Book Review: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

What do we always say first? I have been meaning to read this book for years and years. (I am middle aged. I am coming more to terms with the fact that I will not get to read ALL the books.) When the title popped up on some of the lists that I was looking at to teach ninth grade home school co-op English this year, I dropped it into the pile of books-to-consider. Ordered a bunch. Pulled a boxful from my own shelves. And after a graphic novel (American Born Chinese), this is the first book I have finished and decided about. We will be covering it this year. For one, I think the kids might actually enjoy it. For two, it’s good writing, it’s a classic, but it is also genre (and by exposure to the genres I would like the kids to learn to take them seriously and also go down paths to life-long reading). And for three, there’s plenty to teach from, here. (Oh, and for four, it’s short. We’re staying short so I can teach more books and also so that the kids aren’t overwhelmed. Or their parents.)

So I must have liked Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in order to decide to teach it this year, right? Well yes, I did. The first book in a trilogy that spans five books (??), it is definitely Adams’ most popular work. Adams was also a screenwriter, and Hitchhiker began as a radio series on the BBC in the 1970s. In the book form it has been both a sci-fi and a popular fiction favorite for decades. Douglas also wrote the Dirk Gently series (three books, I think) and some other things (like an episode of Dr. Who and a Monty Python sketch). Fans find it easy to read their way through all his available work and then read it all again. I don’t know if I would want to follow his “radical atheism” that far, but I could get on board with the British humor.

The humor, it seems, is the thing that most naysayers naysay about Hitchhiker. It is, very clearly, British humor of the ilk of Monty Python. For sure. But while some people find it laid on so thick that they can’t get past the first couple chapters, there were other things about Adams’ writing that stood out to me. Satire, for one, in a more general sense. Social criticism. Predictions about the future (which are really fun to see. He was right-on about e-readers, Siri, and virtual reality, to name a few, and has lots to say about robots and, basically, the Singularity). I also couldn’t help but notice that he explained a lot of the silliness or goofiness of the book. Things might seem random, but by golly he has a scientific explanation for why those things happen in Hitchhikers. There is a subtle brilliance about Adams’ writing, for sure.

Here’s the skinny: When Arthur Dent wakes up on a regular day in the 1970s in England, he doesn’t expect bulldozers to be parked outside his house waiting to demolish it for the construction of a freeway. Nor does he suspect the Vogons will be soon arriving to demolish Earth for the construction of an inter-galactic freeway. And without the interference of a friend who just happens to not only be secretly alien but also a top-notch space hitchhiker working on the penultimate guide, Dent would have been vaporized on that otherwise perfectly normal day. Or was it certain to happen, thanks to the rogue President of the Galaxy and the Improbability Drive? Or the destiny given him by the hyperintelligent pan dimensional beings that have been secretly the humans’ puppeteers for ten million years? Guess you’ll have to read it to see.

There are plenty of story twists, here. I was constantly getting interrupted by life, otherwise I would have kept turning the pages. Not a deep book in terms of character development or world-building (though there is a fun world there), it is deep in thought. In the end, you wind up with plenty to consider, some laughs, some shocks, some head-shakes, and a number of quotables that’ll get you in to a Douglas Adams club (like “Stick your thumb to the stars” or “Don’t panic,” “42,” and “So long, and thanks for all the fish”). Not the first to do so, I would highly recommend this book and perhaps someday I’ll read the rest of the “trilogy” and some other Douglas Adams.

OTHER BOOKS

  • The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (#2)
  • Life, The Universe and Everything (#3)
  • So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish (#4)
  • Mostly Harmless (#5)
  • Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (Dirk Gently #1)
  • The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (Dirk Gently #2)
  • The Salmon of Doubt (Dirk Gently #3)

QUOTES

“Science has achieved some wonderful things, of course, but I’d far rather be happy than right any day” (p193).

Image from Amazon.com

MOVIE

There was a movie made in 2004. It is considered to be an okay movie, not nearly as beloved as the book(s). Based on more than just the first book but following the basic plot of the Guide, I found it worth watching when I watched it years ago. I did not review it then, so I’ll have to do that when I watch it this year, after we address it in class. I don’t want to get the two mixed up in my head when I’m teaching it, you see.

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