The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Douglas Adams

Douglas Adams grew up in England, eventually receiving a scholarship to attend St. John’s College in Cambridge. He developed his talent as a writer early in life, impressing his teachers and peers with his humorous stories, poems, and essays. After graduating college, he lived in London and aspired to write for radio and television programs. Before long, he began to collaborate with Graham Chapman of Monty Python fame, helping Chapman write an episode for the show. After this period, he had trouble finding work as a writer, so he moved back into his mother’s house. While living there, he continued to write and pitch ideas to various media outlets, but very few of his submissions were accepted. During this time, he became rather depressed about his prospects as an artist and his ability as a writer. Fortunately, it wasn’t long before BBC Radio 4 agreed to run The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as a radio series. Based on the great success of this series, Adams wrote sequels and accompanying materials, eventually using the idea to write a series of five novels that came out between 1980 and 1992. After marrying his wife and having a daughter at the age of 42, Adams and his family moved to California, where he died of a heart attack seven years later.
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Historical Context of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

When Douglas Adams wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as a radio series for BBC Radio 4, it was 1977—only  eight years after the first moon landing. Naturally, then, the idea of space travel was still quite exciting, something that was very much part of the cultural conversation swirling throughout the decade. The fact that the piece was first realized as a radio broadcast is also worth mentioning because of the nature of its genre. Indeed, radio-format science fiction stories no doubt pay a tribute to the infamous 1938 broadcast of The War of the Worlds, in which the actor Orson Welles presented a fictional account as if it were true, informing listeners of an alien invasion and ultimately throwing the general public into panic. Given that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy opens with the comedic alien invasion—and subsequent destruction—of earth, it seems likely that Douglas Adams wanted to humorously recall the initial broadcast of The War of the Worlds.

Other Books Related to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the first book in Douglas Adams’s series of five novels tracing Arthur Dent’s journey through space. The second installation is called The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, and it picks up where The Hitchhiker’s Guide leaves off, following Arthur and his friends as they leave Magrathea and head for a “quick bite” at—of course—the Restaurant at the End of the Universe. In addition, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy shares certain thematic elements with Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, which also draws upon space travel and a number of invented theories that enable characters to make fantastical advances. It’s also worth noting the similarities between The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds, which is—like The Hitchhiker’s Guide—a work of science fiction about aliens that was first presented as a radio broadcast.
Key Facts about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • Full Title: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • When Written: 1977
  • When Published: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy first appeared as a radio series in 1978. The book was then published in 1979.
  • Literary Period: Post-modernism.
  • Genre: Science fiction
  • Setting: Outer space
  • Climax: After learning that Trillian’s pet mice are actually hyperintelligent beings who want to extract his brain, Arthur hastily escapes the planet of Magrathea.
  • Antagonist: At various points in the novel, the Vogons are the chief antagonistic force. At other points, Benjy Mouse and Frankie Mouse assume this role.
  • Point of View: Third person

Extra Credit for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Big Screen. In 2005, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was made into a movie starring a number of well-known actors, including Mos Def, Martin Freeman, Zooey Deschanel, Sam Rockwell, John Malkovich, and Helen Mirren.

Inspiration. Douglas Adams supposedly had the idea to write The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy one night while backpacking in Austria. Apparently, he was drunkenly falling asleep and thinking about the travel book he’d brought, The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to Europe, when he decided it would be funny to write a guidebook for the galaxy.