In the book, Thanks for All the Fish the story ends with 4 of the characters finding God's last message to his creation in giant flaming letters. For some reason, these letters seem to be English.

I had long assumed that the brainwave manipulation by the Babel fish caused the user to be able to read any language as well as hear it. These letters, however, are spelled out one-by-one making it seem evident that they are what the reader understands them to be. (Note: this is via the Martin Freeman audiobook so might be different in a printed version.)

Naturally, this isn't an issue for the gang as they all (making an assumption for Marvin but he is quite clever) speak English. Nevertheless, a language understood only a tiny population of the universe would be an odd choice for the last message to all of creation.

So my question is: Is "God's Last Message to his Creation" actually written in English?

  • 1
    Clearly the Tardis was nearby.
    – Mike G
    Oct 21 '15 at 17:56
  • 5
    Honestly i think God can make his massive fire letters readable to anyone
    – IG_42
    Oct 22 '15 at 13:19
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    That arguement is invalidated by the message...It admits the fallibility of God in that universe. (Note: I am kidding but the issue is that they show the letters one by one to Marvin which confuse any decription algorithm. Obviously I was reading too much into this.)
    – kaine
    Nov 12 '15 at 21:54
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    Another hypothesis : the message happens to make sense in English, but by coincidence. If you look at it from the side, it might read as a streak of abuse in some distant planet's language. If you get closer, the lines forming the letters might turn out to be intricately detailed and a writing of their own, spelling out a whole new holy book in a near-dead language. Or something like that.
    – Pwassonne
    Apr 13 '16 at 20:07

So there is an obvious pro and an obvious con toward the concept that God's Last Message is actually written in English.

The obvious pro (leaning toward "yes, it's English") is waved away by the previous answer, that Marvin is reading out the letters. He's not just spelling it out; at 37 times the age of the universe, his visual sensors are too weak to read the message. Arthur and Fenchurch help him to a tourist telescope, so he can zoom right into the flaming letters. He then views each letter independently, reading out the letters. Some might say he's "translating" the message, but what exactly would he be translating? The Spanish word for cat is "gato." If I was reading the word out letter by letter, I'd be reading "g, a, t, o" not "c, a, t." To translate a message, you must have a whole unit of communication in your mind so you can convert it to other languages, as written and spoken languages have a grand variety of writing systems, grammars, vocabularies, etc. Marvin is giving immediate feedback of the individual letters he is seeing, and those letters are English letters, translating to English words.

The obvious con, is the statement that God can make anyone read whatever He wants to tell them. There's an un-sourced quote from Douglas Adams (http://asymptotia.com/2006/11/02/gods-final-message/) that states "When Marvin reads the message, it says, “We apologise for the inconvenience.” However, Fenchurch‘s reaction suggests that the message she saw was the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything (and that presumably, therefore, the Message is personalized to each viewer)."

The idea that the Babel Fish translates "visual language" is refuted in The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe, Chapter 22, as pointed out by Crow T. Robot on a question asking if the babel fish translates language (https://scifi.stackexchange.com/a/114285/64659). The Golgafrincham writing is described as "[looking] like the footprints of a spider that had had one too many of whatever it is that spiders have on a night out, but Ford instantly recognized an early form of Galactic Eezeereed." Which is ironic, because (as we find out later) the Golgafrinchams are the direct ascendants of Human kind. If anything Eezeereed should be "more in tune" to any mental mapping provided by the Babelfish than anything else Arthur could have read.

(Opinion: One important detail to point out is that Douglas Adams enjoys coincidences, like "Belgium" being a horrible, horrible word in the rest of the universe. It's possible to surmise that, by coincidence (or through the use of the Improbability Drive, or the destruction of a planet designed by extremely intelligent beings in a plural zone), the Galaxy being hitchhiked through actually DOES use English as a galactic language, and the only reason nobody has noticed that that's one of the major languages on Earth is that Earth had already been marked as "Mostly Harmless" and nobody bothered to go check. That's not the only galactic "coincidence". For example, Earth being the only planet to base a game off of the Krikkit Wars, complete with the wooden portion of the Wikkit Gate key being the cricket ashes on Earth. Despite being a boring planet with little to no contact with the Galaxy at large, it (and especially Britain) show up a lot in the galaxy. Maybe it's a side effect of being in a plural zone...)

However, all that said, let's assume that God's Final Message is NOT actually written in English, and that Fenchurch saw a completely different message tailored to her. Why would we "hear" Marvin reading out "We apologize for the inconvenience?" Well, if we also assume that there's a "God Field" that converts the actual message into a religious experience for the person experiencing it... the message we hear would also apply directly to Arthur Dent. As the stories are written from at least nearby his personal point of view, we would hear God's Message as it applies to both Marvin and Arthur.


I don't think there's any clear evidence in the text one way or another, but as you say the Babel Fish probably translated text as well as spoken language (see this answer which cites a number of scenes of Arthur reading things that wouldn't really make sense otherwise), so we can at least say there is no good reason to believe the words were written in English. And one could speculate that if the words were really written by a deity (or at least some sort of ridiculously advanced universe-designing being or civilization), the monument might have been built with a Babel-Fish-like field around it to ensure anyone could read the words. The fact that Marvin spells out the letters one by one doesn't really prove anything, since around Arthur and Fenchurch we can guess he would actually be speaking English, since a robot with a "brain the size of a planet" could presumably easily switch to any known language, and actually using English around English-speakers would minimize the potential for confusions that might occur even with the Babel Fish (for example, it would be confusing if he was trying to spell out a message alongside some English-speakers and they saw a different number of letters than he did).

I'd also add a bit of circumstantial evidence against it being written in English--if humans had happened to develop a language that perfectly matched the text of God's Last Message, which was apparently a well-known monument as evidenced by the souvenir stands surrounding it, wouldn't this have merited a note in the entry for Earth in the Hitchhiker's Guide?

  • 3
    The Guide's entry on the subject of Earth was somewhat truncated.
    – Valorum
    Feb 13 '16 at 18:02
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    @Richard - Yes, but it was truncated because the editors didn't think there was anything particularly interesting or notable about the planet. If there was a mysterious connection between an Earth language and the language of God's Last Message, you'd think this would be a subject they'd highlight to grab people's interest (lots of religious types would probably see this as greatly significant, come up with all sorts of different explanations for it, etc.)
    – Hypnosifl
    Feb 13 '16 at 18:16

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