It’s been a very long time since I’ve written on here, busy as I was (am) educating the youth of America (ie: trying to make them be quiet for forty-five minutes at a stretch and failing) so it seems fitting that this review would be for a book I first read over half my lifetime ago. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979) is a science fiction humor classic and I was lent the entire five book “trilogy” when I was deeply ill my Junior year in High School. Recently I contemplated teaching it to my Literature in the Media class, but there’s an issue: the book is too smart.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is, in it’s own words, “a wholly remarkable book” that manages to blend the driest British humor with a very large dash of Monty Python. The first book follows Arthur Dent the day his home is destroyed, first by a bulldozer, then by a large spaceship. He ends up homeless in many senses of the word and hitchhiking through space with his friend Ford Prefect, an alien. After the pair escape the Vogons (who bulldozed Earth) they join up with Zaphod Beeblebrox, President of the Galaxy; and Tricia McMillan aka Trillian, who Arthur once failed to pick up at a fancy dress party. Zaphod has stolen a very lovely space ship, the Heart of Gold, which is equipped with an Infinite Improbability Drive, which pretty much makes the most unlikely thing possible happen. All of this is done with a ton of self-referential tongue-in-cheek humor and I absolutely love it, though my boyfriend kept asking “Is this part supposed to be funny?” and then put it down, for good, after about one chapter.
There’s the rub. You have to find this specific type of humor hilarious to really get into the book, or else you won’t realize that it’s funny at all. It’s the silliness bordering almost on nonsense kind of humor, the They Might Be Giants type of fun (a band who he also doesn’t get). I don’t think my students, even my Seniors who are in an Honors English elective, are capable of really getting into the text because I think almost all of the jokes will go right over their heads. Still, I’m considering assigning it as homework reading next year, in part because my classroom came with a class set of novels so I can assign it with no expense on anyone’s part, aside from emotional, of course.
The other charm of the book is that I love the ideas in it: the Vogons are a race of aliens whose poetry is so bad that one of them was killed by his own intestines to save the universe from hearing it; the Babelfish (an online translation service now) which feeds off people’s brainwaves, poops out being able to understand anything said in any language, so you can (and should) keep one in your ear; that in the book mice are hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings who are experimenting on us to get “the ultimate question” whose answer is 42. These ideas are just so enjoyable to be immersed in that Hitchhikers is one of those books that I just sit back and drift though, delighted.
The ending drops off a bit of a cliff with them suddenly wanting dinner, but Adams had wanted it to be a multi-book story from the beginning. Sadly he died before the sixth and final book was completed, and it was written by someone else. I’m working my was back through the original five books now, so we’ll see how I feel as I go. For now I’m happy to have re-read book one, since it’s always nice when nostalgia holds up to reality.