever work them into everyday conversation? Are you a beautiful woman (probably)?! Let us know in the comments below!
Thanks Philip Bates from The Doctor Who Companion for contributing this guest post! Be sure to check out his latest book The Black Archive: The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang which is available to pre-order from Obverse Books now!
Doctor Who 4th Doctor (Tom Baker) scarf – 18 ft. season 16 – 17, official BBC scarf. Order now from the Lovarzi shop!