Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz, Adams notes, is quite ugly. Like all Vogons, his nose is long and his forehead small. Many of his attributes are due to the fact that the Vogons have never evolved—ever since they first “crawled out of the sluggish primeval seas of Vogsphere,” the Vogons have never changed. This is a testament to their stubborn nature, which makes them especially well equipped for “civil politics.” When the Vogons finally found a way to leave their wretched planet, they immediately traveled to a nearby location, where they became the “immensely powerful backbone of the Galactic Civil Service.” Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz, Adams explains, is a “fairly typical Vogon in that he [is] thoroughly vile. Also, he [does] not like hitchhikers.”
Adams uses the Vogons’ stubbornness to symbolize the unyielding nature of bureaucracy, which is often slow and unaccommodating. The fact that this species has never evolved is a testament to their unwillingness to adapt to change. This kind of mentality perhaps also influenced their refusal to delay Earth’s destruction, an act that casts them as a race obsessed with control, power, and arbitrary rules.
The Vogons employ a race of aliens called the Dentrassis on their spaceships. The Dentrassis work as caterers on the Vogon ships but hate the Vogons. As such, they have no problem helping Ford and Arthur sneak onto the ship as stowaways. As the spaceship hurdles away from what used to be Earth, Arthur slowly wakes up in a dark cabin. When he asks Ford where they are, his friend says that they’ve safely survived the destruction of Earth by “hitch[ing] a lift” on a Vogon spaceship. “Are you trying to tell me that we just stuck out our thumbs and some green bug-eyed monster stuck his head out and said, ‘Hi fellas, hop right in, I can take you as far as the Basingstoke roundabout?” Arthur asks, and Ford confirms that this is the case, though the Thumb is electronic, and the roundabout is six light-years away.
Despite the fact that the Vogons are stubborn creatures who go out of their way to control everything in a bureaucratic and unbending way, they can’t keep hitchhikers like Arthur and Ford from slipping onto their spaceships. This suggests that such an unyielding attitude only invites animosity from the beings who work for the Vogons. Indeed, the Dentrassis are eager to break the Vogons’ rules, thereby undermining their efforts to keep things orderly and under complete control. However, the earlier mention that Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz doesn’t like hitchhikers means that even with help from the Dentrassis, Ford and Arthur are in a precarious position as stowaways.
Having just destroyed Earth, Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz feels “vaguely irritable.” This is how he always feels after “demolishing populated planets.” As such, he wishes somebody would “come and tell him that it was all wrong so that he could shout at them and feel better.” To his delight, a Dentrassis server comes running into the room with an obvious grin on his face—a clear indication that something has gone wrong. After all, if a Dentrassi looks “that pleased with itself,” there must surely be something “going on somewhere on the ship that [Prostetnic] could get very angry indeed about.”
A true indication that Vogons are power-hungry and controlling is the fact Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz actively wants something to go wrong so that he can smite somebody. Seeing that a Dentrassis server is happy, Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz knows that he’ll be able to find something amiss on the ship, and this excites him because it will provide him with an opportunity to aggressively reinforce his own power.
Meanwhile, Arthur bombards Ford with questions. Finally, Ford hands him The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and tells him to look up anything he might want to know. He shows him how the book works, explaining that Arthur must type in what he wants to find, since the book has been digitized. Together, they look at the entry for Vogons, which reads (in part): “Here is what to do if you want to get a lift from a Vogon: forget it. They are one of the most unpleasant races in the Galaxy—not actually evil, but bad-tempered, bureaucratic, officious and callous.” At the end of the entry, the book says: “On no account allow a Vogon to read poetry at you.”
Once again, Adams’s penchant for absurd or random humor is apparent, this time showing itself in the form of The Hitchhiker’s Guide’s warning: “On no account allow a Vogon to read poetry at you.” In addition to reminding readers that this novel is interested in using ridiculous premises to tell a story, this warning portrays language as something that can actually be harmful. Meanwhile, Arthur’s interest in The Guide showcases his desire to learn more about space, granting him an opportunity to gain knowledge that was inaccessible to him on Earth.
Ford explains why he was on Earth and tells Arthur that, unfortunately, the planet has been destroyed. He then urges Arthur to heed the guidebook’s most salient advice: “DON’T PANIC.” “You just come along with me and have a good time,” he says. “The Galaxy’s a fun place. You’ll need to have this fish in your ear.” Saying this, he takes out a small yellow fish. As he does so, the ship’s speakers burst to life, spewing a terrible sound that sounds to Arthur like “a man trying to gargle while fighting off a pack of wolves.” Ford tells him that this sound is the Vogon captain making an announcement.” He then shoves the yellow fish into Arthur’s ear canal, and suddenly Arthur can understand the announcement.
Until this point in the novel, Arthur hasn’t yet been able to influence the things that have been happening around him, but he has perhaps not fully realized this yet. Now that Ford has informed him that his home planet is gone, though, he most likely is able to finally comprehend the depths of his powerlessness: Earth has been annihilated, and there’s nothing he can do about it. Worse, he has no choice but to zoom through space, about which he knows nothing. To help him do this, Ford shoves a fish in his ear that helps translate languages in his head. This, it seems, is the only thing connecting him to his new circumstances (other than Ford himself).