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In pop culture, YADA-YADA usually means "blah, blah, blah" or "more of the same." For this blog, YADA-YADA is an acronym meaning "Young Adult Discussions About Young Adult-Designed Art." Check out my summaries and reviews of teen media. Chime in and let me know what you think!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Blog No. 20 The Hitchhiker's Guide to he Galaxy by Douglas Adams


Title: The Hitchhicker's Guide to the Galaxy
Author: Douglas Adams

Bibliographic Information:
Published October, 1979
Pan Books
Grade Range: 7 and up, Age Range: 13 and up
ISBN10: 0-330-25864-8, Young Adult Fiction, 180 pages,

Waterstone's Books/Channel Four's list of the "One Hundred Greatest Books of the Century", at number 24. (1996); BBC's "Big Read", an attempt to find the "Nation's Best-loved book", ranked number four. (2003).

Reader’s Annotation:
Ordinary Englishman Arthur Dent narrowly escapes the destruction of his home planet and inexplicably finds himself engulfed in a series of improbable adventures extending through the remote reaches of space and time. He is accompanied and guided by his unusual friend Ford Prefect, an alien and a contributor to the most authoritative self-help resource in the Universe: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Plot Summary:
Matter-of-factly informed of the imminent destruction of his house to make way for a bypass, Arthur Dent enlists help from his friend Ford Prefect to forestall the demolition. Ford takes the opportunity to explain to Arthur that he is actually an alien and a roving researcher for the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy… and, by the way, that the entire Earth is about to be obliterated for a similar reason. At the moment before the planet is destroyed, the two make their escape by secretly boarding the Vogon spacecraft sent to conduct the demolition.

They are soon discovered and tortured with Vogon poetry before being ejected from the ship. Fortunately, Ford has precisely timed their expulsion with a momentary appearance of a local "hole in the Galaxy" through which they eventually arrive aboard another spaceship. This vessel is the Heart of Gold and is captained by Ford's relative, the two-headed, three-armed President of the Galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox, accompanied by an Earth woman known as Trillian, whom Arthur had met earlier at a party, and a depressed robot named Marvin.

Zaphod is on a mysterious mission to reach the legendary planet Magrathea, and Arthur and Ford tag along. More encounters with various aliens, mostly unfriendly, ensue. When Magrathea is at last found, Zaphod, Ford, and Trillian are diverted to an unpleasant encounter with a supercomputer known as Deep Thought, while Arthur and Marvin meet a Magrathean wise man of sorts named Slartibartfast. He eventually reveals that Deep Thought was originally constructed by a superior race of mice to provide them with the Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. (The answer was “42.”) They then built another supercomputer - planet Earth - to determine the Ultimate Question. Earth was five minutes short of completing its ten-million-year program and divulging the question at the moment when it was destroyed. The mice now believe that Arthur, as a "last generation product" of Earth, is likely to have the Ultimate Question contained within his brain, so they offer to buy it (the brain) from Arthur while he and the others are being held captive. When Arthur declines, the mice are about to strongly insist when fate again conveniently intervenes, allowing the group to make their escape back to the Heart of Gold.

Safely aboard the ship, Zaphod suggests that they all go to lunch at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe – the title of this book's sequel.

Critical Evaluation:
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is not so much a novel as a loose framework for tying together a collection of silly jokes and vignettes poking fun at just about everything; and in this it succeeds admirably. The plot involving Arthur Dent's accidental education regarding the universe's true nature and the nonstop parade of characters and circumstances are certainly plenty of fun on their own, but another clever aspect of the book is the way in which Adams sprinkles in pearls of wisdom from the "actual" Hitchhiker's Guide itself:

"A towel… is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have… any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with."

"The knack of flying is learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss."

"It is known that there are an infinite number of worlds, simply because there is an infinite amount of space for them. However, not every one of them is inhabited. Therefore, there must be a finite number of inhabited worlds. Any finite number divided by infinity is as near to nothing as makes no odds, so the average population of all the planets in the Universe can be said to be zero. From this it follows that the population of the whole Universe is also zero, and that any people you may meet from time to time are merely the products of a deranged imagination."

I think it may be said that Adams' writing here is something of a cross between Lewis Carroll and Monty Python. Young readers with an understanding of humankind's foibles and absurdities will surely enjoy it.

Reading level/Interest Age:
The reading level for this book is 9th grade, and it is recommended for 14 and up. Most of us read this book when we were in high school, and today it is on some core reading lists. Adults love it, too—especially Sci-Fi fans.

Information about the Author:
Douglas Noel Adams was born March 11, 1952, and sadly, passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack at the age of 49 in 2001. A British comedy writer, Adams was friends with many of the Monty Python bunch and wrote many episodes of the famous BBC production of Dr. Who. He was born in Cambridge and attended Brentwood School, then St. John’s College. He received a BA in English Literature in 1974, and later received an MA. He wrote very slowly; he often had to be forced to write by locking himself in a hotel room. He was a strong environmental activist, working on behalf of many species. He has one daughter, Polly.

Curriculum Ties:
This novel is on the core reading list for many high schools across the nation, and has been widely reviewed by many academic literary critics.

Booktalking Ideas:
The world is ending, and for the author, it is quite a laughing matter. If you like jokes, weird humor, and off-beat surrealism, you will love this book. Imagine a culture of mice wanting to buy the brain of the last human being alive in the universe! It only gets odder…

Challenge Issues: None.

Why I Included This Book:
It is one of the classic science fiction novels, and a must read for anyone who claims to be a fan of the genre. It is now considered a part of the literary canon. One can’t be well read and not have read this book!

Cover image courtesy of Amazon.com.

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