This is an essay I wrote a loooong time ago … I must have been 13 or 14 … good old St. Paul’s Catholic Elementary School in Daytona Beach, FL …
The star of Douglas Adams‘ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is Arthur Dent. Arthur spends a considerably large amount of time being confused, misunderstood, misplaced, lost, and home- sick. Who can blame him? Who wouldn’t feel like that if, one Thursday, his planet was destroyed by huge, ugly, yellow, Vogon starships? Now suppose that the Vogons destroyed his planet to make way for a new hyperspace bypass and, coincidentally, the same Thursday his house had just been demolished to make way for a new automobile bypass. Assuming that, like Arthur, he survived his planet’s destruction, wouldn’t the ironic unfairness of it all cause a person to feel a bit confused?
Arthur was, amazingly enough, saved from the demolition of Earth by a galaxy-hitchhiking friend. Ford Prefect was not an ape- descended life-form like Arthur had always believed, “but was in fact from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse and not from Guildford as he usually claimed.” Ford was a trav- elling researcher for that “wholly remarkable” book, The Hitch- hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Curiously enough, with all his resources and research, Ford was not able to relieve any of Arthur’s confusion or to avoid getting the two of them into more intergalactic misadventures than most people could mentally handle. Ford and Arthur do manage to hold up surprisingly well under the harrowing circumstances in which they ate often placed. Arthur believes this is due to the unconquerable will of the human spirit. Ford trusts in dumb luck and good karma.
Adams takes these two incompatible characters and leads them across time and space in an hysterical satire of life, society, capitalism, religion, technology, and love. Adams pokes fun at everything he can, from digital watches and word processors to in- terpersonal relationships and the meaning of life. (NOTE: The mean- ing of life, The Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything, according to Deep Thought – the largest, most intelligent, amazing computer ever built – is forty-two.)
Without sacrificing originality or non-conformity, Adams uses Arthur and Ford as an Abbot-and-Costello style comedy team to fill the book with a perfect amount of humor. Separately, Arthur and Ford have their moments as both heroes and goats, but when they are together, the straight-mgn/zinger uo make for deliciously funny reading.
Their friend, Zaphod Beeblebrox, the two-headed, three-armed, ex-head honcho of the universe, adds slapstick and dramatic comedy to the story. He is slapstick in his pseudo-alcoholism and custom-made body’s awkwardness. The dramatic comedy comes from his relationship with Trillian, the only other human to survive the destruction of Earth besides Arthur.
Earth’s obliteration is really only a minor detail in the book. The integral points all revolve around Arthur as a Heming- way-esque “usual guy placed in an unusual situation.” Some of the funniest parts of the story are ones in which Arthur tries to tell a food-synthesizing computer how to make English tea. Arthur’s ignorance saves his life on more than one occasion in the book.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has quite a bit of sub- liminal messages and thought-provoking observations. Perhaps the most important of these is that the universe actually doesn’t make sense and there’s no point in trying to discover any meaning to it. Adams has created a sort of “positive existentialism” which pervades all four of the books in the Hitchhiker Trilogy. When looked at from afar, which requires a great deal of imagination, the universe is a ridiculous place and without a substantial amount of insanity it would quickly become terribly exhausting. Adams makes meaninglessness fun.