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2001: A Time Odyssey

Entry 281 posted in: b. Dirk Gently

This is another answer on my question: How Does Dirk Gently Really Ends?.

Of course the time paradox from the Dirk Gently novel has been discussed before in the past, although in the past may be quite a subjective term when discussing time paradoxes. Tukler (remember him from the previous entry?) gave me a link to a discussion from 2001 that I represent here in Reader’s Digest form.

Tom Wyant

Q: How did they save the world?

A: If you already know all about Samuel Taylor Coleridge, skip the next paragraph. Coleridge was a real person, and his poem Kubla Khan (which is read in Chapter 6) is a real poem. The story about this poem is that it came to Coleridge in a drug dream. He was in the middle of writing it down when a person (later described as a Person from Porlock) came to visit unexpectedly. By the time Coleridge got rid of his visitor, he had forgotten how the rest of his poem went.

You will recall in Chapter 6, there is a Coleridge dinner, at which it is traditional to read Kubla Khan. Quotes from the poem appear throughout the chapter. And at the end of that chapter, we find the reader beginning on the "second, and altogether stranger, part of the poem." So, the world of Dirk Gently, at that point in the novel, is NOT world we live in, because in that world the Person from Porlock never visited Coleridge, and the whole poem got written down. This is important to realize, or the end of the book makes no sense.

Well, in Chapter 36, we learn that the second part of the poem contains all the instructions necessary (to building the Professor's time/space machine), if you know what you're looking for. So the second part must be suppressed. They achieved this by having Dirk Gently be the Person from Porlock, visit Coleridge, and talk to him until he couldn't remember the last half of the poem. Because the instructions did not get written down, the Professor's machine could not be built, and so the ghost was powerless to get sent back in time.

Q: Why did the Professor grow a beard?

A: To quote the novel, "Carelessness." But this doesn't make a lot of sense until you have the answer to the next two questions.

Q: Where did he go?

A: You have to infer this from the last three paragraphs of chapter 35, as well as the answer to your last question. I infer from those last three paragraphs that the Professor destroyed the Mother Ship. The light in the sky would the ship exploding (though Douglas Adams never says this explicitly), and the "Sorry, Richard" because Richard had been to the Mother Ship, and heard the music playing. That music (or at least most of it) was now lost to the world. The world did not know its loss, but Richard did.

Q: Why was Richard surprised to hear Bach?

A: Because, in the world in which Richard grew up, Bach was not a composer. Notice that Bach is not mentioned before Chapter 36; Susan Way plays Mozart instead. The act of saving the world turned it into the world we now live in, where Kubla Khan has no second part, and Bach was a famous composer.

How did Bach come into it? Well, apparently (and Adams only hints at this) before the Professor destroyed the Mother Ship, he spent some time on it (enough time to grow a three-inch beard) transcribing the music. Then, he gave that music to Bach as a way of preserving it. As the Professor said to Dirk, "It was rather more than one man could actually do in a lifetime, but I don't suppose anyone will look at it too seriously."


Q: But if the time machine never got built... Then how did the Professor go back in time to give the music to Bach?

A: Time is a lot like a gigantic puzzle, in a way that a lot of gigantic puzzles aren't. Basically it looks confusing when viewed one way, and then you realize that all you have to do is turn the piece in front of you one hundred twenty degrees to the left and it transmogrifies into the very piece you've been looking for during the past four hours. Time is like that, but without the puzzle or the piece or the ability to turn anything anywhere for any period of time.

One theory suggests that by going back in time Dirk & co. created an alternate timeline in which there is no such thing as a time machine, and where Coleridge never finished his poem. So the professor could easily travel for as long as he wanted where and when he wanted -- as long as he never returned home. For as soon as he materialized his dorm back where it rightfully belonged, the timeline he helped create would grab a hold of him and promptly erase all traces of any time-travel technology in a valiant attempt to restore sanity to the universe once more.

Which is why the professor's time machine no longer worked at the very end of the book, and why his phone did.

Dirk Gently Time Paradoxes

Comments from: Felix Atagong

Can I say that I'm not completely happy with the above explanations? It still doesn't explain how Dirk Gently saved the world, and it brings in a complete new theory, namely that the second part of the Kubla Khan poem contained the plans to build a time machine.

If this theory is correct: who built the time machine then? Coleridge couldn't have done it, because he was mostly under the influence of drugs. And Reg (or Professor Urban Chronotis, the Regius Professor of Chronology) was never long enough under the influence of the ghost to build it.

But more of that all at another moment in time.

If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: Nomen Est Omen: Starship Titanic