Don’t Panic: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

I was wondering what to review for this issue, dear Wanderers, when I realised that it was a more important choice than usual. After all, this issue is supposed to provide the answer to life, the universe and everything. Well, we can’t promise that, but we can offer you the next best thing; a review of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - radio series collector's edition cover

…Oh, heck. Now I’ve promised a review that’s almost as good as the answer to life, the universe and absolutely everything. Well, it’s a review of something that good. You see, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has been turning people’s expectations upside down and blowing their minds while it’s at it since 1978, when it first aired as a BBC radio comedy series. In the intervening years, it’s grown to include a trilogy of just a little more than three books, a text-based computer game, a popular TV series, and a 2005 film.

So, what is it that makes The Hitchiker’s Guide (as we’ll informally know it, since we’re old friends) so utterly captivating after all these years? Well, it might be its hero, Arthur Dent, as dull and ordinary an Earth-dweller as you’re likely to meet, whom we first encounter lying in front of a bulldozer that’s coming for his house. It might be his best friend, Ford Prefect, who negotiates him a brief break from the stand-off in order to warn him that the Earth is about to be demolished to make room for an intergalactic bypass. Or it might be all the crazy stuff that happens once this news has been imparted. (Spoiler alert: Arthur’s house doesn’t come out of it too well.)

What crazy stuff, I hear you ask? Well, there are dolphins sending important messages, Vogon poetry to rival even the most dire of student readings, mice far too clever for our own good, a two-headed fugitive, a girl Arthur once met at a party, and a rather unhappy robot. Perhaps the craziest – and at the same time, most stable – thing in the whole franchise is the eponymous travel guide itself, which is emblazoned with the words ‘Don’t Panic’ on the front cover in large, friendly letters, and which advises travellers on all sorts of things from proper utilisation of a Babelfish to the more complex functions of an Improbability Drive. The Guide is our helpful, one-hundred-percent-accurate introduction to far-flung parts of space – though despite The Guide’s accuracy, reality can sometimes be a little less correct.

Arthur and Ford’s quest to… well, not be dead… leads them to planets shrouded in myth, pits them against foes unfathomable to most Earthlings, and generally looks on in amusement as the universe thwarts at every turn Arthur’s fervent desire to go home and have a cup of tea. Actual events vary between versions and formats, but that’s the general gist of it.

Honestly, I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who’s so far managed to miss this gem, but I recommend checking it out. The original radio comedy is an excellent place to start, and doesn’t take that long to listen to in its entirety, but if you prefer another medium the books, TV series and film are all great too. The text-based game is not something I can say I’ve played, but if you can track down a copy, give it a go and let us know how it handles. And don’t forget – always know where your towel is.

I’d give this franchise a 4.5 out of 5, purely to allow for variations between adaptations. I’m also going to give myself a pat on the back for resisting the ‘out of this world’ cliché… oh. Oops. Never mind.

Eleanor Musgrove (thinks 2020 should just be declared Towel Year now)

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