Book Review: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Book Name: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Author: Douglas Adams
First Published: 1979

Douglas Adams was born in Cambridge, England in 1952. When his parents divorced in 1957, his mother, sister and himself moved to live with his grandparents in a Brentwood, Essex, RSPCA animal shelter that they ran. It is here that he must have developed his affinity for animals and later inspired him to become an animal activist.

Adams grew to be very tall, he was over 6’ by the time he was twelve. His height made him the butt of jokes. Yet, it was his early ability to write stories that helped him make his mark at Brentwood School, an independent prep school that he attended. His former schoolmaster, Frank Halford, said of him:

“Hundreds of boys have passed through the school but Douglas Adams really stood out from the crowd—literally. He was unnecessarily tall and in his short trousers he looked a trifle self-conscious. “The form-master wouldn’t say ‘Meet under the clock tower,’ or ‘Meet under the war memorial’,” he joked, “but ‘Meet under Adams’.”

The author’s early writings was published at Brentwood, writing that helped him earn enrollment at St. John’s College in Cambridge to read English. During this time, Adams desired to join the prestigious “Footlights”, an invitation only student comedy club where he hoped to hone his comedy writing skills. It took him two years of writing and performing with others to earn his place at the “Footlights”. Adams graduated in 1974 with a BA in English literature.

In the early 1980s, Adams had an affair with a married woman, novelist Sally Emerson, who had been separated from her husband. Later, Adams would dedicate his novel Life, the Universe and Everything to her. When Emerson returned to her husband, Adams was introduced to Jane Belson by friends and they carried on a stormy on again, off again, relationship. The two lived in Los Angeles as Adams worked on a movie deal for the Hitchhiker series and then both moved back to London when the deal fell through. In 1991, they married and had one daughter, Polly Jane Rocket Adams. The Adams family then found a home in Santa Barbara, CA, where they lived until Adams died of a heart attack in 2001. He was only 49 years old.

Adams is best known for the Hitchhiker Guide series, which started as a radio comedy series before being developed into a “trilogy” of five novels that sold more than 15 million copies during his lifetime. The books were then adapted into a television series, many stage plays, a comic book and a computer game. In 2005, Hitchhikers became a feature film. The author is also known for being a story editor on the BBC television series, Dr. Who. He worked on Dr. Who for two seasons, sending actor Tom Baker into a whirlwind of story arcs that are still watched by avid fans. He had a second radio series known as Dirk Gently which was also adapted into a novel, much as his first series was. Adams work in UK radio is commemorated in the Radio Academy’s Hall of Fame.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a story about a book within a book. The Guide is an ebook that is powered by an intelligent computer that contains all the information that a traveler might need when bumping around the Milky Way. Interwoven in the novels, the Guide pops in and gives interesting and hilarious facts about various places, people and the flora and fauna of the planets you might visit. You might say that the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a main character all to itself and is the driving force of the story.

The story begins just before the Earth is about to be demolished to make way for a galactic freeway. Arthur Dent is about to lose his house and is fighting with the demolishing crew that has shown up on his doorstep in order to save his home. Enter his long time friend of 15 years, Ford Prefect, a man that Arthur had known as an out of work actor. Actually, Ford is an alien and a researcher for the revised edition of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Ford has been informed that the Earth is about to be destroyed and whisks Arthur off world in time to save his life. Thus begins the pair’s journey through space, aided by helpful quotes from the Hitchhiker’s guide. For instance: “A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have.” More zany and mind bending quotes ensue as the hitchhikers, Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent, go about the galaxy trying to learn the answer to life, the universe, and everything.

Arthur and Ford are joined in their travels by Zaphod Beeblebrox, a two headed and three armed ex-flower child who also happens to be the president of the galaxy; Trillian, who is Zaphod’s girlfriend and also a girl that Arthur had tried to pick up at a cocktail party in England; Marvin the depressed robot; Veet Voojagig, a graduate student who searches for the ball-point pens he has lost down through the years; and Slartibartfast, a planetary coastline designer who was responsible for the fjords of Norway. They travel in Zaphod’s spaceship, called The Heart of Gold, which runs on an improbability drive.

What I find interesting about the development of this book is that it started out as a radio play and from this, the novels were born. Quotes from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy appear all over pop culture and it became a large influence in the science fiction community of the last few decades. We still talk about these books, laugh over them, and wonder if we should call them classics. Are they too silly to be considered a classic book or not? I don’t think so. Any book that impacts a culture, that makes you think and re-evaluate the world you live in, is certainly a novel to think of as a classic. I can whole heartedly recommend this series of novels as ones you should add to your reading list.

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy Book CoverThe Hitchhiker’s Guide Series:

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Life, the Universe and Everything
So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
Mostly Harmless
And Another Thing…
(written by Eoin Colfer by request of Adams’ widow Jane Belson)

4 thoughts on “Book Review: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”

  1. This is probably my favorite all time “trilogy.” Earlier today my daughter was playing with Siri on her ipod and asked what is the meaning of life. When she got the answer “42” she didn’t get it. I of course found it hilarious, told her she had to google it.

    I do have a copy of the original radio scripts and used to listen to the radio show on NPR when they had a radio play series on Saturday nights.

    1. Thanks for your kind comment. 🙂 The story is certainly icons of our pop culture, but the number of versions can be confusing. To save myself, I focused mainly on the books. 🙂

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