In this weekly column, I’ll introduce you to the world of British comedy in the chronology of how I, an American anglophile, discovered it in my life. This week: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is great. Really great. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly great it is.
It’s been so incredibly popular, for so many years, across so many mediums it’s become sort of an alternative comedy Star Wars and Star Trek all rolled up into one…but better.
A science-fiction and comedy masterpiece, its many incarnations have included; novels (a 6 part, “trilogy”), comic books, radio series, video games, stage plays, a feature film and of course, a BBC mini-series for television.
Longevity and multi-platform viability don’t even begin to cover just how amazingly well H2G2 has traveled since it came on the scene in 1978.
I’ve spent a great deal of time lauding the British penchant for comic anti-heroes, leading men we love to see twist in the wind because of their nasty (yet hilarious) dispositions. Well, Arthur Dent, the hero of H2G2, couldn’t be less of an anti-hero if he tried.
A befuddled, likeable if a bit stuffy and nervous fellow who just wants a good cup of tea and who just can’t seem to get the hang of Thursdays, Dent represents the typical upper middle-class man. A guy who’s smart enough to know he’s a pawn being pushed around, but too polite or ineffectual to do anything about it.
The story begins with an alien race, the vile, poetry spewing Vogons, alerting Earth that they’ve been targeted for destruction to make way for an interstellar highway. Dent, with the help of his friend (and Beteleguesian alien) Ford Prefect make their escape just in time, narrowly avoiding the complete annihilation of our planet.
A good intro to Vogons, and their poetry:
Dinners that talk you into eating them, miniature invading armadas swallowed by dogs, improbability drives, depressed robots and the answer to the ultimate question of life; the ensuing adventures are so sprawling, and difficult to sum up succinctly, I’m not going to try. You just have to trust me on this one. They are hilarious.
H2G2 is at the same time absurdist farce and brilliant social satire (think Monty Python in space) and is just as relevant today as it was when it first came out.
Personally, I’m partial to the novels, the original radio series and the campy, Dr. Who-esque BBC mini-series. Love that theme song! (Actually an instrumental by the Eagles, called The Journey of the Sorcerer. Amazing.)
Journey of the Sorcerer:
Sadly, Douglas Adams died in 2001 of a heart attack at the far-too-young age of 49. Luckily for the rest of us Earthlings, he left an incredible legacy of work behind for us to admire. Pick your H2G2 poison and dig in.
A talk given by Douglas Adams just days before his death:
Curtis Gwinn is a writer and comedian living in LA. He’s written for The Onion, MTV’s Human Giant, Comedy Central and FOX Searchlight Pictures. He also co-starred in and co-wrote Fat Guy Stuck in Internet on Adult Swim.