#76-80: The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (Katarina)

Have you ever wondered what happens to lost socks? Or who actually built the Earth and why? Maybe you are one of those people who believes Elvis actually is still alive or have sensed the intelligence in mice. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has all the answers you need and the proof necessary to make others believe in your theories.

The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is often referred to as the only trilogy that comes in five parts. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979), The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980), Life, the Universe and Everything (1982), So Long, And Thank You for the Fish (1984) and Mostly Harmless (1992) are all written by Douglas Adams. The book series, which was originally a radio comedy, has been hugely popular through the years and have resulted in both movie and television adaptations, among other things.

The plot in short is that the last human, Arthur Dent, goes on some strange adventures after the destruction of Earth. He is saved by the human-like Ford Prefect, who is a writer for The Hitch hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Through hitch-hiking, Dent travels the Universe together with Prefect and meets a huge variety of creatures. My personal favorite is Marvin the Paranoid Android. In the third book,  we find “Marvin’s Lullaby”, or “How I Hate the Night”, which is one of my favorite segments of the series.

Now the world has gone to bed
Darkness won’t engulf my head
I can see by infra-red
How I hate the night
Now I lay me down to sleep
Try to count electric sheep
Sweet dream wishes you can keep
How I hate the night

Since I read the books in Swedish, I know it to be slightly different in the translation. However, the tone is the same.

A very important aspect of the book is the meaning of life. A super computer has been invented for the sole purpose to figure out what the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything  is, but by the time it delivers its answer, 42, no one remembers what the question was.Or maybe more so, they are not quite sure what they asked for.

The book series has so many twists and turns that it is impossible to recount for more than just a fraction of them. It is a hilarious but also thought-provoking story that has become part of our literary heritage. Sadly, Douglas Adams died of a heart attack in 2001 at the age of 49.I cannot but wonder what other magical stories he would have created had he lived longer.

In case you don’t feel like reading the books, I can give you an advice. Always keep a towel close at hand, because you never know when the chance to hitch-hike through the Universe will present itself. Elvis is out there somewhere and so are all your lost socks.

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#75: The Sandman by E.T.A Hoffman (Katarina)

“The Sandman” (1917) is a short story originally written in German. It deals with the legend of the Sandman, who is said to throw sand in the eyes of children to help them fall asleep.

The protagonist is a young man by the name Nathanael. When he was young, he experienced a traumatic event that involved the Sandman. However, it is never clearly stated if the event actually took place or is a figment of his imagination. Still, he suffers from post traumatic stress that adds another layer to the story. What finally pushes Nathanael over the edge, I will not disclose.

Personally, I find the story both scary and disturbing. Coppelius could easily haunt a kid’s nightmares and i don’t blame Nathanael for being freaked out. His obsession with the man however might be taking it a step too far.

 

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#74: Rape. A Love Story by Joyce Carol Oates (Katarina)

Rape. A Love Story (2003) may not have the years to it like other classics, but Joyce Carol Oates serves up a story that stays with you. This is a very dark story that deals with the aftermath of a brutal assault that nearly killed Teena Maguire. On top of that, her young daughter Bethie witnessed the attack.

Oates keeps nothing from the reader, allowing us not only to see into the life of Teena. We also get to know who her attackers are at the same time as we are introduced to the policeman Dromoor. Dromoor is the hero of the story with his own issues and problems. He helps Teena, but does so by corrupting his own soul ever so slightly.

The novel is painful. It deals with misogyny as well as fate. Women are dealt a bad hand over and over in society and Oates shows it so clearly in this book. And the sad thing is that when it comes to fate, Oates keeps it real. Good luck or bad luck – things happen to us, and it is very difficult to win over fate.

There is so much more that can be said about this book and you can easily write several papers on it. However, I will leave you with this: some stories are more relevant than others. This is one of them.

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#73: Surfacing by Margaret Atwood (Katarina)

Surfacing (1972) revolves around the unnamed narrator’s return to her hometown in Canada after her father has gone missing. Along for the ride is her lover and a married couple. They settle into the father’s house and start exploring the surroundings. Slowly, the narrator becomes more and more overwhelmed by the past and eventually she goes mad.

Atwood tells remarkable stories and six months after reading the novel, I still remember the feeling I had when I read it and especially the setting. The only part i found quite strange about the novel is the part where the narrator goes mad. But it is, at the same time, a very interesting part of the story.

 

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#86. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (Catharina)

This book was written in English, and is an excellent example of a second language speakers command of the English language in written text. I believe that it actually gives Vladimir Nabokov an advantage over native speakers as the way he views English is different, he is not hindered by “correct” usage, cultural barriers or other hindrances that are potentially put up by writing in your native tongue. He plays with the language, in a way that the reader probably is unaware of he writes so that issues that should be an instant repellent and cause the main character to be hated, isn’t. This was Nabokov though, the man that believed that with corrects use of a language, anything could be elevated to art. The language is the key here, when you understand they key, you can open the lock and remove the shield that the main character uses to seduce you as a reader and lead you down a path that you would normally shy away from.

 

This book is about a pedophile, but it is written with him as a narrator and the girl in question is sidelined quite heavily. He is the narrator; he decides what is to be said. She is effectively silenced, her view never fully given. She thereby has no voice. She is portrayed almost any way he wants. She is a nymphet, a girl that is attracting Humbert. Sexually active before her time. In reality she is the one seducing him really? Isn’t she. The whole book is set up to ensure that you as a reader start making excuses for the main character, despite the fact that you should inherently dislike and be disgusted by him. Nabokov did a great job of seducing his readers when they are trained by society not to be. It is on purpose that the topic is such a contentious issue as pedophilia. It is also on purpose, that he writes in a way, that you as a reader should not start to hate the perpetrator.

 

I had a bad feeling the whole way through the book, and I realized after a while that it was due to the fact that despite her being a lead character. Her thoughts are really never expressed. Does this happen in society in general? Are victims of crimes like these more likely to try and move on and leave it behind? Are the perpetrators more likely to be stuck in a thought pattern that justifies what they did? If confronted, which I guess is likely to happen to a perpetrator, are these views shared and believed? Lolita’s destruction before she has even had a chance to figure out who she is, is never explored. I guess the two of them ending up as exiles in the end shows that in a sense she was destroyed. They are both exiles, from themselves more than anything. Humbert because he never admits fully to what he is.

 

I think this book, despite its subject matter being a difficult one is an important one to read. To explore how you think and how you react to views expressed and told by people around you. How are they seen by the other person involved? The one that is not present and cannot tell their side? I think that in general, this book could have been a lot more difficult to read. Nabokov did a great job, leaving out the victim’s view point puts interesting questions to the reader that pays attention. With giving the victims view the book would have been more difficult to read, and the questions would not have been there for the reader to think about.

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#85. The Odyssey by Homer (Catharina)

Dactylic hexameter, well this epic book is written in this form of rhytmic poetry.  If you struggle to read and follow poems then this could be a major challenge, I still think it is worth a go. The work is generally attributed to Homer, even though it is uncertain whether he actually wrote it or if it was written by only one person at all. It is thought to stem from a long tradition of oral, unwritten poetry which was passed down and finally made it into written text. Hence even if the original work was composed by just one person, the final written version was potentially composed by several poets or poets writing in succession. Evidence suggest that they were written between 750 B.C. and 650 B.C even though they stories are set in Mycanean Greece, twelfth century B.C. This was a period which the Greeks though was more glorious as gods still walked the earth and godlike mortals still existed in Greece.

 

The story starts of where the Iliad ends. With our hero Odysseus setting out on his journey to get home to Ithica after the fall of Troy. A journey which takes ten years and the story really begins towards the end of this journey. The travels is fraught with struggles and after he blinds the cyclops Polyphemus his father, the god of the sea Poseidon holds a bitter grudge against Odysseus. He is captured for several years on an island by the nymph Calypso but is finally helped when Zeus sends Hermes to his aid. When Poseidon finds him sailing the seas again though, he sends a storm to sink his ship. Athena intervenes and he is allowed to land in the kingdom of Scheria. Here he reveals his true identity and the King and Queen beg him to recount his story before they give him safe passage to Ithaca.

 

Here follows a wonderful story of strange countries, the battle with Polymephus, love affairs with witch-godesses, evasion of deadly Sirens, fights with sea monsters and a journey into Hades before Oddyseus finally arrives on Calypso’s island. I won’t reveal the ending but I think that this story was easier to follow than Iliad, mainly because instead of bouncing between characters and recounting great battle scenes, this story follows just one main character and his struggles. There is a reason the story has survived so long and is still one of the most widely read books, not only are the stories of strange creatures and magical encounters mingled with gods enigmatic. The icon of a man that never gives up on his end goal, despite obstacles that seam unsurmountable I believe attracts a lot of people. Odysseus is portrayed as a strong person with unwavering belief and strength in his ability to get to where he wants to go, no matter how long it takes. I guess it is a good metaphor for most peoples struggle through life.

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#84. The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (Catharina)

First of all, the word comedy did have a different meaning when this book was written so no, it is not funny. It is however brilliant, to the point where it is difficult to understand how brilliant it is unless you use a reader’s guide when you read it first, even then it is probably to be recommended to read it multiple times to get the full understanding of it. A reader without a reader’s guide (such as me) faces a multitude of issues not even related to the frequent use of allegory and symbols; the political system, religion, culture and social system was very different from what it is now making it difficult to understand the framing of the novel.

 

The book starts off with Inferno and the 33 cantos covering Dante’s descent through the nine circles of hell, each one worse than the previous one, ending up with Satan and his three mouths in the end eating the three worst sinners. Yes, the number three was thought to have a specific meaning and thereby three and multiples of three was important. Each circle of hell represents a different level of sin, the top circle being the lightest sin and the bottom circles the worst. The punishment that Dante observes as he descends is either synonymous to the sin committed or the antithesis thereof. For example, the thieves are punished by having their hands cut off and their bodies intertwined with snakes. In reality the story covers the spiritual journey through life and the sins that must be avoided to not have to atone for them in the afterlife. I guess this gave a more tangible understanding for people of the time even though I guess that in modern time it is just common sense or what you would adhere to as a decent human being rather than because you are afraid of a descent to hell. Don’t steal, lie, cheat or be a traitor. Although I guess even though I do not believe that hell in itself exists, you can still send your soul into it even though it is in this world that you condemn it rather than an everlasting punishment after death.

 

Inferno is probably the most widely read section of the Divine Comedy, but it actually contains three parts; Purgatorio and Paradiso as well. Purgatorio is a representation for the purging of your soul that you have to go through before you can reach Paradise. With Inferno going down into hell, representing the slipping of one’s soul into worse and worse destruction, Purgatory is represented by a mountain that has to be climbed with one sin being cleared after each level of the climb that you manage to clear. Paradiso is obviously a representation of one’s reward for managing to keep one’s soul intact, managing to purge it and have the persistence and higher theological understanding to stay with it right until the end until you get to see god.

 

This book is full of symbols and allegory which are difficult to understand without a thorough understanding of Dante and his life as well. There are people present in the story who were around at his time and the meaning of their presence is often lost without prior knowledge of this. I still enjoyed reading the book, but I believe that I will read it again and hopefully with a better understanding of it.

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