An Ode to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
The ultimate travel guide for the nerd traveler. A source of travel inspiration, wonderment and adventure.
By MJ Wilke
If you were to explain The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (HHG2G) to someone who was unfamiliar with it, where would you begin? Where would you end? How would you enlighten them about what it is and why someone should embrace it, without continually stating and repeating the very very obvious?
HHG2G is more than a book, cult classic show, and international phenomena. It’s a story beloved by not just sci-fi nerds, but also travelers, English professors and middle schoolers alike.
The story is a science fiction comedy adventure in space and time created by Douglas Adams. Comedy, science fiction, plus travel can make a nerd traveler’s heart sing. Comedy and travel are well suited. A sense of humor while traveling is as essential as knowing where your towel is (more on towels later).
The story in all its forms inspires a sense of adventure. An inspiration to travel.
The book started life as a late 1970s radio show series with the main characters of a travel guide writer called Ford Prefect, an accidental tourist named Arthur Dent, the travel guide itself titled “The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy” and Ford’s towel. Then it grew into a book, a stage production, more radio shows, albums, more books, and a movie. All with the same name. All of which are slightly different from each other. And to the frustration of many reporters and editors, they all spell the title and the title of the book within the book slightly differently, including but not limited to, Hitch Hikers, Hitch-Hikers, Hitch-Hiker’s, and Hitchhiker’s.
The story of the book itself and the author are also part of the interwoven fabric of the fandom. While the character of Ford Prefect is a patron saint of travel guide writers (well, at least for nerd travel guide writers), Douglas Adams is the king of imaginary nerd travel. He writes the adventures we want to go on. To go hitchhiking across the universe with a guidebook in our back pocket. He made the created imaginary trip real by delighting in the absurdity of everyday manias. To many fans, their favorite quote is:
“It must be Thursday, I could never get the hang of Thursday.”
Most famous for creating HHG2G in all its forms, Douglas Adams also wrote scripts for Monty Python, and some of the most memorable years of Doctor Who Classic Series. And inspired many of today’s sci-fi greats, including Neil Gaiman and Steven Moffat.
Doctor Who and HHG2G share many of the same characteristics. It’s all about the journey; Ford & Arthur, The Doctor & Companions don’t always go where they intended, but they had adventures wherever they went. They delighted in the infinite possibilities. In a reverse of Doctor Who, in Hitchhiker the main character is the companion, and it’s the companion’s adventure we are on.
In all the incarnations of the story, Ford knows where his towel is and Arthur has the guidebook. The guidebook (the book within the book) has practical and friendly advice. First, written in big letters on the cover is: DON’T PANIC. Enough said.
Secondly, regarding The Towel:“ A towel… is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitch hiker can have.”
The towel in the story becomes a symbol of an utterly useful tool that separates traveler from tourist. The uses of a towel while traveling are endless: cleaning up an upended coffee cup into your lap on a plane, a rain-soaked park bench, or a spontaneous picnic lunch; head covering in a sudden downpour. Douglas Adams offers more on the usefulness of a towel on travels in his various versions of “How to Leave the Planet Guide” found in the back of several editions of the book.
Since the passing of Douglas Adams in May, 2001 fans pay tribute by wearing their towel on May 25 each year. A central theme in the story is the question of Life, The Universe and Everything. Yes, there is an answer. The answer is Douglas Adams.
MJ Wilke is the founder of Wayward Nerd. She is a road warrior. A nerd. A trekkie. A whovian. A Star Wars fanatic. She will go where no one has gone before, come back and post it here.