10 Books of Summer – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Did the week go past already? Wow. I hope you all had time to take a look at the marvellous creation that is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and I hope you all enjoyed it! Now it’s time to have a chat about it, and see what everybody thought. (Even if you didn’t enjoy it, come on in! You can tell us why!)
In this post, I’m going to go through some of the things I thought about while reading the book this week. Then, it’s over to you – leap into that comment section and tell us what you thought. You don’t have to stick to the topics I bring up – if you think it’s interesting, tell us!
When I picked this up and started reading, one of the first things that struck me was how many things stuck out as being seriously ’70s. From the digital watches in the introduction, to the slang that Zaphod Beeblebrox uses, this book makes no secret of the decade it was written in. I certainly remember, reading this for the first time (aged about eleven), that a lot of the references went straight over my head. And yet I still enjoyed it, and the book is one of my most re-read. Did you feel that there were a lot of references you missed – from not being in the 1970s, or not being an adult, or not being British? Do you think it mattered, or did you enjoy the book anyway? Was it still funny?
In fact, did you find the book funny at all? Did it make you laugh like a drain, or do that kind of inner chuckle, or did you just roll your eyes at every joke? A friend of mine once told me that to write comedy, it helps to have an initial premise that’s inherently ridiculous, and Hitchhiker’s certainly has that! I think most of the humour in this book is based around the juxtaposition of the bizarre with the mundane – it’s an extraordinary setting, with some very ordinary characters. We’re thrown into the Galaxy after the desctruction of a planet – but if we have a quite ordinary towel from M&S, we’ll be fine. The Vogons are a horrifically unsympathetic and bloody-minded species, but we speak with a spaceship guard who’s only doing it because the hours are good and it pays. Whether it’s the description of Zaphod’s job as President, or the encounter with the very American-TV-show-esque cops on Magrathea, Adams brings ordinary, recognisable and very human scenarios into space, as a way of offering ridiculous commentary on them. Space is cool and zany and out there, but it’s filled with paperwork and “just doing my job” in the same way as Earth is.
Speaking of things that are ‘very human’, I really feel like Adams gets people as I read this. Think about Arthur’s reaction to the destruction of the Earth. On the first reading, it’s funny – he cares more about hamburgers than his parents, haha! It’s meant to be funny. But it’s also quite real – human minds are bad at dealing with huge losses, and we take time to process grief. Adams’ understanding of people lets him build up the scenarios I talked about above, where the characters we come across are so recognisable. We recognise the situation, relate to the people experience it, and then we laugh.
That’s recognisable situations in unexpected settings. The other root of the humour in this book, I think, is that of recognisable situations taking an unexpected turn. Think of Zaphod and Arthur after Arthur (accidentally) saves everyone on the Heart of Gold:
“[…] Hey, kid, you just saved our lives, you know that?”
“Oh,” said Arthur, “well, it was nothing, really…”
“Was it?” said Zaphod. “Oh, well, forget it, then.”
We recognise the polite modesty of Arthur’s response, but Zaphod, as a non-Earth character, can be used to take it literally and expose how silly the routines of politeness might seem to an outsider. Ford is used similarly with regards to sarcasm – because, as you now know, they don’t have sarcasm on Betelgeuse Five! The chat with the Vogon guard is also an example of this – we know how being thrown out by angry guards is supposed to go, and it’s not supposed to involve polite chats about job quality.
One final thing I’d like to cram into this rapidly-getting-very-long post is the plot arc of Hitchhiker’s. What would you say it is? As a members of a writing site, I expect you’ve probably come across the plot rollercoaster – inciting incident causes rising action up to climax, and then the falling action or resolution rounds things off. Do you think Hitchhiker’s follows one of these? In last week’s wake-up call, I mentioned that Hitchhiker’s started life as a radio show, and was rewritten into the books. (Or at least, the first two series were rewritten into books. The later books were books first.) Armed with this knowledge, can you see the origins in the way the plot works? I think that the plot structure makes a lot more sense when you think about it in terms of half-hour episodes, than if you try to apply a standard novel structure to it. I’m not particularly going anywhere with this – it was just something interesting that struck me!
I think I’ll leave it here, before I write a novel’s worth of analysis. Now it’s your turn – bring your thoughts, and let’s talk about it!