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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was first and foremost a radio comedy series written by Douglas Adams. This was followed by a series of novels, a television series and a computer game. As of 2004 a film version is also in the works. Although the various versions followed the same basic plot, they are in many places mutually contradictory, as Adams heavily rewrote the story for each "adaptation".



The books are described as "a trilogy in five parts", after having been described as a trilogy on the release of the third book, and then a "trilogy in four parts" on the release of the fourth book. They have a wide following around the world, thanks to their outlandish situations and characters (Babel fish, Vogon poetry, Slartibartfast, The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything), their anarchic, ironic humour, and their subtle social commentary.

The title The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is often abbreviated as "HHG", "HHGG", "HHGTTG" or "H2G2". In addition to the several incarnations of the story, of which the books are the most popular, this can also refer to:

Note on spelling: Unfortunately, the different editions of the Hitchhiker's Guide spell it differently -- thus "Hitch-Hiker's Guide", "Hitch Hiker's Guide" and "Hitchhiker's Guide" are used in different editions (US or UK), versions (audio or text) and compilations of the book. For the sake of coherence, Wikipedia spells it Hitchhiker's Guide, which is reportedly the way Adams himself preferred it. [1]

Plot overview

The series follows the adventures of Arthur Dent, a hapless Englishman who escapes the destruction of Earth (by the Vogons) with his friend Ford Prefect, an alien from Betelgeuse and researcher for the eponymous guide. Zaphod Beeblebrox, Ford's semi-cousin and sometime Galactic President, saves the pair from death in his (stolen) spaceship, the Heart of Gold, whose crew rounds out the main cast of characters: Marvin the Paranoid Android, a terminally depressed robot, and Trillian, a woman known by Arthur and the only other surviving human being.

Note: The plots of the television and radio series are more or less the same as that of the first two novels, though some of the events occur in a different order and many of the details are changed. Much of fits five and six of the radio series were written by John Lloyd, but his material did not make it into the other versions of the story and is not included here. Most consider the books' version of events to be definitive.

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the characters visit the legendary planet Magrathea, home of the now-collapsed planet building industry, and meet Slartibartfast, a planetary architect. He relates the story of a race of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings who built a computer named Deep Thought to calculate the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. When the answer was revealed as 42, they were forced to build a more powerful computer to work out what the Ultimate Question actually was, but their plans never come to fruition.

The computer, disguised as a planet, was the Earth, and was destroyed five minutes before the conclusion of its 10-million-year program. The creatures, who turn out to be mice, want to dissect Arthur's brain to help reconstruct the question, but our protagonists escape.

In The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Zaphod is separated from the others and finds he is part of a conspiracy to uncover whoever really runs the Universe. Zaphod meets Zarniwoop, a co-conspirator and editor for the guide, who knows where to find the secret ruler. Briefly reunited with the others for a trip to Milliways, the restaurant of the title, Zaphod and Trillian discover that the Universe is in the safe hands of a simple man living on a remote planet in a wooden shack with his cat.

Ford and Arthur, meanwhile, fall backwards through time and end up on a spacecraft full of the outcasts of the Golgafrincham civilisation. The ship crashes on prehistoric Earth, disrupting the program to find the Ultimate Question and stranding Ford and Arthur. (The TV series ends at this point.)

In Life, the Universe, and Everything Ford and Arthur are saved by Slartibartfast, when he enlists their aid in preventing galactic war. Long ago, the people of Krikkit attempted to wipe out all life in the Universe, but they were stopped and imprisoned on their home planet; now, they are poised to escape. With the help of Marvin, Zaphod and Trillian, our heroes prevent the destruction of life in the Universe and go their separate ways.

In So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, Arthur returns home to Earth, rather surprisingly since it was destroyed when he left. He meets and falls in love with a girl named Fenchurch, and discovers this Earth is a replacement provided by the dolphins in their Save the Humans campaign. Eventually he rejoins Ford, who claims to have saved the Universe in the meantime, to hitch-hike one last time and see God's Final Message to His Creation.

Finally, in Mostly Harmless, Vogons take over the Hitchhiker's Guide (under the name of Infinidim Enterprises), to finish, once and for all, the task of obliterating the Earth. Arthur's spaceship crashes on the planet Lamuella, where he settles as a sandwich-maker. Meanwhile, Ford Prefect breaks into the guide's offices, gets himself an infinite expense account from the computer system, then meets the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Mark II. After he declines this dangerously powerful machine's aid (which he receives anyway), he sends it to Arthur Dent.

Trillian uses DNA that Arthur donated for money to have a daughter, and when she goes to cover a war, she leaves her daughter Random Dent with Arthur. Random steals the Guide Mark II, and uses it to get to Earth. Arthur, Ford, and later Trillian all end up on earth trying to catch Random. While Arthur, Ford, Trillian, Random, and Tricia McMillan (Trillian in this alternate universe), find themselves together in Stavro Mueller's Beta club, the Guide Mark II removes all the Earths from probability, also removing all the characters involved, and itself.

It wasn't truly clear that the series was over (since it was already a trilogy with five books) until Adams died of a heart attack at age 49 in 2001. Indeed, Adams said that the new novel he was working on, The Salmon of Doubt, was not working as a Dirk Gently story, and suggested it might instead become a sixth book in the Hitchhiker's series. He described Mostly Harmless as "a very bleak book" and said he "would love to finish Hitchhiker on a slightly more upbeat note". Adams also remarked that if he were to write a sixth instalment, he would at least start with all the characters in the same place.

History of the radio series and novels

The first radio series was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 1978. It was split into episodes, known as "Fits" (an archaic term for a section of a poem revived by Lewis Carroll for The Hunting of the Snark). The original series comprised Fits the First through Sixth, and Fit the Seventh was broadcast separately on December 24 (though billed as a Christmas special it made no reference to the occasion). Fits the Fifth and Sixth were co-written by John Lloyd; subsequent versions of the story omit most of Lloyd's material.

Main cast:
Simon Jones as Arthur Dent
Geoffrey McGivern as Ford Prefect
Susan Sheridan as Trillian
Mark Wing-Davey as Zaphod Beeblebrox
Richard Vernon as Slartibartfast
Peter Jones as The Book

The success of the series encouraged Adams to adapt it into a novel, which was based on the first four Fits and released in 1979. A slightly contracted double LP re-recording of the first four Fits was released in the same year, followed by a single LP featuring a revised version of Fits the Fifth and Sixth. A second radio series, comprising Fits the Eighth through Twelfth, was produced and broadcast in 1980, originally on five consecutive days; and the original novel produced a sequel based on Fits the Fifth through Twelfth (but not entirely in that order). The producer of both the radio and LP versions was Geoffrey Perkins. Thereafter the radio series ended and the books developed independently.

The radio series (and the subsequent vinyl LP recordings and television spin-off) greatly benefited from the commentary of noted radio comedy actor Peter Jones as The Book. His sonorous, avuncular tones undoubtedly gave the series a tremendous boost and firmly established the tenor of the piece.

The series was also notable for its use of sound, being the first comedy series to be produced in stereo. Adams said that he wanted the programme's production to be comparable to that of a modern rock album. Much of the programme's budget was spent on sound effects, which were largely the work of Paddy Kingsland .

The popularity of the first two books gave rise to a six-episode television series, which aired in 1981. It employed many of the actors from the radio series and was based on the novel versions of Fits the First through Sixth. The complexities of adapting the material for television meant that each episode was 35 minutes in length, and some of the best jokes from the radio series had to be cut. The programme is particularly notable for its mock computer animation sequences, actually produced by hand using tradition cel animation techniques. There have been several different edits of the series: PBS recut the series into seven 30-minute episodes, while the videotape release added some previously unseen material and remixed the soundtrack into stereo. The DVD edition claims to be the final and definitive version.

Two important cast changes were made for the TV version. David Dixon replaced Geoffrey McGivern as Ford, and Sandra Dickinson played Trillian. The changes were made because McGivern did not suit the role visually, and Susan Sheridan was unavailable at the time.

The theme tune used for the radio, television and LP versions is "Journey of the Sorcerer", an instrumental piece by The Eagles from the album One of These Nights. Only the radio series used the original recording; a soundalike cover by Tim Souster was used for the LP and TV series. Apparently, Adams chose this song for its futuristic sounding nature, but also for the fact that it had a banjo in it, which he said would give it an "on the road, hitch-hikey feel."

The TV series was followed in 1984 by a best-selling "interactive fiction", or text-based adventure game, distributed by Infocom. Titled simply The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, it was designed by Adams and Infocom regular Steve Meretzky and was one of the most successful produced by the company. Other articles of early 1980s "Hitch-Hikeriana" included a beach towel printed with the Guide's entry for towels and a number of novelty singles (see below).

Fit the Third of the radio series originally included a scene in which Marvin the Paranoid Android "sang" snatches of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" by Pink Floyd, "Rock and Roll Music" by The Beatles and "Also Sprach Zarathustra" (the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey). For copyright reasons these were cut from the tape and CD editions, causing a slight lapse in continuity. There have been other minor changes - for example, the name originally given for the worst poet in the universe was that of a real person, Paul Neil Milne Johnstone, who didn't appreciate the joke. His name is mangled in subsequent releases of the radio series, and replaced with "Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings" in the book and television series. The death of the real Paul Neil Milne Johnstone was reported early in 2004.

Marvin himself (played and sung by actor Stephen Moore; the character was originally named 'Marshall' after comedy writer Andrew Marshall, a friend who Adams regarded as being a very depressed person, then changed to Marvin so as not to cause offence) released two novelty singles, "Marvin" and "Reasons To Be Miserable". There was also an EP featuring the re-recorded "Journey of the Sorcerer" together with "Reg Nullify In Concert" by Reg Nullify, and "Only the End of the World Again" by Disaster Area. These discs have since become collector's items.

The fifth book was written to bring the "increasingly inaccurately named trilogy" to a supposedly conclusive ending. However, it was known that Adams was working on another book (tentatively entitled The Salmon of Doubt) when he died. This book was originally supposed to be the third novel of the Dirk Gently series, but Adams had expressed the desire to recast it as a Hitchhiker book. An existing draft was published posthumously in 2002 in a collection of Adams' miscellaneous writings entitled The Salmon of Doubt, with Dirk as the main character.

New radio series

A third radio series, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Tertiary Phase, based on Life, the Universe and Everything, began on BBC Radio 4 on September 21, 2004. It was adapted by Dirk Maggs , following instructions left by Adams. All of the original radio series cast returned, except for the late Peter Jones, who was replaced by William Franklyn although some brief excerpts from Jones's original narration were also used. There is even a cameo role by Adams himself, edited from his BBC audiobook recording of the novel. Each episode is broadcast on Tuesday, with a repeat on Thursday.

A fourth series will follow, combining the fourth and fifth novels; both are being produced by Above The Title Productions Ltd.

Books in the trilogy

The books in the trilogy are named:

A short story was also written, Young Zaphod Plays it Safe. It appears in some of the omnibus editions of the trilogy, and in The Salmon of Doubt. It is almost entirely unrelated to the rest of the trilogy.

Neil Gaiman has written Don't Panic: The Official Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy Companion. The original edition was published in 1984. The book is now in its third edition.

A novel, Douglas Adams's Starship Titanic, based on Adams's computer game and written by Terry Jones, is also set in the HHGG universe. While the story is entirely unrelated to the trilogy, Starship Titanic was briefly mentioned in Life, the Universe and Everything.

Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged, a character from Life, the Universe and Everything, also appears in a short story by Adams titled The Private Life of Genghis Khan which appears in some early editions of The Salmon of Doubt.

Two collaborative Internet projects were inspired by The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The original is Project Galactic Guide, which has no official affiliation. There is also h2g2, a project started by Douglas Adams' company The Digital Village and currently hosted by the BBC.


Main article: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (movie).

After years of setbacks and renewed efforts to start production, the big-screen adaptation of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has finally been shot. It will be released on 6 May 2005 in the UK and on 3 June 2005 in the USA.

Computer game

Douglas Adams personally collaborated with Infocom on the computer game version, which is a traditional text adventure in which the player takes on the persona of Arthur Dent. It has recently been released on the BBC's website to play for free.

See also

External links

Official sites

Significant fan sites

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

By Douglas Adams

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy | The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Life, the Universe and Everything | So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish | Mostly Harmless

See also Young Zaphod Plays it Safe (a short story)

Books | Places | Characters | Races | Miscellanea

Last updated: 01-09-2005 23:48:50