On Thursday 5th May 1999, I dressed in a long white robe and a fake golden beard, put a home-made halo on my head, and went with my venturer scout group to ‘Science at the Pub – a night with Douglas Adams’. I was dressed as a character from Adams’ book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Funnily enough, I didn’t know what character I was dressing as. I didn’t even know who Douglas Adams was and I certainly hadn’t read the book. I was merely going because it sounded like an interesting night out and a guy from my scout group said I’d make a perfect golden-bearded angel.
As with most sci-fi gatherings held at a local worker’s club at 7:30pm on a Thursday, a lot of people were dressed in costume. Of course the organisers ran a best-dressed competition. And low and behold, this little angel with a golden beard won.
As I stepped up on stage to shake the hand of Douglas Adams and receive a personally signed copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide, I was the awe of every pair of eyes in that room.
And I’d never heard of the man.
Feeling a little embarrassed about my win, I got home and started reading. It was heavy-going for a 17 year-old and I soon decided I had more important things to do than struggle through a 590-page book.
So I put it aside for a few years.
When I moved out of home I found the book in a box and gave it another go. I read the first few chapters, got bored, and didn’t continue.
My partner and I moved in together and he came across the book. He told me I had to read it because it’s one of the greatest books of all time. So I tried again. And failed.
I must have started reading the book almost 20 times over because last month, when sat down and picked up the now quite-battered paperback with a renewed determination to read it from beginning to end, I pretty much knew the first 5 chapters by heart.
But this time I achieved. You see, I’ve committed myself to reading 100 classic books before I die.
It took me 31 days, strained eyes, time away from my writing and my family, but I did it. I have finished the first book from my list of 100.
So what did I think of it?
But silly enough at times to make me laugh out loud. I admired Adams’ way of pointing out the ridiculousness of everyday actions in such subtle ways you would almost miss them. I admired his ability to create whole new worlds – cities, spaceships, galaxies, restaurants that can only be accessed via time-travel, wars, technologies (some surprisingly accurate of how the world turned out between 1979 and now).
But the storyline itself left a lot to be desired.
I started questioning myself: have I missed something? Did I drift off somewhere between pages 121-160 and miss the whole point of the story? But after flicking back I still couldn’t see it.
The book just didn’t follow the usual rising action-climax-denouement of Freytag’s pyramid that I’ve been used to. The characters seemed shallow (don’t even get me started on the main female character who, for 3/4 of the book, didn’t have any emotions other than to tell Zaphod suddenly that she was leaving him only to come back a few chapters later because he hit his heads a few too many times and she felt sorry for him) and the story chopped and changed without ever leading to a final destination.
The original story was written for radio, so I guess that could be the reason for the lack of clear, defined storyline.
Then on the last page, page 590, when I was hoping that maybe, just maybe, everything would be tied up neatly and would all make sense, Douglas Adams finished his ‘Trilogy in four parts’ with the following line:
There was a point to this story, but it has temporarily escaped the chronicler’s mind.
Thanks Adams. You totally infuriated me. But maybe that was your goal after all.
Reading the book cover-to-cover did answer one question for me at least, and that was the question about what I had gone dressed as to the May 1999 ‘Science in the pub’ session that won me first prize in the costume comp. I had gone dressed as the angels that Wonko the Sane insists visit him outside the asylum. These angels are mentioned a total of three times in the whole book, and only in the last few pages of the last part So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish.
Now I get why I won the prize! Going dressed as one of these angels must have really proved that I not only 1. finished the book (not an easy thing for a teenager to do), but 2. knew the ins and outs of every character so well that I chose the most obscure one possible.
Well, Adams, the joke’s on you.
So long, and thanks for the personally signed book.
In July 2014 I set myself the challenge to finish 100 must-read books before I die. For my ongoing tally click here.Follow @jessieansons
14 responses to “1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams (100 book challenge)”
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Congratulations, Jessie. One down, 99 to go! I hope you enjoy the others more than this. It is a silly book, but it’s clever, too. My daughter went to the art gallery with her school to see sand mandalas made by visiting Buddhist monks. One kid in her class asked the monk the meaning of life. He said, “42.”
Haha that’s funny about the monk! Thanks Karen for the support 🙂
Ditto to Karen’s comment, Jessie. Reading this book is certainly an achievement. I determinedly read it quite a lot of years ago and, to tell the truth, can’t recall very many details of its contents at all. Not sure if that is a reflection of the book itself or if it’s saying more about me! Anyway, onwards and upwards – there are some fabulous tomes on your list, so happy reading.
Thanks Di 🙂 I am enjoying this challenge!
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Good on you for persevering after all those years with the book and congratulations on the costume win! I loved your blog it was funny and heartwarming. I haven’t read the book so can’t comment. But your challenge is inspiring, in fact I think I’ll head for the book shelf now!
Thanks Maree! I’m sure that golden beard is packed away in a box somewhere. I’ll come across it one day…
Personally, I adore the hitchhikers books, even if you has to look past the plot and just focus on the humour in some places. perhaps my tribute/review on my blog will change your mind about him? I’m still jealous of your personally signed copy though!
I just read your tribute! Beautiful! For anyone else who’d like to read, here’s the link:
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