Posted by: Lizzie Ross | June 23, 2010

Don’t Panic

Hitchhiker’s Guide Trilogy (1979-1992), Douglas Adams, 5 vols (+ a 6th by Eoin Colfer, 2009)

Never mind that there are 6 books in this “trilogy”, or that it began as a radio play, morphed into a book, then a TV series, then a movie, then more books, then computer games and DC Comics. Can someone put a stop to the morphing, please? There are so many versions, each a bit different from the others, that you have to wonder, which is the real Hitch Hiker’s Guide? I suppose they all are, and in an infinitely large universe, there will be an infinite number of versions. I’m resigned to never reading/seeing/hearing/playing/grokking them all.

I love this series. I can hear echoes of Monty Python and The Goon Show in every silly bit. Adams gives us

1) Exaggerated Understatement: “The mere thought hadn’t even begun to speculate about the merest possibility of crossing my mind.”

2) Improbable Coincidence:

Zaphod Beeblebrox was on his way from the tiny spaceport on Easter Island (the name was an entirely meaningless coincidence — in Galacticspeke easter means small flat and light brown) to the Heart of Gold island, which by another meaningless coincidence was called France.

3) Activities in Funny Outfits: a game of cricket played in white Star Wars style Storm Trooper uniforms; space and time travel in pajamas, robe and slippers, with a bone stuck in one’s 5-year-old beard. At least no one’s in drag. I think.

4) Maddening Wordplay:

“It’s unpleasantly like being drunk.” “What’s so unpleasant about being drunk?” “You ask a glass of water.”

And, of course, 4) Plenty of Slapstick Routines.

There’s a lot of Rod Serling’s ironic sensibility in characters like the orphaned earthling, Arthur Dent, even in Marvin the Paranoid Android and planet-designer Slartibartfast. But Zaphod Beeblebrox, the hubristic gadfly — he’s unmatched in comic sci-fi literature (hey, I know–but I haven’t yet entered Pratchett’s [I mean, Sir Terry’s] Discworld, so give me time), and not just because of his additional appendages. His words, on first seeing the Heart of Gold, a spaceship so fast that when you send it into turbo-drive you enter every point in the universe at the same time: “Wow.” And again, “Wow.” Then, “That is really amazing. That really is truly amazing. That is so amazingly amazing I think I’d like to steal it.”

The news report of this theft includes the following profile of Beeblebrox:

… the man who invented the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, ex-confidence trickster, once described by Eccentrica Gallumbits as the Best Bang since the Big One, and recently voted the Worst Dressed Sentient Being in the Known Universe for the seventh time …

It’s all pure silliness, perfect for a day at the beach if you don’t mind people staring at you as you guffaw your way through the volumes. I prefer the first, for its sheer cleverness, but the second does have the wonderful scene with the stuntship for a concert by Disaster Area. Now that’s a concert I’m happy to have missed. And wouldn’t we all like to enjoy a meal at Milliways?

I haven’t read any of Adams’ other books–nothing about Dirk Gently or the long dark tea-time of the soul. Perhaps I need to put them on my to-read list. But for now, when I need a burlesque sock-in-the-jaw, I’ll turn to the Guide. Nothing else can cure the dark tea-time blues so quickly.

The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979), The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980), Life, the Universe and Everything (1982), So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish (1984), Mostly Harmless (1992); And Another Thing … (2009)

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