Hitchhiker’s Guide may have given us the answer to life, the universe, and everything, but how did it all begin?
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is one of those things that feels like it’s always been around. Like that old arm chair that your father sits on. It’s always been there, you have no idea where it came from, it might smell a little funny sometimes, but it just is — and you assume it always was. Geeks of all shapes and sizes know of the existence of a little book that will tell you almost everything about traveling the universe and how you should never forget your towel. But not everyone is aware of how this very important bit of nonsense was birthed into the cosmos. It did not begin it’s travels as a book — though many assume it did. The guide made an effort to meander in that direction as time and popularity allowed it to, but it started somewhere quite different. Douglas Adams began this galaxy-spanning adventure in a far different place than we ended it.
So where did all this strangeness come from? Where do we go from here? What does a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster taste like? What is the question to life, the universe, and everything? Grab your towel, because we are going to take you through the history of this incredible series.
DON’T PANIC: This is Just the Beginning
We mentioned that the guide was not a book, at least not at first (it very much is a book now and you can buy it almost anywhere). No, the Hitchhiker’s Guide began its very poignant existence as a BBC Radio Show. The BBC asked Adams to pitch them an idea for a series, so he got to thinking. His first idea was not the guide as we know it today; instead, it was simply the end of the world.
His initial idea was to make a series where, at the end of each episode, the Earth ended in some new and exciting way. This doomed-to-be-replaced idea was called The Ends of the Earth. Each episode, the characters would come to understand that this was the end (so be it), and then the Earth would be destroyed. He knew he needed a character who would understand that Earth was going to be destroyed before anyone else. For one reason or another, be it genius or madness (we still aren’t sure ourselves), he decided that this character must be an alien.
It is said that while lying in a field in InnsBruck very drunk, he had an idea that would one day become that very thing we love. In that field, he had a great drunk idea (we wish our drunk ideas were as great as his) — he decided this alien would be a roving reporter for a pan-galactic publication called (you guessed it) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
As Adams started writing, he realized that the premise just wasn’t as interesting as the Guide itself. Which makes sense — there are only so many jokes you can make about the world ending before your audience turns into Marvin. They rewrote the series to be far more focused on characters and the only holdover from the doomed proposal was that the Earth does end. But it only happens once — and everyone tried to warn us, but humans are very good at ignoring things we don’t want to hear.
The guide would probably say something along the lines of: humans developed this ability to avoid awkward situations in public wherein they have to talk to a stranger. Humans possess such an extreme level of anxiety when forced to confront something that is outside of their current understanding that they will artfully change direction and end up three towns over in an area they very much never intended to visit in order to avoid it.
But just as the end of Earth isn’t the end of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, this is not the end of our blog. However, it is about time for lunch, so we’re going to move along to a more relaxing setting where everything ends — not just the Earth.
The Middle Part Where We Stop at a Restaurant at the End of the Universe for Lunch
The radio show was well loved and quickly became a cult classic. Sure, there were a few people who disagreed with the general consensus that this was a good way to spend an afternoon, but they were mostly discounted. For example, let’s take the Indian listener who “strongly objected to robots taking part in a comedy show.” To him we say: “Robots are funny; it’s obvious now.” There were several other (equally trivial) complaints, but we would rather talk about this improbable series with a heart of gold than those dissatisfied listeners.
You might be wondering about now, “so when are you going to get to the part where it becomes a book?” We were thinking about meandering a while longer, but now seems as good a time as any to get to the point. The radio series was so unbelievably popular, Douglas Adams was approached to turn it into a rather good book — which he did.
Not as dramatic as one might expect, but it does show you that sometimes the best things only happen because someone asks nicely. The book took some different turns than the radio show, and while very similar, it sort of took on its own new and exciting perspective following the same cast of characters. Adams enjoyed writing it so much, he went on to write a trilogy that included five books. Yes, we know that a trilogy is usually three, but then again, Adams has never been one to look at things in a traditional way. The books in the series are The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Life, the Universe, and Everything, So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, and Mostly Harmless. All excellent books, and if you have only read the first, now is as good a time as any to stop reading this article, go pick them up, and come back when you are done. We can wait.
The show also then spun off into a wildly popular BBC series that chased Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect on their highly improbable trip through the galaxy.
It also spawned one of the most complicated and easy-to-off-yourself text based games in the known galaxy. We doubt the guide has an entry on the text game, as it sort of blurred into obscurity like that second cousin who you only met that one time at your Nana’s 90th birthday.
You are Here
It is a sad thing to say, but not everything is as long lasting and ever-changing as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy itself. Douglas Adams passed away in 2001 and left a square hole in our hearts with the words “Don’t Panic” pressed into it in bright, friendly letters. That does not mean that any part of his story disappeared with his physical form. In fact, it continues to grow and spread like that weed you keep meaning to pull, but now that it’s blooming it sure is beautiful so you might as well leave it a while longer.
In 2005, a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie was released. It had a rather impressive cast that most people happily approved of. The movie itself was met with less happy approval; the reception was mixed, with a few wiggly hand gestures. As Douglas Adams had conveniently died several years before its making, no one thought to ask him his opinion on how Garth Jennings handled his story — which might be for the better.
In October 2009, quite a long while since Adams took the longest nap of his life, And Another Thing… was released, and it was written by someone else entirely — which should be obvious, because as we said, Adams was quite busy being dead at the time. Eoin Colfer penned the novel, and it was released on the 30th anniversary of the first book’s publication. Douglas Adams, before his death (as, again, it would be weird if he said this after his death), admitted that he would have liked to write a sixth book, as five felt like the wrong kind of number, and that he wanted to end the series on a brighter note than Mostly Harmless (which was rather dark, if we do say so ourselves — and we do). Unfortunately, time caught up to Adams before he could write the book, in that way time has a nasty habit of doing. So Colfer kindly finished out the story for him (even if we are pretty sure Adams would much rather have done it himself if he, once again, wasn’t so busy being dead).
The most profound effect of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, however, is that it successfully predicted the future of technology. The guide was a book written by many voices with variable levels of credibility. It focused around topics the authors enjoyed, and only has entries where the authors chose to stop and take their time to actually look around. This became, in what was then the future and now is a rather strange and confusing present, the foundation for Wikipedia. If you have been hiding under a rock for the last fifteen or so years, Wikipedia is what happens when a planet that’s mostly harmless writes a guide about itself. It’s quite fantastic, so long as you take into account that some of it might be entirely wrong.
Another equally relevant moment in history was in 2018 when the car company Tesla launched one of their cars into space (there was no true reason other than they thought it was a good idea at the time and that it might be funny) when the other company they owned, Space X, was testing a new type of rocket. These things sound completely unrelated to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and they would be — if not for several crucial details. First, the GPS display featured two familiar words in bright and cheerful colors: “Don’t Panic.” Second, they stashed a copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and a towel in the glove compartment. Such moments were in good humor, but also very important should some hitchhiking alien discover the pristine cherry red electric car floating through space. Hopefully they have not evolved beyond plugs and will be able to enjoy the vehicle.
What comes next for The Hitchhiker’s Guide? We can only guess. Perhaps a virtual reality tour of the cosmos with the guide as a handbook. Perhaps a new, updated TV show with a modern budget so we can all say “Oh yes, it’s pretty, but I miss the old actors and why does my back hurt so much?” unless you’re young enough that you missed the first airing and then this one is clearly going to be your prefered iteration (just look at Doctor Who).
And that is the long-winded and meandering history of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Perhaps in the future we will have to add a section to this article called “The Future that is Now the Present” and we’ll have to change the heading “You are Here” to “You Were Previously Here, but Have Gone Off Into the Future and Left Us,” but for now, this will have to do.
You may have noticed that we never explained what a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster tastes like. Well, we know what the guide says, but we’re all to0 chicken to actually try it. Perhaps you should ask your local bartender and they can help you with this very serious inquiry.