Rereading #4 The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams is bittersweet for me because it’s something my Dad introduced me to and it really hurts to write a post about the book knowing he won’t read it. When I first started working in publishing, he subscribed to every newsletter or blog I told him I was writing for, even though most of them, at the time, were about knitting or card making and he had no interest in either.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is hard to describe. The novel is quite short, funny and brilliant. It’s the story of a human, Arthur Dent, and what happens when his home planet is demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass, leaving him stranded in a universe which is wider, wilder and weirder than he ever imagined.
A cult phenomenon
It’s hard to describe H2G2 because the whole is somehow much more than the sum of its parts. As I reread The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I kept highlighting bits of the story that have crept into my personal lexicon. This is partly because I grew up with the Guide, listening to the radio shows on long car journeys, reading the books until they fell apart, and partly because they’re just really clever, catchy and memorable. Adams has a knack for creating zany, wonderful worlds which also say something deeper. Certain phrases just seem like such a good way to express a certain concept or sensation, usually one that is ignored by standard English.
I’m not surprised that so many people love H2G2, and I definitely recommend it to everyone I know. That said, although I grew up so immersed in it that asking me about it is like asking a fish about water. I do recognise that comic science fiction – even when it’s brilliantly done – is not for everyone. I think you have to leave the part of your brain which demands accuracy and realism in all things, the bit that insists that objects in motion should remain in motion and rain always falls down, at the door, or gag it at least, while you read the books.
A complicated multi-media delight
H2G2 started out as a radio show, first broadcast in 1978, and the first novel roughly follows the plot of the radio show. After that it gets complicated – the novels started as a tie-in with the radio show, of which there were 2 series aired in the late 1970s, but Adams eventually wrote 5 novels, the last published in 1992, rapidly moving on from the plots on radio. A TV series in the 1980s overlapped with the novels, and since Adam’s death in 2001 there has been another book (written by Eoin Colfer) 3 more series of the radio show (based on the books) and a movie.
I definitely recommend diving into H2G2, but I don’t mind where you start. Usually I’m all about the book, and I do think the books are brilliant. But the original radio shows are excellent, very well crafted, and I think some of the extra emotion and characterization comes through from listening to it performed by actors, with all the sound effects and technologies they had available. In this case, I’d say dodge the audio books – although they’re read by Stephen Fry – and either go straight for the radio show, or pick up the novels. I also enjoyed the 2005 film, although I know some fans didn’t. All three versions are family-friendly and kids will – if my brother and I are typical, which we may not be – love them.