The Millions

How ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ Saved My Life

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy wastes no time putting its earthbound readers in their place.

“Uncharted.” “Unfashionable.” “Unregarded.” That’s how Douglas Adams describes our interstellar neighborhood in the first sentence of the book. Then he zooms in: “Orbiting this sun at a distance of roughly 98 million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descendent life forms are so amazingly primitive, they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.” It’s among literature’s most savage burns (1970s category), and it’s directed at our entire species.

The rest of the book and its sequels, four by Adams and one by , proceed from there. Earth is labeled in the titular galaxy-spanning reference book as “harmless,” an entry later expanded after 15 years of Ford Prefect to “mostly harmless.” The most intelligent beings on the planet are revealed to be mice. By the end of chapter three only two humans are left alive, and one of them is Arthur Dent, an incompetent bore of a who just wants to go home but can’t because first his house and then his entire planet have been demolished.

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