The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has been a radio play, a series of books, a television show, a computer game, a feature movie, and two or three other things. Douglas Adams has been the genius behind all its incarnations, including the movie, although it came out after he had died. In each incarnation Adams changed various aspects of the story. He was constantly inventing new characters and new situations, tailoring his story to fit the various media he was using.
For the few people on earth who have never encountered any version of the Hitchhiker’s Guide, it is the story of Arthur Dent, an earthman whose best friend is from another planet. This friend, Ford Prefect, rescues Arthur on the day that the earth is blown up to make room for a hyperspatial express route. Ford is a researcher for the Guide, and he is a proficient hitchhiker. Traveling with Ford, Arthur meets a host of odd characters, including Zaphod Beeblebrox, Trillian, Slartibartfast, and Marvin the melancholy robot. Arthur remains bemused by all his experiences, and generally no one else can figure out how to deal with Arthur.
Through the Hitchhiker’s Guide, in all its various manifestations, Adams skewers many aspects of life on earth, including science, religion, technology, the rules of writing, romance, adventure, and economics. His productions might be characterized as dark comedy, given the destruction of the planet Earth in the first act of the story. If there is a general message to the story of the Hitchhiker’s Guide—and I’m not saying Adams intended to preach a moral; he was more likely just enjoying the fun of developing a good story—that message would be that the universe is so absurd that it is better to laugh at it than to cry over it.
Probably the largest number of Hitchhiker fans came to know Douglas Adams and his story through the books. In the first three books of the trilogy, the action is fast with little character development. In the fourth volume (I know that trilogy means three volumes, but part of the joke is to call the five books a trilogy.), Arthur has considerably more positive and uplifting experiences than he had endured up to that point. The fifth book of the trilogy is written in a far different style, with fewer slapstick antics and much more development of characters, setting, and plot. On the other hand, the fifth book returns to the dark and gloomy view of life, the universe, and everything, a gloominess that was missing from book four.
Many fans of the books did not like the movie, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Arthur, Trillian, and the other characters seem more likeable on screen than in the books. The story takes a more hopeful path, and the film seems almost to have a sunny disposition, although much of the absurdity and gloom remain. Many of the best lines in the book were left out of the movie script, although I believe that they worked better on paper and might not have been as strong in the movie. In the end, Douglas Adams was very much in charge of the movie script, and he chose to tell his story the way he told it in the movie, just as he changed the story from radio to book to television show.
It may seem odd that a committed Christian like me would enjoy the writing of an atheist like Douglas Adams, especially when Adams openly mocks God and religion. I guess it is odd, but many of the artists I enjoy—Kurt Vonnegut Jr. and John Lennon, to name just two—share Adams’ outlook. I regret their lack of faith, but I admire their talent and enjoy their work nonetheless. Perhaps I can enjoy the dark and absurd universe of Douglas Adams precisely because I have a greater hope than he had.
J.

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