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A Diversion

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  • Michael Grondin
    I ve recently been doing some research on a couple of items mentioned by Laura Joffe in her JSOT article The Answer to the Meaning of Life, the Universe and
    Message 1 of 11 , Feb 28, 2006
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      I've recently been doing some research on a couple of items mentioned by
      Laura Joffe in her JSOT article 'The Answer to the Meaning of Life, the
      Universe and the Elohistic Psalter'. As stated previously, that article
      examines the use of the number 42 in structuring portions of Psalms. But Ms.
      Joffe also mentions two less-serious uses of the number: (1) in Douglas
      Adams' _Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy_ and (2) in Lewis Carroll's poem
      _The Hunting of the Snark: An Agony in Eight Fits_. First, in footnote 3 of
      the article, Ms. Joffe writes:

      "42 is also the answer to the great Question of Life, the Universe and
      Everything, according to the computer Deep Thought in Douglas Adams _The
      Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy_ (London: Orion, repr., 1994 [1979]).
      After waiting 7,500,000 years for Deep Thought to calculate this answer, one
      of the two philosophers who have the task of conveying it to the expectant
      crowds outside says to his companion, 'We're going to get lynched, aren't
      we?' (pp. 146-47)."

      She closes her article with the following:

      "I maintain ... that 42 is the answer, not just to the Elohistic Psalter,
      and to the Great Question of Life, the Universe and Everything, but also to
      one of the more perplexing cases of amnesia to be committed to poetry:

      There was one who was famed for the number of things
      He forgot when he entered the ship:
      His umbrella, his watch, all his jewels and his rings,
      And the clothes he had bought for the trip.

      He had forty-two boxes, all carefully packed,
      With his name printed clearly on each:
      But since he omitted to mention the fact,
      They were all left behind on the beach.

      The loss of his clothes hardly mattered because
      He had seven coats on when he came,
      With three pairs of boots - But the worst of it was,
      He had wholly forgotten his name. (40)

      (40) Lewis Carroll, _The Hunting of the Snark_ ...

      My comments:

      It occurred to me at once, of course, that the seven coats and three pairs
      of boots represented 7x6 = 42. What I was wondering, though, was whether
      there was a name that Carroll had associated with the number 42 - and what
      significance that number had for him. What I concluded from my research was
      that there was a personal meaning to all this - and that Carroll had no
      special mystical and/or mathematical meaning in mind, as I had supposed.

      In _Snark_, the man with no name (as above) is the Baker. (All the character
      names start with a 'B' for reasons unknown to me.) The Baker is the central
      character, and he gets disposed of in the end by the Snark - or rather, a
      special kind of Snark called a 'Boojum'. As he disappears, the Baker is
      heard to cry 'It's a Boo-', and some of the others think they heard 'jum' on
      the end of that. However, one theory holds that what Carroll cleverly
      intended was that the Baker be saying 'It's a Boots' (i.e., a boot-black -
      another character on the ship), and that seems plausible to me in light of
      the Baker wearing three pairs of boots.

      My surmise from all this is that the Baker is Carroll himself. His pointed
      lack of a name (he answers to anything, including 'Hi') refers to the fact
      that the name 'Lewis Carroll' was the pen-name adopted by the mathematician
      Charles Dodgson. The number 42 apparently came from the fact that Dodgson
      wrote _Snark_ when he was 42 years old. As autobiography, then, the 42 boxes
      "carefully packed" and left on the beach apparently represent a life he
      thought of himself as leaving behind - along with his given name. The seven
      coats and three pairs of boots are apparently vestiges of that earlier
      life. The "Boots" who may have done the Baker in may represent Carroll's
      critics - whom he may have seen as blackening his reputation and
      trying to cause his downfall. (The Baker is said to have enemies who
      call him 'toasted cheese'.)

      As to Douglas Adams, he evidently picked up the number 42 from _Snark_,
      since his familiarity with that work is evident in calling the radio
      episodes of _Hitch Hiker's Guide_ "fits". What this all comes down to, then,
      is that apparently neither Carroll/Dodgson nor Adams had any mysterious,
      mystical, or special mathematical meaning in mind for the number 42. Unless,
      that is, Carroll was familiar with the ancient division of a person's life
      into stages of 7 years each, and he thought of himself at age 42 to have
      reached a new stage. (I'll have to look up those stages to see what 42
      represents there.)

      Mike Grondin
      Mt. Clemens, MI

      Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hunting_of_the_Snark
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