The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (#1) by Douglas Adams

Happy Birthday Douglas Adams. It is a shame you left us alone in this world so early, but I assure you, you will not be forgotten. In honour of your birthday I would like to look at one of the greatest radio shows, television shows, and book “trilogies” out there: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Responsible for so many brilliant quotes; insights into life, the universe, and everything; demonstrating the nature of Vogon poetry (though on no account allow a Vogon to read poetry at you); and the saga that made the world that little bit greater.

Whilst performing in the West End, Douglas Adams was discovered by Python member Graham Chapman and worked with the Python boys on a few sketches for Flying Circus and on The Holy Grail. A few years later Adams also worked with John Lloyd, one of the brains behind the BBC’s brilliant QI. Lloyd helped Adams in part with the radio show in 1978, but it wasn’t until 1979 that the novel version was first published.

This is the first book in the trilogy and created as an adaptation from part of the radio programme. This radio programme turned book was then made into a television show. This television show, based on the book, based on the radio show was then turned into a movie but it wasn’t very good so in my mind the lineage stops at television show. There have also been numerous extensions created from these and a part of Hitchihiker’s manages to find its way into all aspects of life, and deservedly so.

Published: September 27th 1995
Goodreads badgePublisher: Del Rey
Pages: 216
Format: Book
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor.

Together this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide (“A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have”) and a galaxy-full of fellow travelers: Zaphod Beeblebrox–the two-headed, three-armed ex-hippie and totally out-to-lunch president of the galaxy; Trillian, Zaphod’s girlfriend (formally Tricia McMillan), whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party once upon a time zone; Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot; Veet Voojagig, a former graduate student who is obsessed with the disappearance of all the ballpoint pens he bought over the years.

I adore the Hitchhiker’s Trilogy. I fell in love with the television show first, then the radio show, then the books. Douglas Adams’ genius shows throughout them all. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy begins with a house. Not a remarkable house by any means, the only person for whom this house was in any way special was Arthur Dent; a simple man, no more worries than the usual person, except that he wakes to find his home about to be demolished for a bypass. This sets off a series of events as his friend Ford Prefect informs him that in fact the house is the least of his problems since the world is going to be demolished, in twelve minutes…to make way for a hyperspace bypass.

With Ford by his side, Arthur begins an adventure of a highly unusual and sometimes surreal nature, all whilst wearing his dressing gown. After hitchhiking surreptitiously onto a Vogon ship; surviving improbability; using doors that have a cheerful and sunny disposition; meeting the creator of Norway; finding out the Answer to the Great Question of Life, the Universe and Everything; and having a generally wild and exciting time, they decide to have lunch. Why? Because the history of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognisable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why and Where phases. For instance, the first phase is characterised by the question How can we eat? the second by the question Why do we eat? and the third by the question Where shall we have lunch? That’s why.

There are so many things to love about this book. We are introduced a range of unique and peculiar characters such as the President of the Galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox, Trillion, Marvin, the sperm whale, and a host of others that add to the organised chaos. What is also wonderful is that what is mentioned in this book becomes connected to those in the rest of the trilogy, this is evident through the titles alone.

The Answer is possibly one of the most well known aspects of Hitchiker’s Guide. Stephen Fry, a friend of Adams and a glorious person all round, claims that Adams told him why the answer is what it is. Fry says that “Douglas told me in the strictest confidence exactly why [it is what it is]. The Answer is fascinating, extraordinary and, when you think hard about it, completely obvious. Nonetheless amazing for that. Remarkable really. But sadly I cannot share it with anyone and the secret must go with me to the grave. Pity, because it explains so much beyond the books. It really does explain the secret of life, the universe, and everything.” And if Mr Fry says it is so, and Mr Adams says it is so, then who are we to question?

As I brushed over before there was a movie, no matter how much we try and deny it. I will say that as always the book is better than the movie. Whatever that thing was in 2005 that passed as a movie should be banned. I understand the bias considering I grew up watching the television show and reading the book, and those who loved the book may have thought the same about the television show when it first came out; but that felt a lot closer to the original story than the film did. Maybe not, maybe I just didn’t like it. It’s a complex emotion.

There are a total of five books in the original trilogy, however a sixth was written. And Another Thing… was published on the thirtieth anniversary of the first book’s publication. I have yet to read this book, but I am keen. This final installment was written by Eoin Colfer, of Artemis Fowl fame. My affection for Colfer may or may not impact on my opinion of his addition to the trilogy, it could go either way, but we’ll have to see. I’d like to think a mind like Colfer will do Adams justice, Adams himself was always planning on writing a sixth, and there are few who could replicate it like Adams, but Colfer is a fair starting point.

There are a multitude of glorious quotes that come out of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, both the book, radio show, and the television series.

– “Many were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans.”

– “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”

– “A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have.”

– “The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.”

– “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 chemists, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

– “Ford,” he said, “you’re turning into a penguin. Stop it.”

– “For a moment, nothing happened. Then, after a second or so, nothing continued to happen.”

– “Curiously enough, the only thing that went through the mind of the bowl of petunias as it fell was Oh no, not again.”

– “Looking up into the night sky is looking into infinity — distance is incomprehensible and therefore meaningless.”

– “This must be Thursday,’ said Arthur to himself, sinking low over his beer.’I never could get the hang of Thursdays.”

– ” Humans are not proud of their ancestors, and rarely invite them round to dinner.”

 

I could quote forever, the fact there are an entire trilogy’s worth, plus a radio show, plus a television show, each filled with strange references and quotes just adds to the joy of Adams’ creative mind.

So it is on this day, where we review the obscure, absurd, perfectly reasonable story of The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I wish Douglas Adams a very happy birthday and say he is sadly missed.

If you like you should visit http://www.douglasadams.com/ to find out more about him. There is information there about lectures that are given each year about life, the universe, and everything in honour of Adams. You should also track down the documentary that looks at his life and his work. If you have read this trilogy, or once you have read this trilogy you should branch out, find his other works as he has many more wonderful books out there just waiting to be read.

Embrace yourself in the Douglas Adams wonder upon this day, read something spectacular while you relax on your towel, and most importantly, Don’t Panic.

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