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Literature / The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

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There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.

There is another theory which states that this has already happened.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (published in 1980) is the second book in the increasingly inaccurately-named The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy. It constitutes the second half of author Douglas Adams' original radio story; due taking a legendarily long time to finish his manuscripts, he couldn't fit the whole thing into one book and his publishers told him to just give them what he had and that they'd publish the rest separately later. Those familiar with the radio series knew what to expect here before Life, the Universe and Everything took them to wholly new pastures.

Following directly after the events of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe finds our motley crew (hapless Englishman Arthur Dent, his alien friend Ford Prefect, human female Trillian, Galactic President Zaphod Beeblebrox, and Marvin the paranoid android) under attack from the Vogons, this franchise's brand of bureaucratic-minded green-skinned space invaders, after the destruction of the Earth. They manage to escape with some supernatural help, and Zaphod gets caught up in the conspiracy that compelled him to become President and steal the starship Heart of Gold in the first place (which he erased his own memory about for security reasons, and has no desire to get back). After finally finding out from fellow conspirator Zarniwoop that their objective is to meet the person who actually rules the universe, he decides not to go along with it and escapes.

Instead, our heroes go out to lunch at "the nearest place to eat" — which turns out to be the luxurious Milliways, the title restaurant, where diners can enjoy witnessing the destruction of all creation while being treated by food that literally begs to be eaten and entertained by the stylings of stand-up comedian Max Quordlepleen. Following an incident involving a dead rock star's high-class stunt spaceship and a rather large sun, Arthur and Ford end up teleported onto a massive space ark full of telephone sanitation engineers (among other middlebrow professions) two million years into the past... while Zaphod and Trillian end up right back where they started.

In the end, Zarniwoop drags Zaphod and Trillian along with him to meet the man who rules the universe... and gets an unpleasant shock. Arthur and Ford find themselves stranded on a prehistoric Earth, where the true and shocking origins of the human species — and the final outcome of the program to find the Ultimate Question — are gradually revealed to them.

Preceded by The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Succeeded by Life, the Universe and Everything.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: Gargravar, the disembodied voice, gets more screen-time, filling Zaphod in on the disconnect between himself and his body.
  • Adapted Out: The Frogstar Prisoner Relations office and the disco sequence are excised. Zaphod makes no attempt to escape the office block. The entire sequence with Brontial and Lintilla is excised, with the discussion of the Shoe Event Horizon being moved to Frogstar World B. And since Arthur and Ford get separated from Zaphod, Arthur never learns Zaphod approved the destruction of Earth.
  • Aliens Never Invented the Wheel: Due to having 50 arms each, the Jatravartids are the only known race in the universe to invent the aerosol deodorant before the wheel.
  • All for Nothing: Zaphod finds he's part of a massive conspiracy to find the supposed Ruler of the Universe, which nearly gets him killed. Eventually, he does find the man... and it turns out the man's not very knowledgeable at all.
    • Ford realizes that even if Arthur does have (some variant of) the Ultimate Question written into his brainwave patterns, the fact of the extinction of the native cavemen by the Golgafrinchans means that the program Earth is running will give a hopelessly corrupted Question as its output.
  • And I Must Scream: Zaphod finds a passenger ship filled with passengers all being kept alive and prisoner by stasis fields until all the supplies ordered by the ship's commissary have been loaded (they're out of moist lemon-scented towelettes). Every few centuries they are released from stasis so that the robot stewards can serve coffee and cookies. After which they are returned to stasis, despite their complaints (which have, over the millennia, become both strident and desperate).
  • Artistic License Ė Physics: The temporal end of the universe is depicted as a spectacular Apocalypse Wow, in which entire star systems can be seen "boiling away into the ultraviolet", forming the backdrop to a fine-dining experience. Actually, insofar as there can be said to be a "temporal end of the universe", the stars and everything else will have long since burned out, and there won't be any information of any kind whatsoevernote .
  • Ask a Stupid Question...:
    • After the talking insect receptionist at the Guide offices asks Zaphod in astonishment if he's the Zaphod Beeblebrox, Zaphod snaps, "No, just a Zaphod Beeblebrox, didn't you hear I come in six-packs?"
    • On asking what Marvin was doing in a car park, Trillian is informed he was parking cars. What else does one do in a car park?
  • Bad Boss: Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz is reintroduced having killed off half of his crew in a training exercise.
  • Baths Are Fun: The captain of the B Ark spends most if not all of the voyage in a bathtub in the center of the ship's bridge and endorses the idea that "You're never alone with a rubber duck."
  • "Begone" Bribe: There's a violinist in Milliways who Zaphod and Ford get rid of like this. He leaves and goes over to bother Arthur and Trillian.
  • Bio Data: Earth is the computer that Deep Thought created to discover the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. Because he was a part of Earth's organic matrix, the Question (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) is stored in Arthur Dent's brain wave patterns. Near the end of the book he and Ford Prefect try to discover the Question by introducing a random element that can be shaped by that pattern — drawing Scrabble tiles from a bag without looking.
  • Boggles the Mind: Invoked by Arthur, when he pulls out Scrabble tiles while blindfolded in an attempt to reveal the Ultimate Question from his subconscious, and reveals "WHATDOYOUGETIFYOUMULTIPLYSIXBYNINE".
    • This entire incident was inspired by a chimp spelling out "FOURTY TWO".
  • Brick Joke:
    • On first meeting Zarniwoop, Zaphod wants to hit him for his annoying smile. Later on, Zarniwoop does it again, and this time Zaphod does punch him.
    • Back in the first book, it was mentioned Ford wondered if humans stated the blindingly obvious to stop their brains working. Here, we learn this is true for the people of Bellcelerephon, who were cursed with telepathy for being annoyingly satisfied.
    • Also in the first book, Arthur tried the Nutri-matic drinks dispenser, and found its creation of something that was almost, but not entirely, almost unlike tea bracing. A few days later, he's changed his mind.
  • Chekhov's Gun: On arriving at the Guide's headquarters, mention is made that the guide staff have virtual universes installed in their office so they don't have to do any actual hitchhiking. Zaphod winds up in one of these office-based virtual universes.
  • Conditioned to Accept Horror: The sentient food at the title restaurant was specifically bred to want to be eaten, so as to sidestep any ethical dilemma of killing something that didn't.
  • The Conspiracy: Zaphod Beeblebrox the Fourth, Zarniwoop, Rooster, deceased galactic president Vranx, and Zaphod himself were all part of a conspiracy to find and steal the Heart of Gold and find the person who really runs the universe.
  • Cool Starship: The Milliways' parking lot is packed with them. Naturally, our heroes pick the one that's got a date with a solar flare...
  • Contrived Coincidence: The planet Disaster Area plays on experiences a truly bizarre mixture involving a solar flare and an earthquake that turns a mighty desert upside down, causing the planet to turn into a virtual Eden, while at the same time destroying the telepathic field the locals had been punished with. Because the Heart of Gold had shown up in an equally improbable move to save Zaphod and Trillian from the sun dive.
  • Crapsack World: Frogstar World B is a bleak, miserable place that long ago passed the Shoe Event Horizon. Now the only things left are the birdlike natives, and the crashed buildings used to carry the victims of the Total Perspective Vortex.
  • Death by Despair: The hominids on prehistoric Earth just seem to sort of give up on life when the Golgafrinchians show up.
  • Death by Irony: The Golgafrinchans got rid of all the people in their society who did what was deemed to be unnecessary work, like middle manager and telephone sanitizers. The following Golden Age was cut short by a virulent plague that came from a dirty telephone.
  • Dolled-Up Instalment: Adams came up with the idea of useless people being made to evacuate in a spaceship for a cancelled Doctor Who episode that was rejected for being too similar to "The Ark In Space".
  • Downer Ending: While Zaphod and Trillian are off doing their own thing, Arthur and Ford are stuck on pre-historic Earth with a load of useless idiots who are still going to survive for the next two million years, and with no apparent hope of rescue.
  • Emergency Temporal Shift: The heroes attempt to leave the eponymous restaurant by stealing a ship from the carpark, only to find that they've accidentally pinched a stuntship programmed to crash into a sun for a rock concert. Fortunately, there's a teleporter installed in the ship, but thanks to the incomplete controls, the four of them are flung into opposite periods of space and time: Zaphod and Trillian find themselves back on the Heart of Gold in present time, while Arthur and Ford appear on the Golgafrinchan B ark bound for prehistoric Earth.
  • Epic Fail: Arthur's attempt to get the drink replicator to make a decent cup of tea causes the ship to shut itself down just to figure it out, nearly getting the crew killed. (It does, however, eventually produce a pot of the best tea Arthur's ever had.)
  • Evil Is Petty: It turns out the Vogons were ordered to destroy Earth by a consortium of psychiatrists, because they didn't want their profession to be destroyed by the presumed serenity that knowing the Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything would bring to the people of the universe.
  • Flowery Insults: Zaphod is a fount of these, including "I get stranger things than you free with my breakfast cereal" and "You guys are so unhip it's a wonder your bums don't fall off."
  • Fold the Page, Fold the Space: Subverted. Ford Prefect starts with a napkin, and subsequently completely fails to explain to Arthur Dent why Milliways is protected from the destruction of the Universe.
  • Free Prize at the Bottom: This is referenced by Zaphod Beeblebrox when a receptionist tells him that the executive he wishes to see is on an intergalactic cruise... in his office.
    Zaphod: Listen, three eyes, don't you try to outweird me. I get stranger things than you free with my breakfast cereal.
    Receptionist: Well, just who do you think you are, honey? Zaphod Beeblebrox or something?
    Zaphod: Count the heads.
  • Gang of Hats: The useless citizens of Golgafrincham are all collectively defined by their Skewed Priorities. When they crashland on some Insignificant Little Blue Planet, they all overlook some of the most glaringly obvious solutions to basic survival and prioritize things like war and marketing over things like building a fire or inventing the wheel.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: The function of the Total Perspective Vortex is to show the universe in its entirety, the whole majesty of creation, and then show the person plugged into it them contrasted against it, "a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot", which utterly destroys their brains.
  • Gone Horribly Right: The man who built the Total Perspective Vortex was a Henpecked Husband whose wife constantly told him to "get a sense of proportion". He built the machine to show her that the one thing a healthy mind cannot have is a sense of proportion. He succeeded, at the cost of annihilating her brain.
  • Grumpy Old Man: Zaphod Beeblebrox the Fourth. Part of the reason he reluctantly saves Zaphod and everyone else is because he doesn't want them "slouching around" the afterlife. He also takes the time to criticise Zaphod thoroughly while doing so.
  • Hell Is That Noise: Before a person enters the Total Perspective Vortex, they hear the hideous sound of the last person who went in reacting.
  • Hollywood Board Games: Unfazed Everyman Arthur and his alien friend Ford travel back in time to play a game of Scrabble with a pair of Neanderthals. It's true that the pair have gotten up all sorts of outlandish hijinks, but this time they are on a very important mission — to decode the message hidden in Arthur's brainwaves. On their part, the cavemen are incapable of spelling even onomatopeias with the tiles. Not surprising given they are yet to develop an alphabet and it's dubious whether Neanderthals can do such a thing. What they do form, apparently randomly, is the word "FORTY-TWO".
  • Hoist by Their Own Petard: All the useful citizens of Golgafrincham relieve their planet of excess population by tricking all their planet's middle-managers, telephone sanitizers, advertising executives and so forth into believing that a nasty (if ill-defined) apocalypse is threatening their world, packing them all onto an enormous ark, and shooting them off to crash-land on some Insignificant Little Blue Planet. After which they get on with rich, fulfilling lives until they are all killed by a nasty disease contracted from a dirty telephone.
  • Humanity Came From Space: It turns out the useless Golgafrinchams are humanity's ancestors. Somehow they managed to outcompete the illiterate hominids native to Earth.
  • Hurl It into the Sun: The fate our motley crew is threatened with after space-jacking Desiato's ship.
  • "I Can't Look!" Gesture: A variant; "Joo Janta Peril sensitive sunglasses" instantly turn completely opaque if anything dangerous or threatening appears to spare you the sight of it.
  • Inept Mage: Zarquon, although he's a prophet rather than a mage. He finally makes his second coming minutes before the end of the universe itself, and spends so much time apologising for his lateness and generally bumbling that he only gets as far as "Have I just got a...?" before the universe ends and cuts him off.
  • In My Language, That Sounds Like...: It turns out that every society in the galaxy has developed some kind of beverage whose name sounds like "gin & tonics". The Golgafrinchans have their beloved jynnan tonnyx, then elsewhere there's the Silvolvian "chinanto/mnigs", which is "ordinary water at slightly above room temperature" and the Gagrakackan "tzjin-anthony-ks", which "kills cows at a hundred paces." The anecdote that informs us of this ends with a mention of "Ouisghian Zodahs", implying, well...
  • Insane Troll Logic: In the virtual universe, Zaphod finds an airship. The ship's automated flight attendants have been refusing to allow their passengers to leave/die because they're waiting for replace lemon-soaked paper napkins. When Zaphod points out civilization has in fact been and gone, the ship's automated captain curtly responds that civilization might one day arise, and until that happens, it's going to damn well wait for those napkins.
  • It's All About Me: The Total Perspective Vortex confirms Zaphod's narcissism... because he's inside a virtual universe that does, in fact, center around him.
  • Let's Meet the Meat: Trope Namer. A genetically-engineered bovine alien at the title restaurant offers itself as food for Milliways's patrons.
  • Light Liege, Dark Defender: This dynamic is present between the captain of the Golgafrinchians and Number Two. Number Two is a brutish fellow who constantly gives unwanted status reports, brandishes a Kill-O-Zap gun to everyone, and takes great delight in taking Arthur and Ford as prisoners. The Captain, on the other hand, just wants to continue his years-long bath and lets Number Two do what he wants because it keeps him occupied.
  • Literal-Minded: Eddie, the ship's computer for the Heart of Gold. Zaphod asks for it to send them to the nearest place to eat — so it sends them to Milliways, the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, which is on the same planet (Frogstar World B) but 576,000,000,000 years into the future.
    Arthur: Oh, I see. We've moved in time but not in space.
    Extremely Snooty Waiter (to Zaphod): Your monkey has got it right, sir.
  • Meanwhile, in the FutureÖ: In the last part of the novel, the scenes with Arthur & Ford are intercut with those with Zaphod & Trillian, despite being two million years apart.
  • Mind Rape: The Total Perspective Vortex shows the person plugged into it the universe, in all its vast incomprehensible size, and themselves in comparison. Since no mind can withstand this, they go mad and die.
  • Mistaken for Afterlife: The crew of Heart of Gold right after their sudden transportation to the restaurant.
  • Noah's Story Arc: Parodied. The main characters are teleported to Golgafrinchan Ark Fleet Ship B. Which seems like a Ark, but is actually a trick to get its inhabitants off the planet.
  • Noodle Incident:
    Zaphod: Iím Zaphod Beeblebrox, my fatherís Zaphod Beeblebrox the Second, my grandfatherís Zaphod Beeblebrox the Third...
    Arthur: What?
    Zaphod: There was an accident with a contraceptive and a time-machine, I canít explain it now.
  • Obsolete Occupation: Subverted; the inhabitants of Golgafrincham believed that telephone sanitization was a useless profession and exiled all of their telephone sanitizers, only to be wiped out by an infection contracted from a dirty telephone.
  • Only Mostly Dead: Hotblack Desiato. He's spending a year dead for tax reasons, but evidently can respond to outside stimuli at times, and appears to be using telepathy.
  • The Philosopher King: The Ruler of the Universe, who has utterly embraced Solipsism.
    Zarniwoop: But don't you realize that what you decide here affects the fate of trillions of people?
    Man in Shack: I don't know them. I've never met them, and neither I suspect have you. They only exist in words I think I hear.
  • Planetville: The entire population of Oglaroon is situated entirely in a small tree.
  • Planning with Props: Played with. Ford's drunken explanation in Milliways.
  • Plant Aliens: Some purple brush-like aliens are described among the patrons of Milliways.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: Subverted. While something as horrific as the Total Perspective Vortex probably should be, it is in fact powered by nothing more than a humble fairy cake.
  • Put Off Their Food: During the dinner at Milliways, Arthur initially orders a steak, changes to a salad when he finds out what the steak comes from, and eventually settles for a glass of water.
  • Second Coming: The Great Prophet Zarquon makes his long-awaited return. Just as he begins to apologize for his tardiness, the Universe ends.
  • Shaped Like Itself:
    "What," said Trillian in a small quiet voice, "does 'sundive' mean?"
    "It means," said Marvin, "that the ship is going to dive into the sun. Sun. Dive. It's very simple to understand."
  • Shout-Out: To the Pink Floyd song "Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun". It's mentioned that "the loudest group of all times", called Disaster Area, destroyed a spaceship by directing it into a star. Adams was a friend of Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour.
  • Sleeper Starship: The B Ark, with a small awake crew.
  • The Slow Path: Marvin, who parks cars on Frogstar B for 576,000,000,000 years.
  • Spanner in the Works: The useless citizens of Golgafrincham crash land onto a Prehistoric Earth, their very presence screwing with the intricate, carefully designed computation of its natural mainframe. The fact that their ineptitude would eventually kill off the Earth's indigenous cavemen and eventually father its dominant species Humanity probably didn't help either, so even if the mice were to extract the question from Arthur's head, it still would have been wrong.
  • Suddenly Sober: There's a cubicle-like machine outside the restaurant where you can sober someone up by sticking a coin into a slot. It's implied that such machines are pretty common, since Zaphod immediately recognizes it and knows how to use it.
  • Time-Travel Tense Trouble:
    "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe is one of the most extraordinary ventures in the entire history of catering. It has been built on the fragmented remains of... it will be built on the fragmented... that is to say it will have been built by this time, and indeed has been -"
  • Too Dumb to Live: The Golgafrinchams colonizers are all defined by having skills pointless to society and just being generally dumb and crazy. They were all easily tricked by the rest of their race into evacuating the planet where they crash-land on prehistoric Earth. From then on they prioritize holding meetings, filming documentaries and basic hammer-to-nail logic to get by; considering how one markets fire over actually building it, deciding what color the wheel should be before they actually invent it, declaring war on an uninhabited continent and making leaves into currency (and burning down the forests to stop inflation when changing the currency would be easier). Curiously, the fact that their descendants would become modern-day Humanity makes their idiocy seems less detrimental to their own survival as it is to everything else, the native neanderthals eventually going extinct.
  • Vengeful Vending Machine: Arthur Dent, sick of getting bad tea from the Nutri-Matic machine, gives it a lengthy lecture on the nature and history of good tea. The machine hijacks the starship's entire computing power to work on the problem, leaving the ship defenseless against a Vogon attack. Arthur gets his tea in the end, though.
  • Watch the World Die: Also mentioned is its counterpart, the Big Bang Burger Bar, where you can go to watch the universe being born.
  • Wins by Doing Absolutely Nothing: Marvin stops a gigantic robot tank from crossing a bridge by doing nothing by standing there and telling the tank that he wasn't given any weapons to protect himself with. This sad tale throws the tank into a fit of destructive rage, with which it takes out the floor underneath itself.
  • Your Size May Vary: A G'Gugvuntt is seen in Milliways. This is the race whose entire war fleet was swallowed by a dog in the previous book.