Reading Meme – Day Nine

Day Nine – Best scene ever

I struggled with this choice more than some of the others in the meme. So many scenes came to mind. I kept coming back to two very different ones. They strike me for very, very different reasons, and I hesitated to list and describe both just because of that. I’m keeping both. They appeal to me regardless of their differences.

Scene the first:

The Hitchhiker's Guide omnibus

Hitchhiker's Guide omnibus

Toward the end of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Arthur Dent, Englishman without a country, Earthman without a planet, visits Magreatha, where planets are manufactured, and, courtesy of his guide Slartibartfast and their tour of the factory floor, learns the truth about the origins of Earth. Through a recording of an event from the far distant past, he sees the following scene. Keep in mind that the questioners have been waiting on the computer Deep Thought for 7.5 million years as it calculated.

“We are the ones who will hear,” said Phouchg, “the answer to the great question of Life…!”
“The Universe…!” said Loonquawl.
“And Everything…!”
“Shh,” said Loonquawl with a slight gesture. “I think Deep Thought is preparing to speak!”

<<some snippage>>

“You’re really not going to like it,” observed Deep Thought.
“Tell us!”
“All right,” said Deep Thought. “The Answer to the Great Question…”
“Yes…!”
“Of Life, the Universe, and Everything…” said Deep Thought.
“Yes…!”

“Is…” said Deep Thought, and paused.
“Yes…!”
“Is…”
“Yes…!!!…?
”“Forty-two,” said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm.

And now you know, if you didn’t already, why people walk around with t-shirts with nothing but the number “42” on them, and why Fox Mulder lived in apartment 42. This is where all that comes from.

So. The reason this is a “best scene” for me: This is what happens when you don’t ask the right question (or don’t know what question to ask at all) and go ahead with a project anyway. Project managers, I’m lookin’ at you. The absurdity of these people putting over seven million years into this project, only to have an answer they don’t know how to act on or react to, highlights the absurdity of many of our own endeavors… not the least of which is pulling out our hair over worries about the meaning of life.

And then there is Arthur, who continues to watch Deep Thought, Loonquawl, and Phouchg discuss, and then plan, to build the Earth as a living computer that will compute the Ultimate Question. At this point, he’s had the rug of understanding jerked out from under him so many times, that I’m shocked he processes this information at all.

Scene the second:

Victor Hugo's Les Miserables

Javert’s moment of truth in Les Misérables after being rescued by Jean Valjean, whom he has, for over a decade, believed to be a cruel and dangerous convict. Javert’s preconceptions about Valjean and about the law are crumbling around him, and he is at a loss.

He beheld before him two paths, both equally straight, but he beheld two; and that terrified him; him, who had never in all his life known more than one straight line. And, the poignant anguish lay in this, that the two paths were contrary to each other. One of these straight lines excluded the other. Which of the two was the true one?

His situation was indescribable.

<much snippage>

Where did he stand? He sought to comprehend his position, and could no longer find his bearings.

What was he to do now? To deliver up Jean Valjean was bad; to leave Jean Valjean at liberty was bad. In the first case, the man of authority fell lower than the man of the galleys, in the second, a convict rose above the law, and set his foot upon it. In both cases, dishonor for him, Javert. There was disgrace in any resolution at which he might arrive. Destiny has some extremities which rise perpendicularly from the impossible, and beyond which life is no longer anything but a precipice. Javert had reached one of those extremities.

<more snippage>

He was forced to acknowledge that goodness did exist. This convict had been good. And he himself, unprecedented circumstance, had just been good also. So he was becoming depraved.

He found that he was a coward. He conceived a horror of himself.

Javert’s ideal, was not to be human, to be grand, to be sublime; it was to be irreproachable.

Now, he had just failed in this.

Now, Javert’s way of resolving the conflict he finds himself in is important, but I think it’s the fact that he finds himself at a point of internal strife that is what moves me. His single-minded dedication to always following the law, to allowing himself to see nothing aside from the rules of doing what is right, has made him cruel, and he has seemed as something less than human, being free of compassion. And yet, here he is, in a crisis of faith. This scene makes his character real, a person we can identify with and invest ourselves in.

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About Jessica

Dork extraordinaire, that's me! An unhealthy knowledge of Star Trek, a love of books, a fondness for purring cats.
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5 Responses to Reading Meme – Day Nine

  1. Jim Butcher.
    Dead Beat.
    Harry Dresden.
    Zombie dinosaur.

    ‘Nuff said.

    • Jessica says:

      I’m on page fifty of Storm Front, so eventually I shall get to this and understand the reference.

      Just off the cuff, though, “zombie dinosaur” is pretty win.

  2. Blaise says:

    And my thoughts fly apart
    Can this man be believed?
    Shall his sins be forgiven?
    Shall his crimes be reprieved?

    And must I now begin to doubt,
    Who never doubted all these years?
    My heart is stone and still it trembles
    The world I have known is lost in shadow.

    Best. Show. Ever.

  3. Andy says:

    This is a tough one.

    I think for now I’ll take the final scene in The Great Gatsby, where Nick is contemplating Long Island Sound and the absurd futility of striving.

    I have relatives who live on the Connecticut side of the Long Island Sound and I visit them a couple times a year, and every time I see the mansions along the water, I replay the words from this scene in my head.

    It’s the last quote on this page.

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