The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Series – Douglas Adams

After having seen the film version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and having my discussions of the movie clouded by a poor memory of the books, I decided to re-read all 5+ books in the trilogy.  Since I had first read them in high school (and college, for Mostly Harmless), I had listened to the radio series a lot, so my memory was clouded.  I wanted to go through the series again and see how they held up after all this time.

I had forgotten how readable the books are.  I ended up reading all 5+ books of the trilogy in less than two weeks.  It helped that this was the period in May after Jenny had left for Germany and before I went myself, so I had a lot of time on my hands.  However, I found that the readability degraded as the series went on.

The first two books (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe) seemed to be the fruit of a wonderful, hilarious inspiration: “What happens to a befuddled Everyman Brit when the world explodes and he’s sent around the Galaxy on surreal adventures?”  This continuity makes sense, because Adams himself said that the first book ended as it did because the publisher demanded a manuscript, not because the story was over.  The books are funny and light.

The third book (Life, the Universe and Everything) continued with much of the same mood, but the original tale was done.  This required Adams to have his characters jump through some ridiculous hoops to get to the right time and dimension, but new tale flowed well and humorously.

By the fourth book (So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish), things were falling apart.  Adams jettisoned most of the cast of characters to focus on the protagonist, Arthur Dent, as he mysteriously returns to a version of Earth that wasn’t destroyed.  Also, Adams got to write his first sex scenes in the series, bringing in a new love interest for Arthur, Fenchurch.  While some of the humor remained, it seemed forced at times, and the sense of galactic adventure from the first three books was gone.

The last book (Mostly Harmless) was easily the disappointment of the bunch.  From what I’ve read, Adams was depressed the year he wrote this book, and it shows.  The lightness-of-heart from the first books was largely gone.  It just wasn’t fun.  Fenchurch was summarily discarded with little explanation, and the original characters were involved again (although not always in the same universe).  Although it may seem odd to say that this book was more depressing than the first, in which the Earth was destroyed, this one managed to end with the destruction of the Earth and all our characters in every possible universe.  I guess Adams was so surprised that he was able to make the characters jump through the necessary hoops to reunite in Life, the Universe and Everything that he decided to make it impossible for them ever to be reunited.

And since Mr. Adams sadly passed away in 2001, there will never be a chance to see if he could have gotten them all together again anyway.

Young Zaphod Plays it Safe, the short story that caps the series, is a confused muddle that Adams himself admits was the product of waiting far too long with a looming deadline.  If I hadn’t asked him myself when he visited my college campus in 1995 or so, I would never have known the story had been intended to be a biting commentary about Ronald Reagan.  Oh well.

Overall, it was fun to reread the books.  There are some fantastic jokes and thought-provoking characters and situations, even at the end of the series.

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About Lance Finney

Father of two boys, Java developer, Ethical Humanist, and world traveler (when I can sneak it in). Contributor to Grounded Parents.
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5 Responses to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Series – Douglas Adams

  1. Lance Finney says:

    Here’s a link to the original text online: http://lib.ru/ADAMS/dayz1_.txt

    Note that this version doesn’t include Reagan’s name. I might have read this version.

    Here’s a comparison of the last paragraph of the two versions:

    Original
    He also heard the Official from the Safety and Civil Reassurance Administration issue instructions that the planet in ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha must be made “perfectly safe.”

    Updated
    He also heard the Official from the Safety and Civil Reassurance Administration issue instructions to the effect that the missing escape capsule contained a ‘Reagan’ and the planet in ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha must be made ‘perfectly safe’.

  2. Rob says:

    While being nowhere near the aficianado that you are, I hold mostly the same opinions of the books. I think I’ve read the trilogy twice (except never read Mostly Harmless) and I remember really enjoying the first two and the third a bit.

    I’ve read Young Zaphod a couple times as well and I had no idea it was a commentary on Reagan either.

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Rich says:

    You mean you weren’t tipped off by the last paragraph, where he reveals that this dangerously charismatic creature was a “Reagan” model? 🙂

  4. Lance Finney says:

    Well, I’m not sure it had that in the first version I read. According to something I’ve read (don’t remember where), Adams realized the ambiguity after the initial printing and added something later to make it more explicit. I don’t know if the addition was the name or the reference to the “City on a Hill” (those are the only two clues that it’s about Reagan in particular).

    It’s possible that I saw that original version. It’s also possible that I was just skimming the end of the story in confusion and didn’t put it together (reading it in the mid-90s, I probably wasn’t looking for a dig on Ronnie).

  5. Rocky says:

    If you haven’t seen the original BBC series I highly recomend it. It is now out on DVD.
    I don’t recomend his Dirk Gently series. It just didn’t come accross with the same verve.

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