The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Analysis

Douglas Adams

The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series is a unique trilogy, as it originally was called, in that by 1992 it consisted of five novels and a short story and still had yet to be concluded definitively. It began as a radio series broadcast by the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) beginning in 1978 and ending in 1980. Many fans of the story became acquainted with it through recordings of the old radio shows, the scripts of which were published as The Original Hitchhiker Radio Scripts. A television version of the series was broadcast by the BBC in 1981. There are, therefore, three versions of the Guide: radio, television, and print. Although all were written by Douglas Adams, these versions are not altogether consistent with one another. What follows is a summary of the five novels and the short story.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy begins with Arthur Dent, an ordinary young Englishman, waking to find that his home has been scheduled for demolition to allow construction of a new motorway bypass. In protest, Arthur lies prostrate between the bulldozer and his house. Arthur’s friend, Ford Prefect, talks Arthur into giving up his protest (at least temporarily) and going to the local pub. There, Ford completely perplexes Arthur by claiming to be an alien and telling Arthur that they must leave Earth immediately because it is about to be demolished to make way for an intergalactic bypass.

Thus begins Arthur’s adventure. He and Ford, a researcher for and proud owner of the encyclopedic Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, manage to get on board a ship of the Volgon fleet, which has just demolished Earth. They are captured by the Volgons and expelled into the void of space. Fortunately, they are picked up by Ford’s two-headed cousin, Zaphod Beeblebrox, and his companions, Trillian, an Earth woman Zaphod recently picked up, and Marvin, a chronically depressed robot. Zaphod’s stolen ship, the Heart of Gold, is equipped with the prototype of an improbability drive, which is what enabled them to rescue Arthur and Ford.

Zaphod is en route to Magrathea, a legendary planet that once was in the business of producing custom-made planets to order. After a brush with two deadly missiles, the travelers land on Magrathea. The planet seems to be shut down but is not. A new project is under way: the reconstruction of Earth.

As it turns out, Earth actually was a massive computer designed by advanced aliens from another dimension who took the form of laboratory mice on Earth. Its purpose was to determine the ultimate question of “life, the universe, and everything”. The ultimate answer, the number forty-two, already...

(The entire section is 1101 words.)

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

Disco dancing was one of the biggest trends of the 1970s. Published by Gale Cengage

Space Exploration
By the time The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was published in 1979, many people had tired...

(The entire section is 580 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Though initially set in England, the majority of the story takes place in space, either in spaceships or on the planet Magrathea. With Adams...

(The entire section is 240 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a parody of traditional science fiction adventure stories. A parody...

(The entire section is 782 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Adams's satire is not bitter. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is mostly about fun—fun with words, fun with genre, fun with...

(The entire section is 161 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Adams's satire skewers several sacred icons of society: science, poetry, philosophy, and government. As Dent and Prefect romp through space,...

(The entire section is 291 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

1979: Iranian leader Mohamed Reza Shah Pahlevi fled the country. Shiite Muslim leader Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini, returning...

(The entire section is 266 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Why does this book continue to be popular, especially among college students and adolescents?

2. Adams's humor has been...

(The entire section is 193 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Much of the technology described in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy as being science fiction is now part of our daily lives....

(The entire section is 352 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

Make up a work order for the Magratheans, explaining the kind of world you would like them to build. Be specific about the kinds of...

(The entire section is 175 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Adams five books in the "Hitchhiker" series sends his quartet of characters forward and backward in time after The Hitchhiker's Guide to...

(The entire section is 142 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Novels for Students)

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Video-cassette. Six-episode British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) Television series. BBC Video/CBS...

(The entire section is 123 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

This book is just the first in a series about Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect, and the colorful characters that they encounter in their travels...

(The entire section is 291 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

"Adams, Douglas." In Contemporary Authors: New Revision Series, vol. 64. Detroit: Gale, 1998. A bibliobiograpical essay, including...

(The entire section is 175 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

Richard Brown, "Posh-School SF," The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4147, September 24, 1982, p....

(The entire section is 399 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Gaiman, Neil. Don’t Panic: Douglas Adams and “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” New York: Titan Books, 2005.

Hanlon, Michael. The Science of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” New York: Macmillan, 2005.

Simpson, M. J. Hitchhiker: A Biography of Douglas Adams. Boston: Justin Charles, 2003.

Simpson, M. J. The Pocket Essential Hitch Hiker’s Guide. 2d ed. Chicago: Trafalgar Square, 2005.

Webb, Nick. Wish You Were Here: The Official Biography of Douglas Adams. New York: Ballantine Books, 2003.


(The entire section is 92 words.)