A starry evolution: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Douglas Adams’ writing career is an undeniably impressive one, having written some of the most popular episodes of Doctor Who as well as the well-liked Dirk Gently novel series, which has recently been adapted to a TV series by Netflix. His most popular, important, and influential work however, is without doubt, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Hitchhiker’s Guide began as a radio comedy on BBC radio 4, with the first episode premiering 40 years ago on the 8 March 1978. The series’ triumph has seen it adapted to novels, television, and film, with varying degrees of success.

The instrumental theme tune for the series, Journey of the Sorcerer by the Eagles, was an expert choice on Adams’ part. Adams chose the song because of its combination of a futuristic, sci-fi sound and the use of the banjo, which he felt gave the piece an ‘on-the-road’ feeling, thus making it perfect for a tale about intergalactic hitchhikers.

The political satire throughout the series is wonderfully on the nose and completely lacking in subtlety, which works very well with the absurdist tone of the story. Adams’ disdain for bureaucracy is obvious from the very first episode, which opens with Arthur Dent lying down in front of a bulldozer to prevent his house from being demolished, and ends with an alien race named Vogons demolishing the Earth in order to make way for a hyperspace bypass.

The protagonists of the series are each charming, compelling, and thoroughly relatable due to both Adams’ incredible writing ability and the talents of the excellent cast. Arthur Dent, the hero of the tale, is the very definition of an everyman, and a brilliant one at that. Stubborn, reluctantly heroic, and quintessentially British, he explores the galaxy and searches for meaning, all the while wearing his dressing gown. Among the other characters are the delightfully eccentric intergalactic hitchhiker Ford Prefect, the narcissistic yet relentlessly charismatic Zaphod Beeblebrox, and a thoroughly depressed paranoid android named Marvin.

Perhaps the main character throughout the series though is the Hitchhiker’s Guide itself, which acts as the guide for the protagonists and the narrator for the audience. The humorous information given out by the book is in equal parts witty, dry, and utterly nonsensical.

There is a strange sort of joyful existentialism throughout the series, as the characters try to make sense of the universe, only to realise time and time again that there is no meaning to anything. This nihilism is perhaps best exemplified when a computer named Deep Thought is asked for the answer to life, the universe, and everything, and replies simply with ‘42’. The characters which most embrace this existentialism are Ford and Zaphod, who are interestingly enough the characters who seem to have the most fun throughout the series. This may be a hint from Adams that only when we accept that there is no meaning to life are we able to truly live free and unburdened.

Indeed, in the moments when Arthur himself seems to grasp this concept, he is at his most joyous. There is a segment in which he falls but does not realise he is falling and is, as a result, able to fly, untroubled by life, free of cares and worries.

So, in honour of this wonderful slice of culture, let us all enjoy a nice Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster and embrace the chaos and wonder of the universe. Also, if you’re going to be doing any hitchhiking, heed the words of the guide: always know where your towel is and most importantly, DON’T PANIC.

 

Image: Wortley via Pixabay

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