Aaron J. Powner, M.Ed.
High School Science Teacher

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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Science Fiction Comedy     Unexpected Philosophical Treasure

An adapted excerpt on the subject from Wikipedia...

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a science fiction comedy series created by Douglas Adams. Originally a radio comedy broadcast on BBC Radio in 1978, it was later adapted to other formats - including comics, books, television, plays, and a big-budget hollywood movie. Over the years it gradually became an international pop-culture and multi-media phenomenon. As a high school science teacher, I apreciate the startling depths of wisdom and philosophy that are couched within the intelligent, dry, and often silly humor.

Main Characters

The various versions follow the same basic plot but they are in many places mutually contradictory, as Adams rewrote the story substantially for each new adaptation. Throughout all versions, the series follows the adventures of several key characters:

The title of the series comes from the name of a fictional, eccentric, electronic travel guide, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, prominently featured in the series.

Book 1 - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Throughout their adventures in the first book (published in 1979), the characters visit the legendary planet Magrathea, home to the now-collapsed planet-building industry, and meet Slartibartfast, a planetary coastline designer who was responsible for the fjords of Norway. Through archival recordings, 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 to be 42, Deep Thought explained that the answer was incomprehensible because the beings didn't know what they were asking. It went on to predict that another computer, more powerful than itself would be made and designed by it to calculate the question for the answer.

The computer, often mistaken for a planet (because of its size and use of biological components), was the Earth, and was destroyed by Vogons to make way for a hyperspatial express route, five minutes before the conclusion of its 10-million-year program. Two of a race of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings who commissioned the Earth in the first place, disguise themselves as Trillian's mice, and want to dissect Arthur's brain to help reconstruct the question, since he was part of the Earth's matrix moments before it was destroyed, and so he is likely to have part of the question buried in his brain. Trillian is also human but had left Earth six months previously with Zaphod Beeblebrox, President of the Galaxy. The protagonists escape, setting course for "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe". The mice, in Arthur's absence, create a phony question since it is too troublesome for them to wait 10 million years again just to cash in on a lucrative deal.

Book 2 - The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

In the second book of the five-part "trillogy" (published in 1980), Zaphod is separated from the others and finds he is part of a conspiracy to uncover who really runs the Universe. Zaphod meets Zarniwoop, a conspirator and editor for The Guide, who knows where to find the secret ruler. Zaphod becomes briefly reunited with the others for a trip to Milliways, the restaurant of the book's title. Zaphod and Ford decide to steal a ship from there, which turns out to be a stunt ship pre-programmed to plunge into a star as a special effect in a stage show. Unable to change course, the main characters get Marvin to run the teleporter they find in the ship, which is working other than having no automatic control (someone must remain behind to operate it), and Marvin seemingly sacrifices himself. 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, end up on a spacecraft full of the outcasts of the Golgafrinchan civilization. The ship crashes on prehistoric Earth; Ford and Arthur are stranded, and it becomes clear that the inept Golgafrinchans are the ancestors of modern humans, having displaced the Earth's indigenous hominids. This has disrupted the Earth's programming so that when Ford and Arthur manage to extract the final readout from Arthur's subconscious mind by pulling lettered tiles from a Scrabble set, it is "What do you get if you multiply six by nine?" Arthur then comments, "I've always said there was something fundamentally wrong with the universe."

Book 3 - Life, the Universe and Everything

In the third book (published in 1982), Ford and Arthur travel through the space-time continuum from prehistoric Earth to Lord's Cricket Ground. There they run into Slartibartfast, who 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.

Book 4 - So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

In the fourth book (published in 1984), 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. Along the way, they are joined by Marvin, the Paranoid Android, who, although 37 times older than the universe itself (what with time travel and all), has just enough power left in his failing body to read the message and feel better about it all before expiring.

Book 5 - Mostly Harmless

In the fifth book (published in 1992 and the last written by Douglas Adams himself), 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. After abruptly losing Fenchurch and travelling around the galaxy despondently, Arthur's spaceship crashes on the planet Lamuella, where he settles in happily as the official sandwich-maker for a small village of simple, peaceful people. Meanwhile, Ford Prefect breaks into The Guide's offices, gets himself an infinite expense account from the computer system, and then meets The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Mark II, an artificially intelligent, multi-dimensional guide with vast power and a hidden purpose. After he declines this dangerously powerful machine's aid (which he receives anyway), he sends it to Arthur Dent for safety ("Oh yes, whose [safety]?"—Arthur).

Trillian uses DNA that Arthur donated for travelling money to have a daughter, and when she goes to cover a war, she leaves her daughter Random Frequent Flyer Dent with Arthur. Random, a more-than-typically troubled teenager, steals The Guide Mark II and uses it to get to Earth. Arthur, Ford, Trillian, and Tricia McMillan (Trillian in this alternate universe) follow her to a crowded club, where an anguished Random becomes startled by a noise and inadvertently fires her gun at Arthur. The shot misses Arthur and kills a man (the ever-unfortunate Agrajag). Immediately afterwards, The Guide Mark II causes the removal of all possible Earths from probability. All of the main characters, save Zaphod, were on Earth at the time and are apparently killed, bringing a good deal of satisfaction to the Vogons.

Book 6 - And Another Thing...

In the sixth book (published in 2008, but written by Eoin Colfer, the author of the Artemis Fowl series who was commissioned by Jane Belson, Douglass Adams' widow). The story begins as death rays bear down on Earth, and the characters awaken from a virtual reality. Zaphod picks them up shortly before they're killed, but completely fails to escape the death beams. They are then saved by Bowerick Wowbagger, the Infinitely Prolonged, whom they agree to help kill. Zaphod travels to Asgard to get Thor's help. In the meantime, the Vogons are heading to destroy a colony of people who also escaped Earth's destruction, on the planet Nano. Arthur, Wowbagger, Trillian and Random head to Nano to try to stop the Vogons, and on the journey, Wowbagger and Trillian fall in love, making Wowbagger question whether or not he wants to be killed. Zaphod arrives with Thor, who then signs up to be the planet's God. With Random's help, Thor almost kills Wowbagger. Wowbagger, who merely loses his immortality, then marries Trillian. Thor then stops the first Vogon attack, and apparently dies. Meanwhile, Constant Mown, son of Prostetnic Jeltz, convinces his father that the people on the planet are not citizens of Earth, but are, in fact, citizens of Nano, which means that it would be illegal to kill them. As the book draws to a close, Arthur is on his way to check out a possible university for Random, when, during a hyperspace jump, he is flung across alternate universes, has a brief encounter with Fenchurch, and ends up exactly where he'd want to be. And then the Vogons turn up again.