“The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t. (Adams 13)” The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is full of similar lines that are sure to keep the reader on their toes. This Douglas Adams novel follows Arthur Dent, a hapless inhabitant of Earth, and Ford Prefect, an alien from Betelgeuse disguising as human. They meet up with Zaphod Beeblebrox, also from Betelgeuse, and Trillian, a human who Zaphod picked up on Earth six months earlier. After their extremely improbable meeting, the group goes on to discover places and knowledge that most life in the galaxy thought to be myth, all while being chased by the Galactic Police. While it can be hard to understand at times, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is great because the writing is humorous and unexpectedly philosophical.
During the whole book, the English origins of the author can be seen very clearly. This has a strong impact on the readability to someone not familiar with the culture of the United Kingdom and the differences in grammar present in the language. The differences show up clearly in areas like spelling and word choice, and subtly, as in the tone of the author. Differences like the spelling of the word “color” being “colour” may not seem large on the surface, but they happen often enough that they can trip the reader up until they get used to it. Between that and the odd tone that some of Adams’ humor has, it may be hard for some to understand and get invested in the book.
Other than being hard to understand for someone outside of the United Kingdom, the novel excels in all categories, especially in humor. One moment sees two missiles headed straight towards the main characters’ spaceship until Arthur has an idea that suddenly turns the missiles into a sperm whale and a bowl of petunias. There is then a shift of point of view to that of the whale, detailing all of its thoughts before it hits the ground. The entire book is filled with moments like these, where the expected outcome of a situation is as far from the actual outcome as possible. The writing brings a sense of levity to moments that would in any other writing style be very serious, like when Ford and Arthur are thrown out of an air lock on an alien spaceship. The humor serves to keep the reader on their toes, because they never know what to expect.
Chiefly, Adams’ writing is great because it covers many philosophical topics, which is unexpected due to the abundant humor. The main topic that encompasses the entire story is the meaning of life. Every character’s life is in some way affected by their idea of that meaning. A race dedicates much of their time to this meaning, and even created a computer to answer the question of life, the universe, and everything. When they don’t understand the answer, they create an entire planet to give the question that accompanies it, the name of that planet and the race that created it being the major reveals at the end of the story. It is the coverage of philosophical topics that brings the book beyond what it appears to be on the surface, giving a serious element to an otherwise humorous story.
In conclusion, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is great due to covering philosophical topics underneath abundant humor, even though it can be hard to understand. The reader is kept on their toes due to the humorous pseudorandom events. Yet if it is looked into, many deep, philosophical topics are covered that give a serious tone to a story that is otherwise far from serious. It is, however, difficult to understand at times because of cultural differences. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is great despite its flaws.
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