Oct 4, 2012

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

British radio personality Arthur Dent is having a bad day. First he must lie down in the mud in his bathrobe to keep his house from being bulldozed, and then his friend Ford Prefect pops round to tell him that the Earth is going to be destroyed. Soon. In a few minutes.

 Still in a muddy bathrobe, he allows Ford to teleport them both to a passing Vogon cruiser and escape. The Vogons, who hate stowaways, torture them with bad poetry and then eject them into space. 

 But not to worry: in a staggering improbability, another spaceship happens to be zipping by at that precise moment, and they are rescued in the moment before they suffocate. 

 In another staggering improbability, their rescuers turn out to be Ford’s cousin, a two-headed hipster named Zaphod Beeblebrox, and Trillian, a ditzy blonde with a Ph.D. in astrophysics. In another staggering improbability, Arthur knows Trilian: he had been chatting her up at a party in Islington six months before when  she left with Zaphod. . . .

And so on. Douglas Adam’s anarchic Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy began as a 1977 radio series, then became a 1981 television series (which I saw during the 1980s British invasion that also included The Prisoner, The Tomorrow People, and Monty Python's Flying Circus) and a five-part novel series (1979-92),. It sent Ford and Arthur to a restaurant at the end of the universe, a prehistoric Earth settled by advertising executives, an Earth that is really a giant computer manned by rats, and many more wildly improbable worlds. 

In the radio/tv series and the first two books, the two are inseparable companions. Never in the course of their adventures do they suggest that they might find amenable planets and part company, nor do they ever exhibit a romantic interest in anyone else. 

 In later books, Arthur becomes increasingly insistent about heterosexual practice -- he even goes at it with a girlfriend while floating in midair -- and he grows to despise Ford, parting company with him as often as feasible. But Ford (on television the androgynous, purple-eyed Elf David Dixon, Ariel in BBC’s The Tempest) does not engage in heterosexual practice at all.  

And his attachment to Arthur (Simon Jones), his insistence that they remain together, never seems to diminish. Indeed, he seems to engineer hassles just so Arthur will have to depend upon his intergalactic expertise. And one must wonder how the whole chain of events began in the first place: 

Before the Vogons arrived, Ford spent fifteen years on Earth, researching an entry for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a sort of hip interplanetary encyclopedia (his entry consisted of two words: “Mostly harmless”) . No doubt he acquired many friends, associates, and lovers. One morning he discovered that the Earth would be destroyed. He then devoted valuable escape time to seeking out Arthur, explaining the situation as best he could, and bringing him along. Why did he choose Arthur? Why not a famous physicist, or another friend, or some girl from Chelmsford? 

 For that matter, why anyone at all? Why not transport himself directly onto the nearby Vogon cruiser, and escape? No explanation is ever given, but for the gay teenagers of the 1980s, a simple one came to mind: Ford is in love with him.