Brooks on Books: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Juliet Brooks ('13)/ Eastside Editor-in-Chief

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is mind-boggling. Actually, I would argue that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is one of the most enlightening book series I have ever read. The first book, which clocks in at about 200 pages and can be read in a rough two hours, contains more universal truth than some unending book series of indeterminate lengths and character developments and plot twists.

I have to be honest: Arthur Dent is not much in the way of memorable protagonists. He is inherently human (read: flawed) and his go-to action in times of stress is to “gibber” with his mouth open. Douglas Adams, author, would probably have agreed with my summation. In fact, the entire point of the series is satire, and Arthur, lone representative of his race now that planet Earth has been destroyed, is a bland but effective vehicle for this intention. Adams’ characters follow archetypes. Zaphod Beeblebrox will never display a sudden healthy sense of remorse; Ford Prefect will always want a party.

But the book’s intention is not to explore the depths of a single flawed character; Adams does not care if you have a deep abiding love for Trillian, or Tricia. Adams wants to explore Universal Truths—literally universal. And explore he does.

Adams’ tangential writing style examines the inconsistencies of life on Earth by examining the inconsistencies of the intergalactic bureaucracy. His President of the Galaxy earns the position by being the most interesting candidate. The man who actually decides the fate of the Universe sits alone in a hut and ponders whether, existentially, a cat is really a cat or not.

Usually, this is the point in a review where a summary is in order—but any summary I could give would only terrify and put off the reader. Therefore, I’ll take this time to say that Adams’ unique writing style adds legitimacy to what would otherwise be an incomprehensible concept. Every event that occurs seems to be nothing more than a coincidence.

But everything is interconnected. For instance—those numbers I put at the top of this article? What are they? A date? A telephone number?

I have no clue, but Adams would be able to bring them, and six other obscure elements, together into a perfectly logical whole. After you put one of his books down, you sit there for a moment without breathing, and then you go “oh.” But this single syllable is not enough, and you have to repeat it—“ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooohhh.” And suddenly it all makes sense that the bowl of petunias would have said “not again” two books ago, after having been transmuted from a target-locked missile into a potted plant three hundred miles above the unforgiving surface of a deserted planet. The ironies of Dent’s house being knocked down for a bypass, and Earth being destroyed for a bypass (and neither bypass ending up actually necessary), become parallel and apparent. The immense role of individual interests in large-scale decisions also comes through clearly; you find yourself reading and laughing at the fact that a psychiatrist would have an entire planet destroyed because that planet’s existence posed a threat to his business. Then you pause, and you think, oh wait. Does that happen?

Adams’ theories on mathematics and physics (that intergalactic space travel can be determined via the variables at a large dinner party, and that hyperspace can be most effectively navigated via an Improbability Drive [a drive that does only the most improbable things], respectively) are both humorous and surprisingly sensible. According to Adams, everything that happens in the Universe is abstrusely connected. Adams’ books ignore even the most rudimentary laws of physics and logic as we know them, simply to make the point that we knew them differently 300 years ago and that we will know them in a new light in 300 years.

The New York Times Book Review called the series “zany nonsensical mayhem.” I do not think that the book is “nonsensical.” I don’t know if I’ve stressed this enough, but Adams’ books make sense. They explore and explain things that you didn’t even know you were wondering. In his disregard for logic, Adams has secured a place for himself (in my mind at least) as one of the most logical individuals to have ever written a book.

This is a series that should definitely be examined, starting with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.