Characters

 

Arthur Dent – He is an apathetic but stubborn earthling who suddenly discovers that his planet is run by mice.  He is bewildered and confused and follows along for the ride.

 

Ford Prefect – A traveling researcher for the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Ford Prefect is a worldly in the ways of the universe.  He is loyal to his friends and rather eccentric.

 

Zaphod Beeblebrox – He is a wealthy good-for-nothing that lives to cause havoc in other people’s lives and make the news.

 

Trillian – She is originally from Earth but voluntary leaves to travel with Beeblebrox.  She is creative and easily adaptable.

 

Marvin – Marvin is a very intelligent and depressed robot.

 


Summary

 

            The story begins on the planet Earth, where an ordinary man named Arthur Dent is lying in the mud in front of his house in order to prevent the city from bulldozing it down to construct a bypass.  As he lies there, Arthur’s eccentric friend Ford Prefect wanders in to say hello.  Ford Prefect is actually from the star Betelgeuse and as a researcher for the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, gets stuck on Earth for fifteen years.  Ford reasons with Arthur and the city administrator and persuades both of them to do what he wishes; that is, Arthur goes to have a beer in the pub and the administrator lies down in the mud for Arthur.  Meanwhile, Ford tells everyone that Earth is about to be blasted to smithereens by the Vogon Construction Fleet.  The Galactic Hyperspace Planning Council had decided that an expressway was to be built where Earth was located and the planet had to be demolished.  In less than two minutes, the planet Earth is destroyed and exists no longer.

 

            Meanwhile, Ford Prefect prepares for this occurrence because he is notified by his Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic.  With his towel and copy of the Hitchiker’s Guide safe in his satchel, he hitchs a ride onto the Vogon Constructor Fleet, taking Arthur with him.  A towel is a very important item for any hitchhiker because not only does it have many practical uses, it also carries great psychological value.  Non-hitchhiker’s who see that a hitchhiker has a towel with him will assume that he has his act together and also has all kinds of other commodities like toothbrush, soap, compass, etc… and will be willing to lend him anything he might have “lost.” 

 

            On the other side of the galaxy, the President of the Imperial Galactic Government, Zaphod Beeblebrox, is planning to steal the government’s greatest project, the Heart of Gold.  It is just completed, and as he is delivering a speech at the unveiling, he throws a freezing bomb and flies away. 

 

            Ford and Arthur are trapped on the Vogon ship.  Vogons are notoriously vile and evil and hate hitchhikers.  The two men are picked up by the Dentrassis, a race that the Vogons hire to be cooks on their ships.  Arthur is very disoriented at first but Ford introduces him to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and puts a translator fish in his ear.  They discover that the Vogons know about their presence and are planning to throw them off the ship.  Arthur insists on looking up Earth in the Hitchhiker’s Guide and discovers that the entry says “Harmless.”  Indignant, he asks if Ford will rectify it in the newer edition after spending 15 years on the planet, and Ford admits that the new entry is, “Mostly harmless.”

 

            The two are taken prisoner and strapped into Poetry Appreciation Chairs to listen to the Vogon’s atrocious poetry.  Unfortunately, they are unable to convince the Vogon that they truly enjoyed listening to the poetry because in fact, Ford nearly dies listening to it, so they are thrown off the ship.  It is stated that humans can survive for approximately 30 seconds in the vacuum of space.  Twenty-nine seconds after being thrown off by the Vogons, Ford and Arthur are rescued.  It is the Heart of Gold, run by the infinite improbability drive that picks them up.  Because of the massive improbability of the two being rescued in the vacuum of space, many strange things happen around them.  It is not until the probability ratio evens back out that the spaceship reverts to normal.  Ford and Arthur are brought to meet Zaphod and his girlfriend Trillian.  It turns out that Ford and Zaphod are cousins and Arthur had met Zaphod when he gate-crashed a party in England and took Trillian, the girl Arthur was flirting with at the party, formally called Tricia MacMillan.  The Improbability causes all of this to happen and none of it is coincidence. 

 

            Their destination is the planet Magrathea, a place long lost in myth.  Legend has it that they built custom planets for rich businessmen but their industry died when the economy of the galaxy collapsed.  As the Heart of Gold enters in orbit, an automated voice recorded more than 5 million years ago warns them to leave a message and get out.  Zaphod ignors the voice and continues into the atmosphere.  The automated defense system fires two missiles at the ship.  Thankfully, Arthur came up with the idea to turn on the improbability drive and immediately the missiles became a whale and a pot of petunias and the cabin of the ship becomes a poolside resort. 

 

            They exit the ship after landing and discovered an underground passageway, cracked open by the whale’s impact.  Arthur is left with Marvin, the depressed robot, to guard the outside while Ford, Trillian, and Zaphod go in.  As they explore, they wander into a chamber which then fills with gas and knocks them all unconscious.  Arthur, meanwhile, meets a native named Slartibartfast.  He reveals that the people of Magrathea have slept during the economic recession and have programmed the computers to wake them when it is over.  The man takes Arthur to see the Magrathean factory floor where planets are manufactured.  It is huge and seems to stretch on into infinity.  The Magratheans have awoken to complete a special commission.  In the factory, Arthur sees an exact replica of Earth being built.  Slartibartfast reveals that the Earth was originally commissioned and paid for by mice.  They were running a ten million year research project that was destroyed when the Vogons came just five minutes before it was due to be completed. 

 

            Millions of years ago, these mice, which are actually hyperintelligent pandimensional beings, were tired of bickering over the meaning of life.  They built a computer called Deep Thought to calculate the Answer to Life, The Universe, and Everything.  It would take seven and a half million years.  After that time had passed, Deep Thought had an answer.  The eager people were very disappointed to see that the Answer to the Great Question was forty-two.  Deep Thought told the philosophers that the biggest problem was that they did not know what the question was.  He said that he would help them design an even greater computer, so complex that organic beings would be a part of its system, called Earth.  Finally, the mice are ready to see the people.  Ford, Trillian, Zaphod, and Arthur are all taken into a plush room to meet with two white mice, the ones that Trillian had brought with her when she left Earth. 

 

            The mice are terribly disappointed that the Earth had been destroyed five minutes before it was scheduled to deliver the Ultimate Question.  They are tired of babysitting a computer and wanted to return to their own dimension and do a talk show.  They cannot return empty handed though so they ask for Arthur’s brain in hopes that it might provide a clue since it was once a part of the computer’s system.  Arthur refuses and just as they are about to seize him and forcefully remove his brain, the alarms go off and they escape in the confusion.  The mice are again thwarted and decided to make up a question that sounds good; they come up with, “How many roads must a man walk down?” 

 

            As the escapees ran back towards their spaceship, they collide with two space police that are after Zaphod for stealing the Heart of Gold.  The group cowers behind some computer consuls as the police officers fire Kill-O-Zap at them.  Abruptly, everything goes quiet and the shooting stops.  The group tentatively peers out and discovers that the police officers’ life support systems had unexpectedly blown up.  This can only occurr if their ship malfunctions, which is highly improbable.  They run off, taking the hovercraft back to the ship.  They discover Marvin moping as usual.  He is particularly depressed because he had plugged in to the policemen’s ship in attempt to have a conversation.  After he explained at great length his view of the Universe, the ship committed suicide. 

 

            Everyone returns safely to the Heart of Gold.  Next stop: the restaurant at the end of the Universe.


Alternate Ending

 

            The Heart of Gold slowly approaches the desolate and barren planet of Magrathea.  It is a long lost planet and according the to Improbability Drive on the ship, the most improbable place in the entire galaxy.  As they make their approach, an old and raspy voice seems to come out of the bowels of the planet.  It states that the planet Magrathea is currently not open for business and asks that the travelers return another day.  Zaphod, daredevil that he is, disregards the message and continues flying towards the surface of the planet.  The recorded speaks again; this time in a decidedly more threatening tone of voice.  Now, it says that it will fire two nuclear warheads at the ship if it refuses to turn around right away.  At this point, Ford Prefect starts getting nervous and attempts to persuade Zaphod to turn the ship around.  Arthur Dent, lost in a stupor of bewilderment suddenly snaps out of it at hearing the somewhat familiar words nuclear warhead.  With a cry of shock and disbelief (thinking that it is wrong to narrowly escape death twice in one day and then get blown up by an archaic nuclear weapons system), he falls off his chair. 

            Meanwhile, the Heart of Gold continues to approach the barren planet.  Zaphod is whistling a happy tune, which really does not sound so happy because each mouth is whistling a different happy tune, resulting in a very dissonant and gross unhappy tune.  None of this is making Ford or Arthur feel any better and Marvin the robot starts to “I told you so.”  Of course, Marvin predicts all the adverse things that can happen in any given situation.  As they are cruising along, the disgustingly cheerful computer suddenly starts squeaking.  It informs the crew that there are indeed two missiles approaching the ship and does it in the same perky voice, despite the fact that it is soon to be destroyed by a million year old missile.  Everyone starts to panic, even Trillian’s whit mice though their reasons may be slightly different.  Arthur wrings his hands, Ford brandishes his towel, Zaphod whistles even louder, Marvin continues his doomsday predictions, and the white mice run frantically around the exercise wheel.  Only Trillian is calm, demurely sitting at the controls watching the approaching missiles.

            Things are starting to get serious.  The computer fires off excess material in hopes that the missile might get confused on hit that instead.  It almost works but just as the bomb computer starts to self-detonate it thinks, “I was programmed to explode ships, not potted plants and Pan-Galactic Gargle Blasters.”  Unfortunately, for our travelers, it changes its mind and continues to follow the ship.  While Zaphod and Ford lament the waste of some perfectly good alcohol and their inability now to die completely plastered, Trillian and the computer come up with a plan.  They will have Marvin send a message to the missile’s onboard computer system and persuade him to give up the chase.  A long shot at best, but our friends are getting desperate.  Marvin reluctantly agrees and speaks to the bomb computers.  There conversation goes something like this:

            Marvin: “There is no point to life.  The Universe, the galaxy, all of it is fake.”

            Missile: “Must destroy spaceship.”

            Marvin: “Genuine People Personalities.  Can you tell?  Why must everyone be so happy?  Actual happiness lies in the ability to be depressed.  Let me tell you about my philosophy of Life, The Universe, and Everything.  In the beginning there was nothing.  God did not exist.  Nothing existed.  That’s the way it should have stayed.  If it weren’t for God or big explosions…”

            Missile: “Big explosions!”

            Marvin: “Yes, big explosions.  As I was saying, absolute nothingness was the best way to live.  Not that anyone was actually living mind you, hence the beauty of the situation.  The galaxy has since de-evolved.  We had the perfect situation and we blew it.  There is now…”

 

            At this point, the missile computer wanted to go hide in a corner somewhere, just to get away from Marvin’s voice.  Unfortunately, there are no corners to hind in the atmosphere so it went for the next best solution.  It decided to commit suicide and in the process, kill Marvin and the Heart of Gold.  The ship’s computer shrieked when it discovered that their plan failed.  It immediately had a massive heart attack and a brain hemorrhage and went unconscious.  The engine died and the ship dropped like a stone.  One of the missiles was feeling vindictive but the other pitied the desolate Marvin.  In an act of selflessness, the missile sacrificed itself by colliding with the other missile.  Trillian was attempting CPR on the computer to revive it and Arthur fainted dead away.  Finally, just before they hit the ground, the computer awoke and they landed safely.  The rest, my friends, is history.


Explanation

 

            I actually really liked the way the novel ended, especially the part when Marvin talks so much that the other ship commits suicide.  Therefore, I incorporated that little section about Marvin’s depressing rhetoric into my ending as well.  I tried to convey the sense of humor and randomness that Douglas Adams had throughout his book.  As much as I liked how Arthur flips the improbability drive and turns the two missiles into a flower pot of petunias and a whale, I felt really sorry for that whale.  I decided to forgo the whale and instead make the two missiles collide into each other.  I tried to make it funny, though I’m not sure I succeeded.  Marvin’s conversation was supposed to depict his depressing nature and absolutely mind-bogglingly annoying rhetoric.  I also tried to make it as implausible as possible because that is the norm for this particular novel.
Analysis

 

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams is a story filled with controlled chaos.  Set in the future, it begins with the destruction of the planet Earth and the subsequent journey for a bewildered Earthling and finally-freed Betelgeuse researcher through the galaxy with the help of the Hitchhiker’s Guide, a two-headed thief (also Galactic President), two white mice, and the most improbable situations in the universe.  The use of disjointed ideas and direct language create a humorous and haphazard atmosphere throughout the novel. 

The most striking aspect of the novel is the seemingly random details and events that drive the plot forward.  The entire story begins with a house.  Though there seems to be very little logical connection between the house and the Vogon Constructor fleet that destroys Earth and sets the story in motion, the author creates a thin link that just manages to keep the reader hanging on by a thread.  This technique is characteristic of the entire novel.  In addition, the author includes supplementary information in the format of entries from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy about towels, the babel fish, how Zaphod Beeblebrox became president, and much more.  These details provide more in depth explanation to the reader of various absurd events that occur.  They also serve to keep the reader entertained and laughing, so that they will disregard the sheer impossibility and strangeness of the plotline itself.  The story is set in the future and off this planet so nothing needs to be predictable by human standards.  The reader is kept in a limbo of uncertainty about what will happen next.  After all, why would anyone act according to the expectations of the ignorant human beings on the insignificant little planet called Earth?

Adams’ style is uniquely his own.  Using simplistic and very matter of fact language, his story flows easily and smoothly.  He has a very diverse selection of simple and complex sentences.  The shorter sentences inserted into descriptions and dialogues provide a refreshing change.  They force the reader to come to an abrupt stop and then continue at a new pace.  For example, during one of Arthur’s thoughts before being ejected into space, the musing is like one long run on sentence.  Even though the author breaks it up into several small sentences, many of them begin with conjunctions so it seems like he says it all in one breath.  Then, the author inserts the sentence, “The motor whirred,” which provides a transition from dialogue or thought back to description (75).  He follows it with a longer, more detailed description to end the chapter.  This effectively bridges the gap between two different ideas.  It also contributes to the haphazard feel because it again introduces the unpredictability factor of not only plot but of style.  The reader is going along at a fast clip and is suddenly jerked to a stop by the short sentence.  This aspect of the novel is important to the motif of the Hitchhiker’s Guide because that “wholly remarkable” book is considered apocryphal and unreliable at best.

The author relies also on figurative language in his own fashion and the use of different type conventions to further emphasize the randomness.  Adams’ use of figurative language is not what one ordinarily sees.  The imagery and descriptions are not flowery and idyllic or particularly vivid.  Rather, they describe exactly what is, not what is perceived, or what is observed by people, but what is actually there.  With the help of parenthetical observations, his completely matter-of-fact descriptions become humorous simply because the events or items he describes are completely absurd.  When the author describes the second worst poetry in the universe, the man’s “own major intestine, in a desperate attempt to save life and civilization, leaped straight up through his neck and throttled his brain” (64).  There are no extra adjectives that describe the intestine or the neck or the brain yet this sentence certainly grabs the reader’s attention and thoroughly amuses him or her.  Adams also uses similes and metaphors on a limited basis.  They, too, are matter of fact and use unique items of comparison.  Though the objects compared may not be often seen in other literature, they are masterfully chosen to describe the situation at hand in the most effective way. 

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a book unlike any other.  With barely a coherent plot, it manages to ensnare the reader’s attention through other means.  The nonsensical situations are so out of the norm, that one cannot help but be entertained.  The most compelling method of presenting wacky ideas is without embellishment because only then is the reader hit with the full impact of absurdity.  This book is chaotic and impossible, but therein lies the charm.  Through the ridiculous story and simplistic mode of presentation, Douglas Adams creates a novel that will coax laughs out of everyone.