Mid-Week M.E.L.A: The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy has been edited by Riya Jhala.
“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.”
“The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.”
“How do you feel?” he asked him.
“Like a military academy,” said Arthur, “bits of me keep on passing out.”
“You know,” said Arthur, “it’s at times like this, when I’m trapped in a Vogon airlock with a man from Betelgeuse, and about to die of asphyxiation in deep space that I really wish I’d listened to what my mother told me when I was young.” “Why, what did she tell you?” “I don’t know, I didn’t listen.”
Described by the creator himself as “a trilogy in five parts”, Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is perhaps the most engaging and hilarious science-fiction tale out there. I honestly find myself at a loss for words to describe the story, which is a rarity, and it leaves me sputtering gibberish because I can’t decide what to talk about. From a Radiohead song to the meaning of life (= 42), from dubious sci-fi to Hitchhiker’s has inspired and provided generations worth of awesomeness.
So, I’ll start at the beginning.
Our very British protagonist, Arthur Dent, is a normal man. (Imagine Martin Freeman playing him.) He likes his tea, has a quiet personality, and his house is about to be demolished to make way for a highway bypass. His best friend, Ford Prefect (Imagine Benedict Cumberbatch here), helps him delay the demolition (slightly), buys him three pints of beer, and hitches them a ride on a spaceship that helped demolish the Earth to make way for a hyperspace bypass. The Vogons, who performed the demolition, however, do not take kindly to this, so they read them the third-worst poetry in the universe and eject them into space. They are rescued by a spaceship hijacked by the President of the Galaxy and an Earth woman, who are looking for The Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. To aid them, they have The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the best-selling book in the universe.
I’m sorry, reader. I realize I’m not selling this very well. The thing is, it is without a doubt beyond my abilities to explain/sell the plot of the story to anyone without just pasting the book’s contents here and calling it a day. And while I have quoted plenty above, I’d best not go all the way. So, I’ll try something else.
Douglas Noel Adams was born in Cambridge in 1952, just about when and where the structure of DNA was discovered. He was a science enthusiast, a satirist, and very tall (6’5). The idea for The Guide came to him when he was travelling Europe. It was a 19-year old Douglas lying drunk in a rural Austrian farm who looked up at the night sky and thought someone should write a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. He then fell asleep and forgot about it entirely for about half a decade, proceeding to graduate with a BA in English from Cambridge and working with BBC Radio. His pet project all this while was to write something that combined science and humour, which eventually led to a radio show he co-developed. While working on this show, the Guide idea returned to him, and he shaped it into a first-of-its-kind sci-fi radio show that people liked.
Regarding this, I’ll have to quote Adams himself:
“The story grew in the most convoluted way, as many people will be surprised to learn. Writing episodically meant that when I finished one episode I had no idea about what the next one would contain. When, in the twists and turns of the plot, some event suddenly seemed to illuminate things that had gone before, I was as surprised as anyone else. I think that the BBC’s attitude toward the show while it was in production was very similar to that which Macbeth had toward murdering people—initial doubts, followed by cautious enthusiasm and then greater and greater alarm at the sheer scale of the undertaking and still no end in sight.”
The show was successful enough for a book deal to turn up, and I think a quote would again explain it best:
“Then some publishers became interested, and I was commissioned by Pan Books in England to write up the series in book form. After a lot of procrastination and hiding and inventing excuses and having baths, I managed to get about two-thirds of it done. At this point they said, very pleasantly and politely, that I had already passed ten deadlines, so would I please just finish the page I was on and let them have the damn thing.”
“…the situation when the book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was published in England in September 1979 and appeared on the Sunday Times mass market bestseller list at number one and just stayed there. Clearly, somebody had been listening.”
The book and show weren’t entirely the same, though this mattered very little to the actual reception of either. A TV show was commissioned and made, the radio show continued, a record set was released, a movie screenplay was written and sent to development hell, an almost-but-not-entirely dissimilar video game was created, and the original radio scripts were published. The movie was eventually made and released in 2005. While it isn’t a very self-consistent franchise, it remains one of the most entertaining and will surprise a reader/listener/viewer with its wry lucidity.
Hitchhiker’s is a cultural phenomenon built on the legs of science-fiction, drama, and dry wit, that has sustained across generations and media with barely any hitches. The sheer grandness of the works make them near-impossible to describe without giving the whole thing away and is best understood by actually going out and grabbing a damn copy. You can find the radio shows online, the TV show on YouTube, the e-books and audiobooks (narrated by the wonderful Stephen Fry) on Amazon, or the movie (more an entry-point than a proper adaption, but one with the author’s approval and blessing nevertheless) pretty much anywhere.
I think I may have presented this a tad too intensely. But trust me, Hitchhiker’s lives up to the hype and then some. If you’re a fan of wit and satire, if you’ve loved P.G. Wodehouse and Monty Python, and if you are in the slightest of bits enthused about science, do take the time to read the book, because it is the most accessible of all the tale’s forms. I promise you that you’ll turn pages in delighted abandon once you do so, maybe even several times over. And don’t worry, for in the words of Ford Prefect, “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”
To read more from Midweek M.E.L.A, click here.