The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Study Guide

An irreverent science-fiction adventure novel, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy constitutes the first installment of a five-book “trilogy” by Douglas Adams. The story is derived largely from a radio show, the scripts of which Adams compiled to make the novel. Written in the late 1970s, the novel was a bestseller, and is still adored by many.

The book opens with Mr. Arthur Dent being bothered by city council employees, who are attempting to seize Arthur's house to build a bypass. This turns out to not be that big of a deal, however, because, as his friend, Ford Prefect, informs him, the entire world is being destroyed to make room for an intergalactic bypass. This is the first of several darkly humorous situations Dent finds himself in as he journeys alongside Prefect, who turns out to be an alien himself, working to complete The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Much of the novel revolves around scenarios that show how sincerely unimaginable the universe is, how strange the things that exist (or might exist) are, and how ironic the human life is. This exploration of cosmic irony is part of why the book is regarded so highly, both as a dark comedy and as a quirky science-fiction novel.

The origins of the book derive from Adams wishing he could have a guide to the galaxy as he toured Europe with a guide to the continent. A couple years later, with this idea still knocking around in his head, he met with a producer friend and offered a couple of new ideas to him; the one that stuck was about a guy whose house, along with Earth itself, was demolished. Adams needed an alien for context and eventually decided that the alien would be a researcher for the Guide. The BBC approved a pilot episode for radio, and then eventually called for five more. The show was reviewed favorably; as Neil Gaiman explained, “Science Fiction fans liked it because it was science fiction; humour fans liked it because it was funny; radio fans got off on the quality of the stereo production; Radiophonics Workshop fans doubtless had a great time, and most people liked it because it was accessible, fast and funny.” It was nominated for a Hugo Award for best dramatic presentation in 1980.

When the New English Library and Pan Books asked Adams to write a novel based on the series, he was initially reluctant to do so. He did eventually agree and, even though it was an arduous process, the book was released on October 12th, 1979. It had a 60,000-print run and sold out; 250,000 copies were then sold in three months. Its popularity only increased over time.

The subsequent books in the series include The Restaurant at the End of the Universe; Life, the Universe and Everything; So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish; and Mostly Harmless. Writer Eoin Colfer, with approval from Adams’s widow, contributed a new work in 2009: And Another Thing...

There have been multiple adaptations of the book, including a television show, a video game, updated radio broadcasts, stage shows, a live radio show, and a modestly successful feature film.