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Book blog: The guide to <i>The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy</i>



Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy*, the idea for which initially came to him while lying drunk and penniless in a field far from home, grew from a modest radio program into stage shows, a trilogy of five books, a television series, a computer game, a comic book series, a series of towels, a Hollywood blockbuster, and re-adaptions for radio—and, of course, a fabulously successful worldwide phenomena.

*Because there have been so many adaptions, variations, mediums, contradictions and other things Hitchhiker’s, readers and interested parties risk great confusion when it comes to what exactly I mean when I write The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy in this entry. To clarify, when I mean the book, as in the first book in the trilogy, I have put it in a link to the review of that particular book. If I have simply written The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and not specified a medium afterwards, I’m referring to the whole concept, everything that is Hitchhiker’s. I hope this doesn’t further confuse that which is already quite confusing, as that would defeat the point of this blog entry entirely.

The original idea

According to Adams, the idea for The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy came to him whilst he was hitchhiking around Europe. He was lost, unable to communicate with the natives, which drove him to purchasing beer and lying in a field in the town of Innsbruck, Austria, pondering the nature of his ineffectual guide book and thinking that if somebody would write The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy he would be “off like a shot”.

He then promptly forgot about The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and went to Cambridge.

The evolution of The Guide

Adams spent his early years after university determined to write. However, he wasn’t initially all that successful. It was his dream to combine comedy and science fiction, but nobody seemed all that interested bar Simon Brett, BBC radio producer. He and Adams initially came up with a radio show with six different plots, each ending with a different and creative destruction of the Earth. Adams realised that there would need to be an independent, non-Earth native observer to contextualise this arrangement, and what better individual for this task than Ford Prefect, travel writer and intergalactic hitchhiker? And suddenly, Adams’s idea for The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy was rediscovered.

The initial The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy radio program was written episodically, and therefore Adams wrote the twists in as they appeared instead of plotting the whole thing out. Series one of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy radio program aired on BBC radio in March 1978, and while there didn’t seem to be much in the way of listener interest, at least to Adams, Pan Books were definitely interested and commissioned the series in book form. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy was an expanded and adjusted version of the first four episodes of the radio series. It was published in September of 1979 in England, where it hit number one on the Sunday Times mass market best seller list and remained there, while England went crazy over it.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy timeline

  • March 1978—First series, fits 1 through 6, radio
  • December 1978—Christmas episode, radio
  • September 1979—The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy published in England, book.
  • September 1979—Double album record released, fits 1 through 4 re-recorded and released for commercial sales for copyright reasons, called The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy. LP
  • January 1980—Second series, five episodes. radio
  • September 1980—The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe published in England, book
  • September 1980—The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy published in the USA, book.
  • September 1980—Record album released, fits 5 and 6 expanded and re-recorded, entitled The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe. LP
  • January 1981—Six television episodes aired by the BBC, based on the first six radio episodes. Television
  • January 1982—The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe
  • June/July 1982—Life, The Universe And Everything published simultaneously in the USA and England, book
  • September 1984—So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish published in England and the USA, book
  • 1984—The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy computer game released, computer game
  • 1985—The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy: The original Radio Scripts, published in the USA and England, book
  • 1992—Mostly Harmless published, book
  • September/October 2004—Third series, six episodes, radio
  • October 2004—Third series, six episodes released on CD, CD
  • May 2005—Fourth series, eight episodes, radio
  • May 2005—Fourth series, eight episodes, released on CD, CD
  • June 2005—Fifth series, four episodes, radio
  • June 2005—Fifth series, four episodes, released on CD, CD
  • April 2005—The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy film released world-wide, film
  • September 2005—The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy film released on DVD, DVD
  • October 2006—Third series, six episodes released on DVD, DVD

NB: There were other mediums into which The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy were translated, such as stage performances and comic books. For the sake of simplicity I skipped those because they were based on Adams’s ideas, as opposed to being contributed to by him directly. There is further information about these things on Wikipedia.

The main players

Arthur Dent

The unlikely hero of the trilogy, Arthur is a bewildered Englishman in a tattered dressing gown who has been unwillingly hurled through space and time, seen his planet destroyed on multiple occasions, and just wants to get a decent cup of tea.

Arthur stars in all five books. While he is somewhat incidental in The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy and The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe, what with the plot development and everything, he manages to be screamingly hilarious in Life, The Universe And Everything, and really comes into his own character-wise in So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish. And his life develops new meaning in Mostly Harmless.

Ford Prefect

Ford Prefect, pseudonymed after the dominant life-form on Earth (the Ford Prefect car), is a wild and roving travel writer for The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy from the planet Betelgeuse. Stranded on Earth for thirteen years while waiting for a ride out, he saves Arthur Dent from the destruction of Earth and always manages to turn up where and when trouble is happening, particularly trouble that involves alcohol.

Ford stars most prominently in The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, Life, The Universe And Everything, and Mostly Harmless, with a biggish role in The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe and a bit part in So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish.

Zaphod Beeblebrox

Zaphod Beeblebrox is all about excitement and adventure and really wild things, and with his galaxy sized ego, two heads, ability to consume pan galactic gargle blasters, and status as President of the Galaxy for reasons not only he knows, he seems uniquely positioned to obtain all these things.

Zaphod really shines in The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy and The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe, which is where all his character development and involvement within the plot are dealt with. He plays a fairly minor role in Life, The Universe And Everything, and is really only referenced in So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish and Mostly Harmless

Trillian

When Tricia MacMillan (A.K.A. Trillian) meets a man at a party with two heads and is offered a trip to space, she doesn’t say no. Instead, she travels round with Zaphod having a great time until Arthur, who she rejected at the same party for Zaphod, shows up. Always practical, Trillian makes her own fun in the universe.

Trillian appears in The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe, and Life, The Universe And Everything, though not in So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish. She reappears in a parallel universe scenario in Mostly Harmless. While she could be said to have a more supporting role than the other characters, she is still a constant who adds an extra dimension to each story.

Marvin the paranoid android

With a brain the size of a planet, Marvin is the manically depressed robot who is asked to do a variety of unpleasant and demeaning tasks by the four organic lifeforms above, and would enjoy grumbling about it if he enjoyed anything, which he doesn’t. Originally a bit part in the radio series, Marvin was so popular with the listeners he developed a large role in within the Hitchhiker’s concept, and is mindbogglingly funny. He appears in all of the books apart from Mostly Harmless.

The books

These are extremely brief summaries. For an indepth review, hit the link.

The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy

Loosely based on the first four episodes of the first series of the BBC radio program. In which, the Earth is destroyed, Arthur and Ford team up with Zaphod and Trillian, and Zaphod leads them to Magrathea to unwittingly discover the answer to the question of life, the universe, and everything.

The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe

Reworked, contracted, reeditied versions of episodes seven through twelve and five and six (in that order) or series two and one of the BBC radio program. In which, the four dine at the restaurant at the end of the universe, Zaphod and Trillian go to find the man who rules the universe, and Arthur and Ford crash into a remarkably familiar planet.

Life, The Universe And Everything

Completely contradicted series two BBC radio program episodes seven through twelve, which had been incorporated into the book before. In which Arthur is rescued from his cave on prehistoric Earth by a Chesterfield sofa, and Ford, Arthur, Trillian, Zaphod and Marvin are called upon to save the universe from the warriors of Krikkit.

So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish

Arthur returns to the home he thought had been lost for ever, meets the girl of his dreams, and tries to solve the mystery of what actually happened when the Earth didn’t, in fact, blow up.

Mostly Harmless

In which the universe becomes worryingly multi dimensionality and space/time confused, Trillian and Tricia MacMillan have personal difficulties, Arthur becomes a sandwich maker, Ford uncovers a ghastly Guide conspiracy, and they all meet up for the final curtain call.

Sources and references

The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide. (2002). Adams, D. Del Rey. Introduction.

Wikipedia—The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy franchise page

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Tertiary to Quintessential Phases

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