The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

“Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”

I first experienced The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy in high school, and I think I have not gone more than a week without thinking about that one particular line since then. I chose the word “experienced” rather than read because H2G2, as Neil Gaiman dubbed it, comes in many forms. It was initially a radio play for the BBC, then became a five volume trilogy of books (don’t try to make sense of this), a legendarily difficult computer game, a BBC miniseries and a feature film, among other incarnations. I first encountered the story as an audiobook read by the author, and among the many lines and ideas that have been swimming around in my brain like a Babel Fish ever since, this notion of the illusory nature of time is at the forefront.

It’s illustrative of the real genius of Douglas Adams, which is often found in the footnotes and at the margins, in his gift for amazing throwaway lines and casual asides that are simultaneously make the reader laugh and reconsider everything that they know about the nature of the universe. The story of H2G2 begins with ordinary Englishman Arthur Dent attempting to prevent his house from being demolished, continues with the destruction of the Earth, joining up with the two-headed galactic president as he absconds with a new spaceship and then arriving at an ancient planet where they discover the answer to life, the universe and everything. This is only the first book, mind you.

It’s an engaging and entertaining story, and the characters are instantly memorable and iconic. Besides the lovable everyman Arthur the reader gets to know and adore Ford Prefect, an alien who had been working undercover on Earth to compile the entry about earth for the titular intergalactic guidebook and encyclopedia, the aforementioned two headed president Zaphod Beeblebrox, Marvin, the depressed, paranoid android and the Vogons, a vile race of aliens known for their love of truly abysmal poetry, and that only scratches the surface of this staggering, multimedia comedic achievement. If you’ve never experienced H2G2, hang on to your towel and don’t panic. It’s mostly harmless.

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