I knew that I would eventually start a blog on my website, but I wanted to start it on the right now. I didn’t want to start it on anything political. I have political opinions and I have zero problems sharing them, but that’s not how I wanted my first post to go. I felt like my landing page handled the “why I write books” subject pretty well so I don’t need a post for that. Today, I saw something that I simply could not abide on my Facebook feed.
Now, I’ve seen this across my feed multiple times but today it rubbed me especially the wrong way. So, with Doug being one of my big inspirations when it comes to writing, I figured I’d do my part to debunk this and hopefully shine some light on the mystery of 42.
“The answer to this is very simple. It was a joke. It had to be a number, an ordinary, smallish number, and I chose that one. Binary representations, base 13, Tibetan monks are all complete nonsense. I sat on my desk, stared into the garden and thought 42 will do. I typed it out. End of story.”
That’s what The Independent had to say in an article by Paul Bignell back in 2011. Keep in mind that the idea for Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy came to Doug while he was lying drunk in a field in Innsbruck. These two things combine together to paint a very clear picture: Douglas Adams wasn’t lying when he said there isn’t some complicated meaning behind it and, from the scribe’s own words, it’s got nothing to do with ASCII. Also, as expressed in numerous Douglas Adams interviews, like this one, for example, Doug admits that firstly, he’s quite pedantic about correcting people that he never says 42 is the answer to life, the universe, and everything, the book says it’s the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything. Secondly, he admits it’s a satire.
For those who don’t know, a satire is when an author uses humor, irony, ridicule, and other such devices to criticize people as a whole. As the main character of the novel, we can only assume that Arthur Dent represents everything wrong with the world as Doug saw it. We are introduced to Arthur’s primary problem early in the book. He’s so overly concerned with every small, unimportant detail that he misses the big, important ones. In short, he over thinks. I don’t have a resource where Douglas Adams comes out and directly calls H2G2 a satire on our tendency to overthink even the smallest details, but I feel confident in the assertion when I compare Arthur’s flaws with a nonsensical answer to the ultimate question, but is it nonsensical?
Everyone has their own theory and Stephen Fry has made it very public that he “knows the secret” behind the number 42 but plans to take it to his grave. What kind of Douglas Adams fan would I be without a theory of my own! Based on everything I know of what is undoubtedly my favorite book, the more complex a theory on the secret behind why Doug chose 42, the less likely it is to be true. My theory is a simple one and it starts with admitting something quite difficult for some of us fans of the Guide to admit. Douglas Adams wasn’t the first person to make the number 42 famous.
Douglas Adams was born in 1952. At that time, there was someone else who had already made the number 42 a household number. That person was a baseball player named Jackie Robinson. Now, we know from all the references to Cricket in H2G2 that Douglas Adams was not dubious to sports and with the cultural waves that Jackie Robinson made as the first African American to play in Major League Baseball, it’s safe to say that Douglas Adams knew who he was.
So why does a baseball player who happened to wear the jersey number 42 matter in the quest to discover the meaning of 42? It starts by saying a few of the possible questions out loud. “Why are we here?” “What’s the point of it all?” “What’s the meaning of life?” Those are the usual ones. A single quote from Jackie Robinson answers all of these questions.
A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.
It’s a simple answer. What better purpose could any of us have than to have a positive, lasting impact on those around us? Best of all, the source makes sense when looked at alongside the book itself. “Oh, Deep Thought, who will be able to tell us the meaning of life, the universe, and everything?”