“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” began life as a radio show on BBC Radio 4 in March 1978. The series of plays were written by Douglas Adams (who also wrote scripts for “Doctor Who”), and eventually spawned novels, a feature film in 2005, three stage shows, a TV series, a video game, audio books, comic books and towels.
Why towels, you ask? Well, if you’ve experienced “Hitchhiker’s” you know that a towel is the most useful thing in the universe. But towel worship wasn’t the only thing that the franchise brought to its fans. Thanks in large part to Adams, the number 42 is now an indelible part of pop culture, both here and across the pond. Those who have read the books or heard the plays know that 42 is the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything” – exactly what that question is, however, has apparently been forgotten. The phrase "Don't Panic" was made popular here.
You get the idea. This is a scifi comedy. In fact, it may be scifi comedy.
For each iteration of HGTTG, Adams used the same basic plot but fudged the details, which means that they’re all similar but not the same - and some of the details contradict each other. These days, the version of the franchise most available to people are the books, a “trilogy” of five novels, and some have even forgotten a radio show existed. So, it’s most likely that if you meet a fan, it’s of the book version.
The novels, in order, are: “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”; “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe”; “Life, The Universe and Everything”; “So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish”; and “Mostly Harmless.” The first book was published in 1979 and the last came out in 1992. Another novel, published in 2008 and written by Eoin Colfer, was called “And Another Thing.”
The plot of “Hitchhiker’s”, as taken from the radio show’s first four episodes and the first novel: Arthur Dent’s life is turned upside-down when he becomes the only survivor of the destruction of his home planet, Earth. He and his friend Ford Prefect (who turns out to be an alien who works for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) escape onto a Vogon ship, and then are rescued by Zaphod Beeblebrox and Trillian - she's also human, but she escaped Earth months ago. He and his new friends visit Magrathea, once home to the planet-building industry, to discover that a group of super-intelligent beings built a computer called Deep Thought to calculate the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. The computer turns out to have been the planet Earth. Two members of this race of super-intelligent beings have hidden themselves as Trillian’s pet mice, and they want Arthur because, as part of Earth’s matrix just before it was destroyed, he might know at least part of the question.
“The Restaurant at the End of the Universe” (1980) tackled the next eight (and final) episodes of the radio series. Zaphod is trying to find out who actually runs the universe, and gets reunited with the others for a trip to Milliways, the restaurant at the end of the universe. He and Ford steal a ship, which turns out to be on its way to plunge into a star. Ford and Arthur end up on a spacecraft with a bunch of Golgafrinchans, which crashes on prehistoric Earth. They are stranded with these Golgafrinchans, who turn out to be our ancestors. This disruption of history makes it impossible for Arthur to come up with the answers others think he has.
The next three books were not based on the radio show, although according to Neil Gaiman’s “Don't Panic: The Official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Companion,” apparently “Life, The Universe, and Everything” was a story based upon a treatment Adams did for a “Doctor Who” theatrical release - and both books were adapted into radio shows later. Ford and Arthur go from prehistoric Earth to Lord’s Cricket Ground, where Slartibartfast wants them to help prevent a galactic war and save life in the Universe.
In “So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish” (1984) Arthur goes back to Earth, falls in love, and discovers that this version of Earth was created by dolphins trying to save the humans. He and Ford decide to hitchhike one last time and see God’s Final Message to His Creation. They are joined by Martin, the Paranoid Android.
In “Mostly Harmless” (1992), Vogons (the guys who destroyed Earth in the first place) take over The Hitchhiker’s Guide) to finish Earth off. Arthur settles on a planet called Lamuella in a small town, and Ford breaks into the Vogons’ offices and dents The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Mark II, to Arthur. Mark II is stolen by Trillian and Arthur’s daughter (don’t ask), leading to an end I won’t reveal.
The last book in the series, "And Another Thing...", written posthumously by Eoin Colfer with permission from Adams’ estate, revived all the characters and brought the Vogons in for a few more attacks.
Arthur Dent: We first meet our intrepid and befuddled Englishman hero as his house is being torn down, and he lies down in front of the bulldozer in order to stop this from happening. Well, turns out that this is about to happen to the Earth as well, because it’s in the path of a new hyperspatial express project.
Ford Prefect: A researcher for the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Arthur’s friend, who turns out to be an alien.
Zaphod Beeblebrox: The Galactic President
. He has two heads and three arms.
Trillian: The only other human survivor of Earth, who left with Zaphod several months before Earth bought it. She's an Earth Girl who pilots the Heart of Gold.
Slartibartfast: Planet builder and the creator of the Norway fjords.
Martin: A depressed robot, also known as the Paranoid Android.