Anatomy of a Book: The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. (p.6)

H2G2_UK_front_coverWords like backwaters and unfashionable are, what literary types might deride as being, common. They’re coupled here with a technical description of the location of the Sun. The Earth’s sun is later referred to by the name Sol, though the relationship the Earth has with the Sun is about to change.

‘Six pints of bitter… and quickly please, the world’s about to end.’ (p.21)

Yes, in terms of things to worry about, the state of the world is not a lasting one for this book. It quickly establishes a technical authority and a lax writing style, and takes the reader on a ride into outerspace, since the Earth gets destroyed rather early on.

‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. … It tells you everything you need to know…’ (p.44)

But the end of the earth is not a major concern. Until, that is, near the end of the book. As it is the Earth’s destruction gives our writer, and reader, a chance to explore the improbable, and so probable, Universe. As mentioned, it is told with some believable technical detail, enjoyable language, and some key writing elements.

Changing Status:
A fish out of water story. Arthur Dent, from Earth, is saved by Ford Prefect, from Betelgeuse. Together they evade a few early life threatening situations before meeting others, and being put in more life threatening situations. The second batch of situations none of them have experienced before.

The Worst:
One would think the worst is the destruction of the planet. Since this has happened, the major focus of the book is enjoying the tales of the Galaxy.

High Stakes:
Towards the end, for those who are not aware, the importance of events and their relationship to providing an answer to the Ultimate Question becomes apparent. Since this is not raised early in the book, and is not the goal of any of the characters, it is not a stake of the book. None of the characters are established with a curial element to overcome or discover.

Believable Characters:
…he thought again, which required looking at the ceiling… (p. 58)
Again, little bits of technical or accurate detail to the environment and characters make it all believable, or more so fun to believe.

Time Pressure:
I woke up this morning and thought I’d have a nice relaxed day, do a bit of reading, brush the dog… It’s now just after four in the afternoon and I’m already being thrown out of an alien spaceship six light years from the smoking remains of the Earth. (p.57)
Things happen fast.

Occasionally, rarely in fact, the book will insert a seemingly irrelevant excerpt from the Hitchikers Guide. These colour the world being written about, and don’t detract from the story because the story does not focus on character goals. It is about the Galaxy as we might know it. It says so in the book’s title.


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