Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Title:  The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Author:  Douglas Adams
Publication Information:  Crown. 1979 (original). 224 pages.
ISBN:  1400052920 / 978-1400052929

Book Source:  I read this book as this month's selection for my local book club.

Opening Sentence:  "The house stood on a slight rise just on the edge of the village."

Favorite Quote:  "Look ... would it save you a lot of time if I just gave up and went mad now?"

The answer is 42. The problem is no one remembers what the question is.

The story goes as follows. Ford Prefect is an alien on Earth. He was traveling the galaxy as a researcher to update the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Arthur Dent is an "Earthman" with no concept of space travel or aliens. Shortly before Earth is destroyed to build a space expressway, Ford escapes the planet with Arthur Dent in tow. Adventures upon adventures follow - including a stolen space ship, the most intelligent species on Earth, mind experiments, and the President of the Galaxy with two heads and three arms. The expression "out of the frying pan into the fire" comes to mind to describe the situations Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent get themselves into.

This story, in all its variations, has a fascinating history. The story began as a radio comedy series on BBC Radio in 1978. The tale goes that the idea for the series came to Douglas Adams as he lay at night in a field staring up at the sky and thinking that someone should write a guide for the galaxy. Whether or not that's true, that is the tale now told of how it all began.

Since that time, the story has been adapted and expanded upon in many ways:
  • This book, which is part of a "trilogy in five books (yes, five) all written by Douglas Adams
  • A sixth book written by Eoin Colfer
  • Stage shows (several adaptations)
  • TV series
  • Computer game
  • Comic book adaptation by DC comics
  • Movie
  • Radio broadcasts of extensions of the story.
Interestingly, Douglas Noel Adams (making his initial DNA!) was first and foremost a script writer. In addition to the Hitchhiker's Guide, his credits include episodes of Monty Python and Doctor Who. He is, in fact, recognized in the UK Radio Academy's Hall of Fame. He did not consider himself a novelist, and his biographers note that he found writing to be an arduous task. Yet, he penned five books in the Hitchhiker's Guide. These can now be found in one compiled edition with the title The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Douglas Adams unfortunately died in 2001 at the young age of 49.

How to really describe this book? It is a book about nothing and yet everything. Completely over-the-top absurd and at time laugh out loud funny. However, as the book itself says, "It is an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem." So, underlying the absurd plot are hints of seriousness and of Adams' views as an atheist, an environmental activist, and a proponent of technology.

However, mostly, the absurdity and humor win out. This book is definitely a reminder not to take oneself too seriously. In our house, we had a lengthy discussion comparing the characters to the characters of Winnie the Pooh. Ridiculous, right? However, think about it. Arthur Dent looks for his tea, no matter what the situation and always seems confused - Winnie the Pooh. Zaphod Beeblebrox bounces around from thing to thing, not always stopping to think why - Tigger. Marvin the Paranoid Android is forever depressed - Eyeore. Trillian keeps a lookout for everyone - Kanga. Ford Prefect keeps on updating the Hitchhiker's Guide - Rabbit. A ridiculous but very engaging discussion for a ridiculous and fun book.

At its end, this book is a difficult one to describe; it simply must be experienced. I am glad that I now better understand the phenomenon, and I now better understand why the answer is 42. I am not sure I will follow Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent on their adventures beyond this first part, but I am glad I was introduced to them. Happy hitchhiking and don't forget your towel!

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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