The Thing about Hitchhiker’s is…

24 May

Towel DayI miss Douglas Adams. As I sit here alone in my dressing gown, the kettle boiling, my eyes on the stars pondering the downright futility of it all, I wonder what he’s doing now. Probably nothing as he was an atheist and has been dead a number of years, but perhaps bits of him are doing things, floating around getting into other people’s cups of tea and generally being a nuisance and I miss him.

He wrote about life the universe and everything and it was a very short sentence indeed and consisted of two simple numbers but mostly, Douglas Adams was a genius. Every now and then someone comes along who makes you see the truth in things, someone who turns the universe on its head so that you can see it for all it is. The universal truth that Douglas showed us all was that everything including the fact that we are here at all, was something absurd, but also absurdly wonderful and funny and beautiful and it’s still relevant today.

This May 25th will mark the 12th anniversary of Towel Day, a day when fans all over the globe unite in their love of Douglas. But why is it that after all this time that Hitchhiker’s continues to be singled out as a work unparalleled in its genre and as something that remains timeless and fixed in the hearts of so many old and new fans?

With the first novel written in 1979, the success of the Hitchhiker’s Guide has remained popular and has been subject to a number of homages over the years; Paranoid Android – a song by Radiohead, Babelfish – Yahoo’s translation engine, and Trillian the instant messenger client are but a few.  Another indication of Hitchhiker’s ability to touch the masses is the fact that its fandom isn’t limited to the standard gaggle of sci-fi fans. The audio series for example has seen the likes of celebrities such as Joanna Lumley, Rula Lenska, David Jason, and Christian Slater as well as the late great astronomer Patrick Moore and wonderful late Richard Griffiths. The group’s diversity is only enhanced by the film cast, which included Martin Freeman, Alan Rickman, Bill Nighy, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren. Comedian Bill Bailey and musician Mos Def are also confirmed fans.

But what is it that unites these individuals and makes The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy continue to stand up as a piece of much loved sci-fi treasure? It’s a question that doesn’t require 7.5 million years to answer.

In an age where a great deal of science fiction was mainly about earth being at the heart of the universe, of fighting alien forces and romancing green skinned lizard women, Hitchhiker’s stepped forward as a breath of fresh air offering a whole new perspective. Firstly it’s because it’s not merely ‘science fiction’ but more than that, it’s a roaringly funny, intelligent and tender hearted approach to taking a long hard look at our place in the universe and observing the sheer wonder and ludicrousness of it all.

It remains to this day, beautifully rich in comedic detail and eternally thought provoking. Douglas’ satirical view of human life was a true gift and his unique sense of humour still has an unsettling ability to convey just how bloody strange it all is (including the fact that we are here at all).  Through Adams’ work we find ourselves in a universe wildly beyond our imagination, we also find a lot of familiarity in instances of crass advertising and of day to day dilemmas such as the never ending search for a decent cup of tea. Hitchhiker’s takes incredible leaps in common sense and flights of fancy (two of my favourite modes of transportation), whilst remaining fundamentally English in its humour and this has allowed it to stand the test of time well.  Adams’ distinctly human and philosophical approach to ‘Life, the Universe and Everything’ has maintained the universal attractiveness of Hitchhiker’s and ensured its relevance today and for the next generations of carbon based life forms, well at least until we are all bulldozed to make way for an interstellar bypass.

I for one will be carrying my towel with pride and re-listening to the classic radio productions as a mark of celebration and thanks on the 25th; after all,  Hitchhikers taught me everything I know about ‘Life, the Universe and Everything’ and perhaps most importantly the value of a decent cup of tea.

So long Douglas, and thanks for all the books.

Steph Hall

One Response to “The Thing about Hitchhiker’s is…”

  1. Nicholas Joll May 30, 2013 at 12:55 pm #

    I like the (slightly Adamsian) idea of ‘flight of fancy’ as a form of transport!

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