The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
(large friendly letters)
Before I record my thoughts on this book, I feel I should mention that I have now completed my Quest to read the 100 Greatest Novels of All Time. I imagine some who read this may want to congratulate me, ask for interviews, negotiate the movie rights, nominate me for the Peace Prize…all that. Of course, you may do so, but you may also wait for my Quest Wrap up that I will post in a few days. Up to you, either way, I’m easy. (though you may want to get the Nobel Peace Prize thing rolling; I understand it is a lengthy process.)
So, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (HHG2tG), is a magnificent farce. It’s rather like Monty Python meets Doctor Who. In fact, it’s more than rather like that – Douglas Adams wrote for both at one point in his career.
It is mostly the story of Arthur Dent, a very normal bloke from England who, befriends Ford Prefect, who, unbeknownst to Arthur is actually an alien assigned to research Planet Earth, and write a bit about it for the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – which is exactly what the name implies.(actually, it doesn’t imply – it’s pretty explicit). It has all sorts of helpful advice for those traveling the galaxy on a budget. Things like…
“Space,” it says, “is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.”
Regarding Earth, the Hitchhiker’s guide says…
The cover of the Hitchhiker’s Guide is inscribed with large friendly letters simply admonishing…
Ford rescues Arthur moments before Earth is destroyed by hitching a ride on a passing spaceship. What follows are the bizarre adventures of poor dull Arthur who slowly comes to grips with the realization, that we are not alone – or, that we weren’t, but now he is, as he is the sole surviving Earth man. All things considered, he takes this rather well. When Ford cavalierly mentions that Earth was just boiled away into space, Arthur responds:
Look, I’m a bit upset about that.
Fortunately for Arthur, there is also a sole surviving Earth woman, which makes it all a bit easier to bear. There is also time travel, alternate dimensions, all that stuff, which means Arthur is not entirely cut off from home.
Most importantly, during the course of his adventures in space, Arthur and company learn the meaning to life, the universe, and everything. The answer is stunningly simple – and rather disappointing.
There is also a manically depressed robot, a sentient bowl of petunias, and a whale.
And although this is a farcical romp, Adams’ prose is not without elegance. Arthur and company encounter a world that is enveloped in an atmosphere thick with dust and particulates, so much so, they have never seen the stars or imagined any world beyond their own. Adams describes their reaction when they finally ascend to space and observe the vast cosmos for the first time:
They saw the staggering jewels of the night in their infinite dust and their minds sang with fear.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is the second time I’ve read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the only thing I’ve read by Douglas Adams. My first read was officially titled: The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy: A Trilogy in Four Parts. That non-sequitur title is typical of the delightful absurdity of the entire work. Additional material was compiled after Adams’ death. The version I read this time is: The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide: Five Complete Novels and One Story
-- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
-- The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
-- Life, the Universe and Everything
-- So long, and thanks for all the Fish
-- Mostly Harmless
-- Young Zaphod Plays it Safe
To be honest, it was a slight let down as a reread. I loved it the first time, probably because it was so different, quirky, and silly. It suffered a bit on reread due to high expectations. Nonetheless, it is a thoroughly enjoyable diversion.
This inspiration for HHG2tG came to Douglas Adams when he was trekking Europe, literally using the Hitchhikers Guide to Europe. He was nearly broke, slightly drunk, lying in a field in Austria, and gazing at the stars when he thought – Somebody ought to write the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Originally a radio series, the story was so popular Adams was offered a book deal.
“Ford!” he said, “there’s an infinite number of monkeys outside who want to talk to us about this script for Hamlet they’ve worked out.” (Oh, I loved this bit! Read my post HERE to find out why.)
Arthur was grappling with his consciousness the way one grapples with a lost bar of soap in the bath.
One of the major problems encountered in time travel is not that of accidentally becoming your own father or mother. There is no problem involved in becoming your own father or mother that a broad-minded and well-adjusted family can’t cope with. There is no problem about changing the course of history – the course of history does not change because it all fits together like a jigsaw. All the important changes have happened before the things they were supposed to change and it all sorts itself out in the end.
The major problem is quite simply one of grammar,…
If you’ve done six impossible things this morning, why not round it off with breakfast at Milliways, the Restaurant at the End of the Universe.
The reason they are not universes is that any given universe is not actually a thing as such, but is just a way of looking at what is technically known as the WSOGMM, or Whole Sort of General Mish Mash.
Film Renditions: I didn’t care for the 2005 film that took a good deal of liberty with the story, though I thought Martin Freeman was perfect as Arthur. The 1981 BBC TV series is terribly campy, appropriately so, and pretty good as far as it goes, but it only depicts the first of the five books.