The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is one of my favorite science fiction stories. I used to consider it as only an interesting story book, but now I think the author wants to express a lot of things through the books. Did the author really want to express something about society and other things through the book, or it is just writing for fun without any meaning?

(If it helps to make the question less broad, I can restrict it to only the first book of the series.)

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    I did not see this as a request for an open ended discussion, I think the OP wants to know whether this book is just a fun fling, or if it is saying something more. @1111XYZ, if what I am saying makes sense to you, you can try to edit the question to make it clearer....if they reopen this, I have an answer which I wrote but could not post, as it was closed while I was writing.
    – Basya
    Commented Jul 8, 2021 at 9:26
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    Since you mention the first book specifically, it's probably important to note that it was adapted fairly closely from a radio series, which in turn was written largely one episode at a time (Douglas Adams was notorious for doing everything at the last moment). As others have said, social satire was definitely an important part of his writing, but so was a lot of whimsical humour (I'm pretty sure "Ford, you're turning into a penguin! Stop it!" has no deeper meaning, but it's a great line).
    – IMSoP
    Commented Jul 8, 2021 at 21:36
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    I've made another edit, to clarify and scope the question further, and reopened it. (cc @Basya)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 8:39
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    A whole lot of things. But probably not one big overarching thing.
    – hobbs
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 19:17
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    I dunno but "Don't Panic" is generally pretty good advice. Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 19:24

4 Answers 4


The only person who could tell you what the author really wants to express would be the author himself. I have so far found very little source material where he expressed that (I'll try to edit in, if I find later) but apparently a book is soon coming out to publish many of his notes; perhaps there will be material then. (See: this article describing it.)

From the book itself, and material written by others about it, the book appears to be intended as a satirical commentary on the world we live in (at the time it was written, and much still relevant today). It points out, in extreme and satirical exaggeration, the negative/harmful aspects of bureaucracy (the Vogons, who are so attached to bureaucracy that it verges on cruelty, or perhaps more than just verges on cruelty). Technology, which sometimes does more harm than good (Douglas Adams has been quoted as saying, "Technology is a word that describes something that doesn’t work yet." (see here, and the first review I'll discuss below)), etc.

I found several reviews and such which discuss it, which may be of interest to you.

For example, from this article:

Evergreen insights about subjects such as bureaucracy abound. The Vogons, for instance, are an alien race collectively disinclined to save their grandmothers from certain death without orders “signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public inquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighters”. As for politics, Adams noted: “Anyone capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”

But Adams was just as likely to poke fun at technology. Critiquing the need for multiple secure passwords, he creates a fictional “Ident-I-Eeze” card designed to hold all of them; it is promptly stolen. Plenty of other inventions go wrong in all-too-recognizable ways.

Humanity’s overweening confidence in its own intelligence also gets a skewering. Adams casts dolphins, for example, as a spacefaring species more intelligent than humans.

Another example, in this review (emphasis mine):

One thing which pretty much everyone knows about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is that the ‘meaning of life’ (actually the Answer to the Great Question of Life, the Universe and Everything) is ‘42’, but there is also a much subtler answer to perhaps this very question tucked inside.

When Slartibartfast, a planetary architect, tells Arthur that he is particularly fond of the Norwegian fjords he designed, citing the “little crinkly edges”, there is an almost Buddhist suggestion of taking mindful enjoyment of the present, and a Bertrand Russellesque view of fulfilling work and self-improving leisure. The dark side of scientific materialism is also illuminated by an almost throwaway line about the uncanny feeling that “relationships between people were susceptible to the same laws that governed the relationships between atoms and molecules.”

All that said, Douglas Adams was a humorist, and some of the book is meant to be just that. Trying to find meaning in the jokes, well, a lot of people have tried, and had a lot of fun with it, but you can't say the author intended it. Many theories were suggested by fans about the choice of the number 42. Wikipedia quotes alt.fan.douglas-adams, where Adams himself answered "Why the Number 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 thirteen, Tibetan monks are all complete nonsense. I sat at my desk, stared into the garden and thought '42 will do' I typed it out. End of story.

  • "Trying to find meaning in the jokes, well, a lot of people have tried, and had a lot of fun with it, but you can't say the author intended it." Actually you can, if you do your damn research instead of leaping on the first word-of-god non-answer you find and clutching it to your bosom like a cherished teddy-bear. (Why no, I'm not bitter my answer doesn't get more up-votes.) Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 10:37
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    Thanks a lot!I am waiting for the answer for a long time.Now I see it's worth waiting.Now my question is completely solved.Thanks.
    – 1111XYZ
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 12:06
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    @PaulD.Waite I don't see how your quote about 42 says anything different from the one Basya already included. Sure, it suggests there were a couple of extra thoughts that went through his head while staring at the garden, but the ultimate answer (as it were) is that it was chosen to have no meaning.
    – IMSoP
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 15:15
  • @IMSoP: sure, but it was chosen to have quite a specific effect, which is a particular trademark of Douglas Adams' style of humour. My answer has quotes from Adams that describe in a bit more detail the qualities he was looking for. I think that's a bit more interesting to think about than the absence of meaning. Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 16:47
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    I always thought the point of 42 was not that it was meaningless, but that to understand the answer to life, the universe and everything you first had to understand what question you were asking :-)
    – Batperson
    Commented Jan 22, 2022 at 2:08

I'm sure Adams had lots that he wanted to say, but my immediate thought on reading the question was to remember this from Neil Gaiman's Don't Panic, which listed some questions from readers and Adams' replies:

Q: What is your main message in Life, the Universe and Everything?

A: No message. If I'd wanted to write a message I'd have written a message. I wrote a book.


I reread the series recently. There are certainly some profound insights, which can be considered implicitly to be messages.

Top for me has always been:

"Who can possibly rule if no-one who wants to do it can be allowed to?".

Politics in one line.

"Still thought digital watches were a pretty neat idea".

Technology hype. See many digital watches these days?

"A thing that cannot possible go wrong usually turns out to be impossible to get at and repair".

Design hubris.

"It is very easy to be blinded to the essential uselessness of [their products] by the sense of achievement you get from getting them to work at all. In other words—and this is the rock solid principle on which the whole of the Corporation's Galaxy-wide success is founded—their fundamental design flaws are completely hidden by their superficial design flaws."

Modern IT in a nutshell.

"If somebody thinks they're a hedgehog, presumably you just give 'em a mirror and a few pictures of hedgehogs and tell them to sort it out for themselves".

Fooling oneself.

"Humans think they are smarter than dolphins because we build cars and buildings and start wars etc., and all that dolphins do is swim in the water, eat fish and play around. Dolphins believe that they are smarter for exactly the same reasons".

I think of that every time I get pleasantly drunk.

"Thank you. Since we decided a few weeks ago to adopt the leaf as legal tender, we have, of course, all become immensely rich ... But we have also," continued the management consultant, "run into a small inflation problem on account of the high level of leaf availability, which means that, I gather, the current going rate has something like three deciduous forests buying on ship's peanut"

A message regarding everything you need to know about economics and management consultants.

"Light, which travels so fast it takes most races thousands of years to realize that it travels at all"


Marketing executives inventing the wheel:

"Alright, Mr. Wiseguy," she said, "if you're so clever, you tell us what colour it should be."

The entire human race being the descendants of the useless third of Golgafrinchan society - surely that's a message!

But, personally, I think there are more and better messages in Dirk Gently.


Exploitation and apathy from those in power

Another thing that no one has mentioned I think is the destruction of the world in the context of the main character's house, as scheduled to be demolished. The planet is perceived as undesirable real estate, which parallels the unfortunate circumstances that people like Arthur sometimes experience due to the actions of economical institutions (housing markets) and governing institutions (as in imminent domain). His house's demolition is a microcosm for broader socioeconomic and political dispositions while the decimation of the globe exemplifies a plenary disregard for the lives of others, even unceremoniously so, at this broader scale.

The smallness of the Sol system

It fits into a larger, more overarching contemplation of purpose. Human civilization, and even our solar system, is infinitesimal juxtaposed with the vastness of space and the trillions of stars that exist. It's obliterated in an instant. The life of a single human can be seen as even smaller by extension, which posits the question of whether or not anything that we do – mankind's greatest achievements – is at all significant, or if we can only simply experience space-time as life expressly contorts our lives based on probabilities, chaos, and the physical laws of the universe.

Seeking purpose and control is futile?

The characters who survive search for existential meaning but are often greeted with apathetic authority, absurdity, and mind-numbing levels of red tape, and lack access to the control they need in order to ensure certain outcomes. In the process of exploring and gaining knowledge, they actually become less happy and more miserable, which contradicts the common wisdoms that "looking for purpose makes us complete" or "knowledge is power". In Guide to the Galax, purpose is virtually impossible to find and power is inaccessible to almost all.

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