Shelf Life: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Douglas Adams stole all my best lines…says everyone…probably. He managed to define so much, so succinctly, about the world, about people, that there is little I can say to add to how well he managed it. Except, being a contrary sort, I will anyway.

I was in primary school, and as my brothers, my mum and me all waited in the car at the end of our (very long) drive way for the bus to come, every morning that music would play and I would yell at everyone to shut up because the funny was on. At least I like to think this. We probably all waited with bated breath.  It was a long time ago.

It was maybe while I was in grade three. The radio series was in its nth repeat and I didn’t care. Which means I was still not yet reading or writing, but dammit I was going to listen. It opened up the universe to me. If Dr Who (as it turns out Adams’ version) had opened the past (mostly 1970s versions of 19th century Sherlockian Gothic goings on with alien Egyptians and the like), then Douglas Adams’ radio thing was presenting a present-future that seemed both frustratingly familiar and positively alarmingly amazing. Like most of the TV I was watching it helped define Britishness for me. I didn’t know why this was important, living as I did 500kms from the nearest decent pizza city in rural South Australia, but who was I to argue?

Hitchhiker’s demonstrated that sometimes just existing is contrary to every will in the universe, and this was OK. All I knew then, was that as a contrary kid I was all right too because, despite all the grumbling about the lack of tea, Arthur was OK and he had just lost his entire planet. Who was I to grumble? There was plenty of tea (I didn’t drink tea) and compared to intergalactic homelessness what was the big deal about not reading or writing and only painting whole sheets of butcher’s paper one colour? Come on – stick figures are so bourgeois.

What was I saying? Hitchhikers. I re-watched the TV series in the mid 1990s when I could (finally) rent the tapes. It was…disappointing and slow. All the jokes were there and the cast but the pace and timing were flat. My heart was a little bit broken because it failed to match my memories. But I always loved the books. Ever since I found them in the school/town library in that first year of high school.

The thing about now is how much it is like the world imagined by Adams. Got a smart phone? Then you’ve got that encyclopedia/guide in your pocket. Plus the endless bureaucrazy that technology has enabled rather than replaced. Reporters and pundits spend endless hours speculating about the news tomorrow while robots are cleaning houses and mice with human ears growing on their backs do experiments.

So I have the series, but haven’t read them for a while. I did see the film. It wasn’t bad. Martin Freeman looked appropriately battered, frustrated and English, Sam Rockwell was OK (he’s done better recently) and everyone else was yeah.  Alan Rickman did depressed well enough as Marvin, but overall the film lacked something or had too much of something else. Urgency maybe, or perhaps it was too familiar and not familiar enough. Thing is, the radio show and books, (the game, the towel, the musical etc) have so permeated the culture the film felt a bit like it was sending it up, not recreating it. It had come late to the party, but the party had moved on.

Thing is, it got me thinking about philosophical questions before I knew what philosophy was. Somehow it all seeped in and once you get it, you get it. But as Arthur, Ford and Zaphod demonstrate it’s perfectly all right not to get it, we’re all trapped in the whole sort of general mish mash.

Some get it whenever they spy a certain number, and nod their heads sagely. As do writers of TV shows and films, like the X Files, The Avengers, The Kumars, Lost, Dr Who and Sherlock and so on.

The Door to Perception

Fans admit there are flaws. All sorts of things don’t sit as comfortably as they might have but a major one how long Adams takes to get to a decent role for female characters. It does read like a ‘boy’s own adventure’ and Trillian could have been awesome from the start but was a play on words joke and her character took forever to come to the fore. Fenchurch similarly started as the same kind of joke and a call back to a throw away aside, but became so much more and then psszt gone. I always felt robbed by her absence, but understood it in terms of putting Arthur through stuff.

On the positive side anyone who doesn’t understand the concept of voice should read the books or even listen to the radio episodes. It’s fair to say Adams’ voice can be imitated (never did finish the Eoin Colfer book) and for sure I think his rhythms and language logic continue to influence me (along with legions of others).

Favourite Character: Ford Prefect (most of the time, depending on mood).

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