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.

Star Trek fan

The death of Leonard Nimoy this past February was particularly sad for me and my daughter, since we have been watching the original Star Trek episodes on Wednesday nights since last summer. I doubt that I qualify as a Trekkie or a Trekker, since I have never attended a Star Trek convention, do not own a Star Trek uniform or mechanical device, and do not have any Star Trek posters or commemorative plates. I own a small number of books related to Star Trek, and I have all the episodes of the original series on DVD. (I also have about half of them on VHS.)

Moreover, I have never warmed to the Next Generation or any of the other incarnations of Star Trek. For me, the words “Star Trek” will always signify Captain James T. Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, Scottie, Uhuru, Sulu, Chekov, and the other four hundred members of the Enterprise crew. The original series had an energy that overcame its weak special effects and other limitations. As one of the most optimistic science fiction stories of its era, Star Trek deserves the respect given to the show as an icon of American culture of the 1960s.

I vaguely remember a couple of first-run episodes of Star Trek, but I was still quite young during the three years of new episodes. I became better acquainted with the show and its characters through syndicated reruns in the 1970s. My best friend in high school and I made radio plays based on the Star Trek characters. He was always Kirk, and I was always Spock. We eagerly waited for the first feature film of Star Trek and were not disappointed by it. Other reviewers complained of the pace of the movie, especially its long lingering introduction to the rebuilt Enterprise, but those scenes suited the two of us just fine.

Star Trek has remained with me through the years, and I was glad to be able to own the episodes and watch them at my convenience. I’ve shared them with my children and watched them come to understand and relate to Spock, Kirk, and the rest. Like the original cast, my children and I have a sense of humor about the show. They can, for example, identify and imitate a “Shatner comma.” Beyond that, we sometimes pretend that the family van has impulse engines and warp drive, and we know that our cell phones are really communicators.

Scottie, McCoy, and now Spock have left this world. Unlike in the TV episodes and movies, no amazing trick or alien technology is going to return them—not, at least, until all the dead are raised and the world is made new. But we will always be able to relive their adventures and to imagine further adventures for them. We too are able “to boldly go where no man has gone before.”