Terry Jones on The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
As we continue the countdown to October 12 and the 30th anniversary of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, here are Python Terry Jones’s words on the second book in the trilogy, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe:
“I woke up one Sunday morning with a hangover and remembered that I’d bought two tickets for a five-hour silent film (it was the first performance of Abel Gance’s Napoleon).
My wife also had a hangover and said she couldn’t face it, so I rang Mike Palin and he said he had a hangover and couldn’t face it. So then I rang Douglas Adams and he said he had a hangover and couldn’t face it.
So I prepared to sit for five hours on my own, watching a film I wasn’t sure I wanted to see.
However, just as I was opening the front door to leave the house, the phone rang and it was Douglas, who said, ‘I’ve been thinking about it, and it seems such a terrible idea that I think I ought to do it.’
Douglas wasn’t afraid of ideas even if they seemed like bad ones. Indeed he was totally obsessed with the idea of ideas.
Nobody, I suspect, reads the Hitchhiker books for their plot. Not many, I would suppose, read them for their characters (apart from Marvin). So why is it that we love these books so much? After all, if a novel doesn’t have great characters or a compelling plot, why bother reading it?
In The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, there is an interlude in which the Ruler of the Universe talks to his cat about how we know anything or how we know what we perceive is what we are actually perceiving or is what is happening, and he concludes by saying ‘Perhaps I would like a glass of whisky. Yes, that seems more likely.’
And he pours himself a glass of whisky.
It’s one of those magical moments when Douglas’s fascination with ideas comes to the fore. And it’s those magical moments that I love in Douglas’s writing. He’s the only novelist I know who can make ideas a page-turner.
And The Restaurant at the End of the Universe is full of ideas. And humour. That’s the other thing Douglas was so good at: making ideas not only interesting but funny.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy opines that every civilization goes through three stages: Survival, Enquiry and Sophistication – the how?, why? and where? stages.
The Guide says: ‘the first phase is characterized by the question How can I eat? the second by the question Why do we eat? and the third by the question Where shall we have lunch?’
Then there is the wonderful concept of the A, B and C spaceships, in which all the people in Management, Accountancy, Advertising and Hairdressing are sent off in advance while the creative and productive people stay behind and somehow never make it into space… deliberately. When you look nowadays at the BBC or the National Health Service, you get the feeling that we may have been on the B Ark.
In fact, The Restaurant is full of slightly prophetic elements. The one that makes me shudder, at the edge of today’s economic disaster, is the section where the settlers from the B Ark have made the leaf into legal tender – so money really does grow on trees. But they now realize that there is too much currency available and so, to remedy the situation in fiscal terms, they decide to burn down all the forests.
So welcome to Douglas Adams’s Rollercoaster of Ideas.
Oh, and we had a great day at Abel Gance’s Napoleon. It wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
Terry Jones – Python and co-author of Starship Titanic