First… DON’T PANIC!…
… as said on the cover of the Hitchhicker guide to the Galaxy… I quite loved this tag line, it occured well for the book…
I discovered this novel by Douglas Adams, the first of a huge series, is an enormous hit in Great Britain ! It’s almost unknow in France (except for the Happy few, as Stendhal used to say). So now, when I will hear about digital watch, I will understand that it’s a direct references of Adams’ book, or about towel (You always need to have a towel with you, read the book if you want to understand!)
plot : Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor.
Together this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide (« A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have ») and a galaxy-full of fellow travelers: Zaphod Beeblebrox–the two-headed, three-armed ex-hippie and totally out-to-lunch president of the galaxy; Trillian, Zaphod’s girlfriend (formally Tricia McMillan), whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party once upon a time zone; Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot; Veet Voojagig, a former graduate student who is obsessed with the disappearance of all the ballpoint pens he bought over the years. (source : Amazon.fr)
So, if I have to describe the Hitchhicker in one… no, let say two words : Madness and humour…
It’s really mad, and remember it’s a 70s book, quite in advance on its time. It’s not my favourite book of all time, more an intellectual pleasure which has permitted me to understand the movie (I wasn’t keen on the movie, but strangely, watching it after having read the book allowed me to enjoy it : I understand the beers, the peanuts, the towels at the beginning… I still don’t understand the Vogon’s poetry, but nobody did, so… Sorry, Hitchhicker joke 😉 ).
The parody of government, politics, big business is still very actual. Yes, times passes but things don’t change. Manipulation, profits, lies, personal interest… everything still there.
An interesting point is the introduction of depression in the fiction. How could depression be fun ? when it’s a robot who suffers from it. But, yet, this mental health problem is depicted very faithfully to the reader. I don’t know a lot about depression (I know about depress, not the same…), but it seems right, and quite original in a 70s book.
As for the famousness of The Hitchhiker in British culture… How could I know ? I’m French, and there is no impact on French culture (sadly, it’s not a unique case). But, it’s a good book, pleasant, with a faithfull adaptation, it’s a good moment of reading.