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The Essential Geek #18: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The Essential Geek #18: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

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I have a terrible geek confession to make. But I'm afraid. Terrified that if I reveal this dirty secret, I will lose any and all geek credibility I have. I will be laughed out of Star Trek conventions and forced to turn over my autographed Boba Fett action figure. I will never be allowed to sit quietly on the subway and play my Game Boy Advance again. I will be forever ostracized from the world of geekdom.

I can't help it, though. I've got to get this off my chest. I just...I just hope you can respect me after I've revealed it.

I've never been able to read all the way through J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" books.

There. I said it. They just don't engage me. The film adaptations of the books are some of my favorite movies ever. I could sit and watch Aragorn and Frodo and Gandalf and the rest cavort around Middle Earth on my TV all day. Hand me the novels, however, and I'm asleep within minutes.

I'm not sure why that is, but I know it's not the length, because there's at least one megatome in my sci-fi book collection that I can read again and again with great glee. It clocks in at 815 pages, and I can't wait to turn each single one.

I speak of my single-volume collection of the Hitchhiker's Guide books.

It's a literary adventure I've taken many times, and I'm currently taking again. In fact, I just finished re-reading the debut book in the series, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," and I'm convinced more than ever that Douglas Adams is one of this century's great geek minds...and great comic writers.

That's right. He's geeky AND funny, and so is his work. It's a tough combination to imagine. Most attempts at sci-fi comedy fall flat, unless the movie is making fun of science-fiction fans ("Galaxy Quest"), parodying sci-fi ("Spaceballs") or features a team of comedic geniuses in its writers and cast ("Ghostbusters"). Think back to "Evolution," "Wild Wild West," or "Men In Black II." Clunkers, all, and each one an attempt to make science fiction funny.

Adams does it easily, again and again, in "Hitchhiker's Guide." He throws away laugh lines with ease, jokes that just drift by in his text and can leave you weeping with the giggles. He structures his story for the utmost level of absurdity possible, buying fully into the theory that the universe and existence itself are simply insane notions that only get more crazy as you ponder them. He gives us two-headed Presidents of the Galaxy, alien beasts whose poetry can kill with its awfulness, and a planet where other planets are made to order by the richest beings in the universe.

Leaps of imagination that most writers would develop entire books or films around are tossed off at an alarming rate, and that's half the fun of "Hitchhiker's Guide"; it's simply a blast to try and keep up with Adams' manic brain. There's the wild adventure of the plot, but there's also endless brilliant asides, in which Adams will take a couple pages just to tell a funny story that somehow eventually ties into his ongoing story, even if in only the most tangential of ways.

His characters are masterpieces in comedic crafting. Arthur Dent, the continually befuddled Earthman whose demolished planet launches the story into motion, is our entry point into the story, constantly confused by what's going on around him and struggling to barely keep up. We empathize with him even as we laugh in his face. We're as astonished by Zaphod Beeblebrox as anyone around him would be, not just because he has two heads and three arms, but because he's wild and dashing and full of crazy ideas...but he's not sure why. Ford Prefect just wants to find a good time with his towel and his satchel. Trillian, the only one who can get through to Zaphod sometimes...Marvin the Paranoid Android, who can talk a ship's computer into killing itself...Slartibartfast, an ancient fjord designer...each one is fully realized, sketched with economy, and absolutely understood even as they participate in absolute mania.

Adams' pacing is beyond reproach as well. Again and again, he takes the reader to the brink of suspense, then just leaves him hanging there waiting for the other shoe to drop while he delivers laughs. He lives for the joke, but he can also build up to thrills, when you are on the edge of your seat waiting for your heroes to escape unscathed.

It's hard to talk too much about "Hitchhiker's Guide" without spoiling its comic perfection, so I'll stop there. You can discover just how hilarious and inventive this book is, alongside the other four books in the Hitchhiker's Guide "trilogy," by picking up "The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide" at Amazon.Com through the link below. (Sure, you can get it at your local bookstore, but then Jim Hill Media doesn't get a well-deserved cut for providing you with so many hours of information and entertainment. Present column excepted, of course.)

Comedy and science fiction don't usually mix well, but they form the perfect concoction in Douglas Adams' work. Take a trip with him and his mad cast of characters in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"...you'll be glad you did.

Meanwhile, I'm gonna give "Fellowship of the Ring" one more try here...hmmm...zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.


Matt Springer has been writing professionally about genre entertainment for the past five years and has worked full-time for such publications as the Official Buffy the Vampire Slayer Magazine, Cinescape, and Total Movie. He co-edits the genre criticism website Entertainment Geekly (http://www.entertainment-geekly.com). His first novel, Unconventional, is the tale of three geeks who spend a life-altering weekend at a convention; buy it online at South Side Press (http://www.southsidepress.net). He's currently working to become a sitcom writer.

Did today's article make you somewhat curious about this geekly movie? If so, then maybe you should head on over to Amazon.com, where you can pick up your very own copy of the "Hitchhiker's Guide" DVD. You know, the wide screen collector's edition.

Your cost will (unfortunately) remain the same. But if you go to that site through JHM, you help support the site because we get a tiny cut of whatever it is you spend. So -- if you'd like to help keep Jim Hill behind a computer where he belongs -- order your own "Hitchhiker's Guide " DVD through the link on the right.

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