I recall reading about a man who has solved some very significant question--The meaning of life, perhaps. But nobody ever gets to hear this profound discovery because he becomes distracted and the entire revelation is lost to him.

I thought this story might have been part of Hitchhiker's Guide To the Galaxy or one of Douglas Adams' books, but I simply cannot find the story. Please note, I am not thinking of Deep Thought.

I apologize if this is too vague, but I just can't remember the details

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    I'm pretty sure someone will come and answer right now, but just in case there's some guidance here on asking story identification questions. Feel free to edit in any other details you remember ;) Commented May 15, 2017 at 13:31
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    Apart from the answers already given, there is a story in HHGTG of a small tribe that lives in a wood between two warring factions, and they always get the worst of the fighting despite not being involved. They send an envoy to one of the warlords who explains in great detail why this is the natural order of things. The envoy understands, leaves home, forgets everything on the way and is killed with everyone else in the next skirmish. Don't have the book with me to find the quote, but maybe this jogs someones memories and they can look it up. Commented May 15, 2017 at 14:18
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    @eshier Yes. Dirk Gently (the novel) featured Samuel Taylor Coleridge, his dream-inspired poem "Kubla Khan", and the so-called Person from Prolock who interrupted him while he was writing it, causing him to forget the rest of the dream. While it's not regarding a question per se, a lot about OP's question reminds me of this. Commented May 15, 2017 at 14:42
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    @EikePierstorff That actually fits better than the other answers I think - I had forgotten about that part. You are referencing Prak, which is the name of the person I had forgotten in my answer. I believe the OP is mixing Fenchurch, Prak, and the most powerful man in the universe all in one person, since there are elements of all three in the question. Commented May 15, 2017 at 18:52
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    I find incredible irony that you've asked a question because you've forgotten the name of the story of a man who forgot a question.
    – Goose
    Commented May 15, 2017 at 20:43

5 Answers 5


If you are thinking of the Hitchhikers guide, this could be Fenchurch

“And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, a girl sitting on her own in a small café in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.”

She is promptly destroyed by the Vogons. On the replacement earth, she exists and is romantically linked to Arthur. However, she can never quite place the solution to everything again. (annoyingly I can't find the quote for that)

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    This has to be it. Yeah obviously I didn't remember it all that well, but you pieced it together for me. Thanks!
    – user37078
    Commented May 15, 2017 at 14:30
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    "annoyingly I can't find the quote for that" - That is so wonderfully fitting.
    – DavidS
    Commented May 15, 2017 at 15:55
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    There was a typographic joke that is always lost...in my original copy, the page ends with "a girl sitting on her" and the next page begins "own in a small cafe". Commented May 15, 2017 at 19:43
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    @DavidS Speaking of wonderfully fitting, hope you don't get another upvote.
    – 1252748
    Commented May 19, 2017 at 17:02

I think French is correct, and this is the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Fenchurch is probably who you are thinking of, but she wasn't distracted, and didn't necessarily know the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. The Question cannot be known in the same universe as the Answer, as is explained by Prak (who knows everything in the universe because he took a truth serum). In the latter part of the fourth book, Arthur and Fenchurch seek to find God's last message to his creation, which the pair believe might be what Fenchurch is looking for. Indeed, when they finally reach the location of the words and Fenchurch reads it, she says "yes, that was it", in response to the message. This website suggests an interpretation I hadn't thought of, which is that the message is different for everyone (I don't really buy this intepretation). The message as read by Marvin is

"We apologize for the inconvenience" Which isn't really a question or answer.

As for a man getting distracted, you might be conflating Fenchurch with the most powerful man in the universe (from the third book). Since the president of the galaxy is the last person who should actually rule, the person with all the power is someone who doesn't give a crap. This person is unnamed, and lives in a cabin alone on a planet with his cat. He gets distracted very easily. People from the government come to him and asks him questions, which he promptly forgets about. I believe this is what you are remembering.

I can speak with some authority on this subject.

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    In the radio series they do not go to a location far away. Fenchurch is never mentioned in the radio series.
    – Chenmunka
    Commented May 15, 2017 at 13:56
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    @Chenmunka you must have listened to a different radio series, since she's a significant part of it. Trust me, I've listened to it about 30 times. Commented May 15, 2017 at 13:56
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    @Gallifreyan thanks I will edit accordingly. Commented May 15, 2017 at 13:57
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    Clearly, as there is also no reference to Fenchurch in the published scripts of the radio series which are readily available.
    – Chenmunka
    Commented May 15, 2017 at 13:59
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    @Chenmunka bam right here Fenchurch is listed. You must have only been looking at the first three arcs. She's just as important in the radio series as the books, maybe even more so. Commented May 15, 2017 at 14:01

I think it is this scene from Monty Python's the Meaning of Life

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    Except that it was accepted as being Hitchhiker's Guide several hours ago? Commented May 15, 2017 at 18:07
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    @ChrisHayes to be fair, the OP admits a faulty memory. It wouldn't be a stretch to confuse HHGG with Monty Python, and this scene fits the description pretty well. Commented May 15, 2017 at 18:14

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was interrupted while composing the poem Kubla Khan in 1797:

On awakening he appeared to himself to have a distinct recollection of the whole, and taking his pen, ink, and paper, instantly and eagerly wrote down the lines that are here preserved. At this moment he was unfortunately called out by a person on business from Porlock, and detained by him above an hour, and on his return to his room, found, to his no small surprise and mortification, that though he still retained some vague and dim recollection of the general purport of the vision, yet, with the exception of some eight or ten scattered lines and images, all the rest had passed away like the images on the surface of a stream into which a stone has been cast, but, alas! without the after restoration of the latter!

... Kubla Khan ... was never completed. ...

-- Wikipedia: person from Porlock

There are many stories where a character (or even the real author) is interrupted by someone and forgets something important.

The Coleridge story has led to a "person from Porlock" becoming a literary allusion to such cases in general, as well as the above specific case.

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    Unless you're suggesting that the OP was thinking of another Douglas Adams story, this doesn't even attempt to answer the question.
    – jwodder
    Commented May 16, 2017 at 13:26
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    You've not answered the question but provided a comment. This is a story identification question, this user is looking for a particular story and the answer should be in the form of a story suggestion.
    – Edlothiad
    Commented May 16, 2017 at 13:27
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    Are you trying to say that OP is thinking about a real-life story of a poet? Commented May 16, 2017 at 14:29
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    @Chenmunka How can this be better than the Hitchhiker's Guide answer if the HHG answer is the accepted story?
    – Edlothiad
    Commented May 17, 2017 at 11:13
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    @DavidCary: It wasn't accepted when I made the comment.
    – Chenmunka
    Commented May 17, 2017 at 11:28

In Michael Chriton's The Andromeda Strain there was a biologist working on the problem of a disease that's been brought back to earth aboard a satellite that crashes near a small dessert town, killing almost everyone in the community in a matter of minutes. The biologist has a flash of insight regarding how the disease works and why only a very young baby and an elderly alcoholic seem to have been immune to its effects. Before being able to tell any of the other scientists working at the facility, an alarm goes off. The flashing lights that accompany the alarm trigger an epileptic seizure in the biologist, who then cannot remember the earlier train of thought.

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    (a) The OP has already established that the correct answer is something else; (b) The character who has a seizure is a coworker of the POV character who makes the discovery.
    – jwodder
    Commented May 17, 2017 at 12:57
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    @jwodder What's wrong with adding an additional, relevant answer in case someone who comes looking later is looking for a different, similar storyline?
    – eshier
    Commented May 17, 2017 at 14:31

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