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"Don't Panic" signs during Towel Day in Innsbruck, Austria
Great and terrible
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On our shelf:
Writer's block
In many of the more relaxed civilizations on the Outer Eastern Rim of the Internet, the Rational Guide has already supplanted the great Wikipedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom, for though it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate, it scores over the older, more pedestrian work in two important respects. First, it is slightly cheaper; and second, it has the words "DON'T PANIC" inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover.
The Guide itself. Warning: its article on Earth is just a stub.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a deadly serious history of the universe science fiction comedy series on radio, a trilogy [sic] of five[note 1] books and a short story,[note 2] a set of audio CDs, a best-selling computer game, a stage show, a TV series, and an embarrassingly bad feature film, all created by the author Douglas Adams. The original version of this widely read and hugely influential work was originally broadcast as six-part radio series on BBC Radio 4 in 1978. Since that time, it has existed in a number of different and largely contradictory formats, and has become an international phenomenon. The title The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is often abbreviated as HHGTTG, or even H2G2 (or H²G²), as embarrassingly used on fan websites – and sometimes here.

The books in the series are:

  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy [Primary Phase] (ISBN 0-330-25864-8)
  • The Restaurant at The End of the Universe [Secondary Phase]
  • Life, the Universe and Everything [Tertiary Phase]
  • So Long and Thanks For All The Fish [Quandary Phase]
  • Mostly Harmless [Quintessential phase]
  • Young Zaphod Plays It Safe [Actually a short story and not a book, and serves as a Prequel]

Plot summary[edit]

It is exceptionally difficult to provide definitive plot summaries for any of Adams' HHGTTG works as the plotline changes in the different versions. The reason for this becomes clear in the final part of the series, in which it is revealed that the plots are all co-existing in multiple realities.

The main reason for this is that each was conceived in its own right, and in order to continue the series into the next phase, Adams tended to ignore endings of the previous version and restart from a similar, but not identical, position in the next. In some cases, most notably the movie but also the game for instance, the plots would be given a rejig to make it fit the appropriate medium. The movie would have to be a self-contained plot that worked for a full 2 hour stint, and so wouldn't be able to follow the exact form of the radio series, book or TV series. As much as the fan dumb may have objected.

The general gist of the story's introductory sequence on Earth is nearly identical in each case, and many themes, set pieces and characters are recurring in all versions.

The original six-part broadcast version.

Arthur Dent, an "ordinary bloke", wakes up one morning to find that his house is about to be demolished to make way for a bypass. His friend Ford Prefect arrives, and takes Arthur to the pub, where Ford reveals that (a) he is not from Guildford, as he had led Arthur to believe, but from a small planet near Betelgeuse (pronounced beetle-juice), and (b) reveals that it is not just Arthur's house, but the whole Earth which is about to be destroyed by a fleet of Vogon Spacecraft, to make way for a new hyperspace bypass. Before Arthur has time to take this in, he finds that he and Ford are on board the Vogon spaceship, having "thumbed" a lift, and that the Earth has been demolished.

At this point, Ford explains that he is a researcher for The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to The Galaxy, an electronic book which allows hitchhikers to travel the galaxy, armed only with their towel and 30 Altairian dollars a day. The book has two main features – firstly that it has supplanted the Encyclopedia Galactica as the repository of all known wisdom, and secondly, that it has the words "Don't Panic" in big letters on the cover. Ford thumbs through a few entries and finds exciting articles such as Eccentrica Galumbitts[note 3] and Zaphod Beeblebrox.[note 4] The entry on Earth reads "Harmless". Ford, who has been researching for the guide, has managed to improve the entry; after trimming by the editor, it now reads "Mostly Harmless".

Ford provides Arthur with a Babel Fish,[note 5] which he puts in his ear. The unfortunate effect of this is to allow Arthur to understand Vogon poetry. Despite heaping praise onto the captain for his poetic talents,[note 6] Arthur and Ford are thrown into deep space, with a negligible chance of being rescued. However, a passing spaceship, the Heart of Gold, which is equipped with the new Infinite Improbability Drive,[note 7] rescues them from certain death at an improbability level of infinite[note 8]. On board, Arthur and Ford meet up with Trillian, Zaphod Beeblebrox[note 9], Marvin [note 10] and Eddie, the ship's computer.[note 11] At this point in the story it is revealed that Zaphod and Ford are semi-cousins sharing six of the same mothers, and that Trillian was a girl who Arthur singularly failed to get off with at a party in Islington, mainly because Zaphod intervened with "Hey doll, is this guy boring you; come with me, I'm from another planet".[note 12] If all that sounds improbable, then it probably is.

As Arthur settles into his new and strangely improbable lifestyle, he decides to have a cup of tea from the Nutrimat,[note 13] which, like Marvin, Eddie and all the doors on the ship were designed by the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation,[note 14] to have GPP.[note 15] Arthur, enraged by the fact that he cannot get a decent cup of tea,[note 16] argues with Eddie, who takes it upon himself to find out precisely why Arthur wants tea. Meanwhile, the ship has settled into orbit around the legendary planet of Magrathea.[note 17] All is fine, save for the fact that two deadly nuclear missiles are heading towards the ship, and Eddie is powerless to do anything, his circuits committed to finding an answer to Arthur's tea problem. At the last second, Arthur pulls the Infinite Improbability Drive lever, and the deadly missiles are turned into a Sperm Whale[note 18] and a Bowl of Petunias.[note 19]

On the surface, the travelers are met by Slartibartfast, who has been awakened from a 5-million-year-old slumber to fill a special order for a new planet. He asks Arthur his name, to which the reply is "Dent – Arthur Dent", and then threatens Arthur that if he does not come with him, he will be late.[note 20]

...more to come.....

Impact of Adams' works[edit]

Douglas Adams' creation has become a cult, and many of the elements of the story have fallen into the language and culture.[1] For example:

  • The Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything, is, according to the book, 42; this is now ubiquitous, often found in computer programmes and hackerspeak.
  • The Babel fish has spawned a translation website.
  • An alcoholic cocktail mentioned in the series, the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster, described as "the alcoholic equivalent of a mugging - expensive and bad for the head" and having the effect of "like having your brain smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick", has become the subject of competing recipes in reality, often involving highly potent alcoholic beverages mixed in copious amounts.[2][3] In the children's on-line role playing game "NeoPets", an apparent "virgin" version of the drink is the "Pan Galactic Gargle Slushie",[4] thereby guaranteeing a new generation of Douglas Adams fans.
  • "Towel Day" is celebrated by Adams' fans every 25 May, in honor of the author (The first celebration was in 2001, two weeks after his death).[5]
  • Asteroid 25924 Douglasadams[6] and Asteroid belt 18610 Arthurdent,[7] are named in honor of the author.
  • The IM program Trillian is named after the heroine in the series.[8]
  • The PBS TV show Between the Lions has an anthropomorphic lion puppet named "Lionel" who wears a rugby jersey emblazoned with the number "42". One of the show's contributors, Christopher Cerf, was a close friend of Adams and, according to The Salmon of Doubt, this was meant as a salute to him.[9]
  • The phrase "mostly harmless" has become an internet meme, often referring to something that is mostly harmless.
  • IBM's chess-playing program Deep Thought was named after the computer designed to calculate the ultimate answer, until somebody explained Adams' inspiration to IBM whereupon they renamed their program to Deep Blue.[note 21]
  • When NASA's Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) intentionally crashed into the Moon on 9 October 2009, the following messages, taken directly from Adams' work (quoting the last thoughts of a whale as it plummets towards a planet) were sent via the LCROSS_NASA Twitter account:
    • "And what's this thing coming toward me very fast? So big and flat and round,
    • it needs a big wide sounding name like 'Ow', 'Ownge', 'Round', 'Ground'!"
    • "That's it! Ground! Ha! I wonder if it'll be friends with me?"
    • Immediately afterwards, it crashed into the lunar surface.[10][11]

Notable religion bashing[edit]

Adams was certainly a provocateur when it came to religion (Richard Dawkins describes him as his "tallest convert") and Hitchhikers was no stranger to poking fun at religion. In one notable segment, the Babel Fish is presented as something so unlikely it must be the ultimate evidence of intelligent design and as such is the ultimate disproof of God. It goes a little something like this:[12]

"I refuse to prove that I exist," says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing."

"But," says Man, "the Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It proves you exist, and so therefore you don't. QED."

"Oh, dear," says God, "I never thought of that," and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.

"Oh! That was easy," says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.

Most leading theologians claim that this argument is a load of dingo's kidneys. But this did not stop Oolon Colluphid making a small fortune when he used it as the central theme for his best selling book, Well That About Wraps It Up for God.

Although cut from the movie version, possibly to avoid offending the religious sensibilities of the US Religious Right, it was available on the DVD extras along with other cut segments.[13] The argument has never been seriously proposed in real life, but it does poke fun at those who try to prove that God exists while simultaneously using the concept of faith to defend their position.

The last message God sends to his creation (in So Long and Thanks for All the Fish) is: "We apologise for the inconvenience."

The Norse God Thor makes several appearances in Adams's books, although reports of his Odinism have been exaggerated.

External links[edit]

Mostly harmless[edit]

  1. Not six, there was never a sixth book written by someone else, that never happened la la la la la I can't hear you Eoin Colfer!
  2. Young Zaphod Plays It Safe, which first appeared in print in 1986's The Utterly Utterly Merry Comic Relief Christmas Book and has since been included in the single volume omnibus of the novels, The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. Said omnibus is just about as big as a Bible, and often makes more sense (and is also far more entertaining).
  3. The triple breasted whore of Eroticon 6
  4. Part time Intergalactic President, named the worst-dressed sentient being on no less than six occasions, inventor of the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster, and cited by Eccentrica Galumbitts as "the best bang since the big one".
  5. A creature which feeds on brainwaves and excretes a matrix which renders any language intelligible.
  6. Apart from their renowned officiousness and offensive manner, which almost approaches that of Conservapedia sysops, Vogons are famed for having the third second worst poetry in the known universe.
  7. A wonderful way of travelling through interstellar distances, without all that tedious mucking about in hyperspace.
  8. I have checked this statement with a handheld Bambleweeny, and it is mathematically accurate.
  9. probably the most underhanded, devious and warped character in the whole of RationalWiki. He is reputed to watch cats and shear sheep.
  10. Marvin, the paranoid android, is possibly the most dour and thoroughly depressing character ever created. "Brain the size of a planet, and me with this pain in all the diodes down my left side".
  11. Hi guys, just want to let you know that everything's hunky-dory
  12. Now definitely recorded as the worst chat-up line in history. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.
  13. The Nutrimat is a fiendishly clever machine which scans the user's brainwaves to work out what they would like, then serves up a drink which tastes almost, but not entirely, different to this. See British Rail Tea.
  14. The SSC, whose complaints division now covers several planets, were/will be the first against the wall when the revolution came/comes – the confusion in this sentence being caused by a copy of The Encyclopedia Galactica which fell through a timewarp.
  15. Short for "Genuine People Personalities", which is an oxymoronic way of describing your plastic pal who's fun to be with robots
  16. see United States, Canada, Australia, and in fact most of the rest of the world.
  17. Home to a race of planetbuilders, who got so amazingly wealthy at their trade of building planets that the entire economy of the universe collapsed.
  18. The excitable and enthusiastic creature has an interesting, but somewhat brief existence in the time from its creation to the time that it met the planet, decorating its surface with blubber and red goo.
  19. Which thought, as it descended to the surface: "Oh, no! Not again."
  20. ... as in the late Dentarthur Dent. N.B. I was watching an old Dr. Who episode a couple of weeks ago (Douglas Adams wrote several Dr. Who episodes – but not this one), and I noticed a very similar line: "What is your name?" ; "Jo – Jo Grant". The doctor's assistant was referred to as "JoJo" Grant, for most of the rest of the episode."
  21. Adams described the name as "a very obvious pun"

Don't Panic[edit]