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What is the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 07 November 2016
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The Hitchhiker‘s Guide to the Galaxy is a multimedia franchise started by the late British author, Douglas Adams. Widely adored for its surrealist humor and creativity, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy follows the plight of Arthur Dent, a passive and somewhat useless protagonist, as he explores the universe after the Earth is destroyed. In the company of aliens and frequently unsavory and unhelpful fellows, Arthur often relies on the standard guide to the universe, an interactive encyclopedia designed for vagrant travelers, also called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Famously, the stories were conceived by Adams while he lay intoxicated in a field in Austria. Ignoring the project for several years, Adams returned to the idea while writing a series of radio episodes called The Ends of the Earth in which the planet Earth is destroyed in a different way at the end of each episode. Adams reworked the series into a story with the guidebook at its center, and the Hitchhiker universe was born. The original radio programs ran in Great Britain in 1978, and led to a quiet but persistent demand for a novel version.

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The five novels that followed contained the same premise and characters as the radio series, but Adams did not feel compelled to retell the story exactly. In fact, as noted in several of his introductions to the books, no two versions of the story were ever identical. This gave great freedom to later developers, allowing the stage plays, films and video game versions of the Hitchhiker universe to adapt the story for their mediums without infuriating the original author.

The “trilogy” of books expanded to five installments in Adam’s lifetime: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Life, the Universe and Everything, So Long and Thanks for All the Fish and Mostly Harmless. Each of the books features Arthur Dent as the protagonist, as he continually searches for the question of life, the universe and everything. According to the books, the Earth was created as a supercomputer to discover the question, but was destroyed to build a hyperspace bypass a few minutes before completing its program. While Dent discovers the answer to life, the universe and everything,(42), he must now seek to discover the actual question.

The Hitchhiker‘s Guide to the Galaxy is famous for the creativity of the world created by Douglas Adams. Popular concepts stemming from the book are that the answer to all life’s mysteries is 42, and that a good hitchhiker must always know where his towel is. After Douglas Adams died of a heart attack in 2001, fans designated 25 May as Towel Day in his honor.

Although the author tragically died at the age of 49, the inherent flexibility of the series has allowed its continuation through various media formats. In 2005, a film adaptation of the first book was released starring famed British comedian Stephen Fry as the Voice of the Guide, and Martin Friedman as Arthur Dent. Additionally, a sixth book entitled And Another Thing is scheduled for release in 2009, penned by novelist Eoin Coifer in consultation with Adams’s wife, Jane Belson.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is considered an important literary accomplishment for its blending of sci-fi and comedy genres. While maintaining an ironic and often critical opinion of existence, the numerous adaptations depict the constant and often frantic search for meaning in a life full of confusion and seemingly random happenstance. The books are widely available in bookstores and on websites, and are considered by many to be a must-read for any sci-fi or comedy lover.

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