The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Originally published: 1979, UK
145 pages (Read from The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide)
Rating: 5 (Personal Classic)
What is the answer to the life, the universe, and everything? The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy answers this question and creates so many more as a spaceship filled with the president of the galaxy, a former resident of Betelgeuse, 2 Earthlings, and a manically depressed robot travel across the galaxy in a stolen spaceship.
Arthur Dent’s home is about to be demolished to make room for a bypass, but a larger adventure is in store for Arthur when his friend Ford tells him that the Earth is about to be destroyed, forcing them to hitch a ride on an unfriendly orbiting spaceship. On their adventures, Arthur and Ford run into the president of the galaxy in a stolen spaceship, an Earth woman who Arthur once tried to chat up at a party, and a depressed robot. Arthur and Ford join the group on their journey to a mystical planet named Magrathea where custom planets are designed, and Arthur learns some very important secrets about the Earth.
Well Done Bits:
Adams began his Hitchhiker’s stories (there are 4 more) as radio shows, and the humorous style and tone is captured well here in print. For example, this passage notes the horror that is Vogon poetry (Vogons are an alien race Arthur encounters):
Vogon poetry is of course the third worst in the Universe. The second worst is that of the Azgoths of Kria. During a recitation by their Poet Master Grunthos the Flatulent of his poem ‘Ode to a Small Lump of Green Putty I Found in My Armpit One Midsummer Morning’ four of his audience died of internal hemorrhaging, and the President of the Mid-Galactic Arts Nobbling Council survived by gnawing one of his own legs off. (Chapter 7)
Unexpected plot points
This excerpt also points to another great aspect of the book: its zany plot. The plot of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is difficult to predict and often involves asides, like the example about Vogon poetry, which add more information that is needed to give the reader an impression of the universe Adams is describing. An important aspect of the plot is also the stolen spaceship with an “improbability drive” that aids in the wackiness of the group’s adventures.
At the center of this odd tale is Arthur Dent, the relatable main character. Arthur is a common everyman who is easy to relate to and, as an Earth man, is the reader’s only real link to reality as they are exposed to the wide, wild universe. Arthur is described as
“about thirty as well, tall, dark-haired and never quite at ease with himself.” (Chapter 1)
It is easy for the reader to slip into Arthur’s skin because he is described just enough to picture him but simply enough that he could easily be anyone.
With Arthur helping to keep the reader connected to the story and the zany plot, Adams could have created a simple, entertaining story without much substance. Thankfully, he doesn’t. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is well-known for the answer it gives for the life, the universe, and everything, and it isn’t what anyone expects. This story deals with the questions of who we are and why do we matter in the grand scheme of things anyway. It also helps the reader wonder about fate, probability, and if things really do happen for a reason or not.
I enjoyed this book and didn’t have any serious concerns with it, but that will certainly not be true for all readers. Some might find this book difficult to follow because of all of the new information about the universe and the jumpy nature of the plot. Adams has also created some fascinating but difficult to pronounce names for characters, planets, and items. This won’t be a big deal unless you are trying to discuss these details of the book with someone, have to pronounce each word in your head while reading, or are reading the book aloud (as I was). Adams also has a fantastically dry (and very British) humor that pervades the book. I am a huge fan of dry humor, but some find it boring, silly or just plain not funny. If you don’t appreciate dry humor or silliness, this book may not be for you.
About the Movie:
In 2005, a film version was released, also named The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, based on Adam’s book. Adams had some input into the screenplay but died before it was completed and filmed. I actually watched this movie version years before I read the book (*gasp!*). I think the film is excellent and well worth a shot (but do read the book, too!)
The film stars Martin Freeman, Sam Rockwell, Mos Def, Zooey Deschanel, Bill Nighy, and Alan Rickman. All of these, and the other actors as well, are excellent choices. My favorite casting choices are Martin Freeman as Arthur and Alan Rickman as the voice of Martin, the manically depressed robot.
Aside from the characters the plot is also entertaining, though different from the book. The main plot points are there, but there are also elements from a few of the other stories. My assumption is that the creators of the movie figured they wouldn’t get to make the other stories into film so they included their favorite parts into this one. The first scene in the film is one of my favorites, and it is barely mentioned in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
In the End:
A lighthearted book that asks important questions about life, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a book that anyone can enjoy and that everyone should try to read.