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January 21, 2015

Let's Get Classic - Post 3


At Teenreads, we love to review the latest and greatest YA books to hit the shelves. However, we recognize that older books --- sometimes much older books --- have plenty of value, too. In this blog series, Teen Board member Alison S. is writing about some of her favorites and how they remain relevant today. Read below for her third post, about the modern classic Douglas Adams' THE HITCHKIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY. Click here to read her first post on Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN, and here to read her second post on  Oscar Wilde's THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY.

No, you’re not dreaming; this month’s blog post will, in fact, discuss Douglas Adams’ THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY. And, in order to better convey this novel’s...peculiarities, I’ve decided to write this post in the style of Douglas Adams. Starting now.

Bu t where to begin? THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXYis a rather unassuming book that stars rather unassuming protagonist Arthur Dent. At a slim 224 pages and with a pleasant-but-unspectacular cover, the only people THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXYhas any chance of wowing are those who actually read it.  Though “wow” might not be quite the right verb; when I finished THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE, I found myself floundering somewhere between “wowed” and “shocked.” Even as I write this blog post, my opinion of the novel continues to fluctuate in exactly the way a whale’s (lack of) skiing ability doesn’t.

Speaking of whales on skis, THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDEfeatures one --- a whale, not a ski, that is. In fact, Douglas Adams narrates 319 words from a whale’s perspective, so I suppose any passionate whale lovers will enjoy at least .6% of the novel’s 46,000 words. Considering the whale’s unfortunate demise, however, THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE may actually prove more popular with whale haters.

Come to think of it, this novel does cater more to whale haters than whale lovers: of the book’s 35 chapters, Douglas Adams’ devotes 34 not to whales, but rather to the exploits of four “galactic hitchhikers”: earthlings Arthur Dent and Tricia McMillan, undercover intergalactic journalist Ford Prefect, President of the Galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox, and mopy android Marvin. When, minutes before Earth’s destruction, Ford reveals his true identity and promptly beams himself and Arthur aboard the attacking ships as stowaways, the duo’s lives descend into hilarious mania. Thus begins the five-book romp through time and space affectionately deemed The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy.

As a reader, I enjoyed THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDEimmensely; as a writer, however, Douglas Adams’ novel left me bristling with frustration. I wasn’t annoyed with the book’s sporadic, freewheeling plotline or Adams’ preference for self-indulgent chaos over more plausible explanations. Rather, Alison the Writer resents Adams’ ability to defy every so-called rule of fiction yet still produce a novel that Alison the Reader adores. Especially when Alison the Writer clings to all of these rules like a shipwreck survivor clutching hold of a life raft.

That, I suppose, is whatTHE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDEcan teach us. Whatever your interests, they’re bound to implicate certain ideals. Fiction, for instance, heralds inevitability and believability as the ideals that every author should strive for, while my (extremely limited) exposure to the music industry derides a gravelly singing voice as something best avoided. Yet Louis Armstrong's pleasantly-raggedy voice distinguishes him as a vocalist, and Adams’ s rambling (in a good way!) approach to writing has immortalized his books as 200-something pages of delightful insanity.

In chapter 11, Adams suggests that “the main reason why [the President of the Galaxy] had had such a wild and successful life was that he never really understood the significance of anything he did.” While this quote certainly applies to President Beeblebrox, it also expresses what, exactly, makes THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXYso endearing. Douglas Adams doesn’t strive to make any element of this book “significant”. In other words, Adams doesn’t encumber his novel with “plot twists for the sake of plot twists,” “a love interest for the sake of a love interest” or “tragedy for the sake of tragedy.” Douglas Adams doesn’t contort THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE into something that it’s not; instead, he endows even the novel’s least believable segments (“Ford, you’re turning into a penguin. Stop it.”) with an underlying effortlessness that excuses their lack of realism.

If forced to identify this novel’s appeal in a single sentence, I’d respond, “Douglas Adams had a lot of fun writing this book.”

Almost as much fun as I had reading it.

Alison S. is a Teen Board Member.