After mentioning dear Douglas Adams in a couple of recent posts, I thought I should confess that he is the only person to whom I have ever written a fan letter.
I never got a reply, of course. I was probably only one of several tens of thousands of people who wrote to him during the height of the 'Hitch-Hiker' craze, most of us claiming to have solved the riddle of The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. However, I like to think that I was the only one of them who got it right. Pity Douglas never got back to me on that!
Briefly, for non-HHGG buffs, the search for The Ultimate Question was a wonderful MacGuffin (surely the greatest of all MacGuffins!) in the story. The Answer to the Ultimate Question had, of course, been worked out long before, by Deep Thought, a gigantic supercomputer constructed especially for the purpose. After many thousands of years of calculation, this computer pronounced with absolute confidence that The Answer was 42. The Question, however, remained beyond its grasp, and it declared that it would itself have to design another even more intricate computational device, incorporating living organisms within its operational matrix, in order to determine what that was. As it happened, this second computer was the planet Earth - which was tragically destroyed only moments before the 'program' was finally set to produce the answer..... or rather, The Question.
Now, this always seemed quite a simple matter to me. Adams, a self-proclaimed "devout atheist", was naturally fascinated with the notion of God, and there were many, many jokes about God (who was, it would appear, generally assumed to exist) in both the radio and novel versions of HHGG. There were also a lot of references to the overriding importance of the telephone and telephone numbers in people's lives, and to strange coincidences involving them (I seem to recall, for example, that one of the 'improbability factors' recited by the shipboard computer ['Improbability' providing the motive power for the stolen space/time-travelling starship Heart of Gold] was revealed by the narrator to also have been the phone number of one of the human characters in the story). Even more significantly, very early on in the radio series (I think perhaps even before the Ultimate Question plot strand had been introduced) there was a throwaway line about someone on Earth having worked out the secret of life (how to end wars, famine, promote brotherly love, etc.)..... and having been on their way to a payphone to tell someone about it - just as the Earth was destroyed! In one of the later books, this person becomes an active character in the story (a girl called Fenchurch, who, having been miraculously rescued from the Earth at the instant of its demise, eventually meets up with and becomes the lover of the only other human survivor, Arthur Dent, the story's chief protagonist).
And SO....... well, it is generally assumed that The Ultimate Question is whether or not there is a God; but in fact that is only The Penultimate Question, because this knowledge is fairly useless unless you also know how to get in touch with Him; so, if you find out, for an absolute certainty, that God exists, then The Ultimate Question that forms in your brain is inevitably, "Well, what's His telephone number, then?" The girl, Fenchurch, had had a revelation which showed her how to sort out all the mundane details of getting people to live in peace together; but what was she going to do with this wisdom? She was about to decide that the first person she should talk to about it was God Himself; but then she would realise that she didn't know his telephone number. But the Earth was destroyed seconds before she formulated that question in her mind - The Ultimate Question.
There we have it. QED.
What's God's telephone number?
You heard it here, on Froogville, first.