Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Don't panic, this is only the first chapter

Good news everyone, I'm starting a new project that I think will be really fun for the whole family. Over at Tor.com they have a lot of re-reads of popular and classic sff (sci-fi and fantasy) books. I think they are doing a "Wheel of Time" re-read right now. This seems like a great way to take a look back at the books that have touched our lives and made our imaginations sing like a rhino would if it had vocal cords. Taking a tip from Tor, I thought it would be fun to re-read the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams. I'll be reading and reviewing a chapter or so a week from this classic and illustrating the scene that I think really sums up the chapter or chapters read. My goal is to have one post a week on this topic. Feel free to raze me if I start slacking off. Now to the first chapter.

"Yellow". This is the first thought that runs and winds it's way through our hero, Arthur Dent's mind when he wakes up. It's the word that begins the cataylst which drives our reluctant hero to the far reaches of the galaxy and beyond time itself. But I think I am jumping ahead of myself here.
The first chapter does what a good first chapter should do. It draws the reader in, it establishes the voice and tone of the book and lets the reader say "Hello" to some of the main characters. The characters that Adams invents are marvelous. What's ingenuous about this book, is that it is not a guide to the galaxy, it's a story about the guide to the galaxy and the people (term used loosely, because of the high volume of non-human sentient beings portrayed within the book) that use it. The Guide as the actors on page call it, is a fascinating work of near truth itself. Adams describes it as:

"...the...Guide has already supplanted the great Encyclopedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom, for though it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate, it scores over the older, more pedestrian work in two important respects.
First, it is slightly cheaper; and second, it has the words DON'T PANIC inscribed in large friendly letters on it's cover."-The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams.

Now, let's circle back to "Yellow". This word in and of itself, though small and unassuming, is an agent of foreshadowing as we will see in a the next chapter. Arthur Dent, who we meet early in the morning trying to figure out why "Yellow" is important is, as described, a descendant of apes, or in other words, a human being who still thinks that digital watches are pretty nifty. Once Arthur comes to gripes with what and why "Yellow" is important, the fun really begins.
Arthur runs out and starts a little protest of his own to save his house only he could love, from the yellow bulldozer aiming to destroy it. The foreman, Mr. L. Prosser, for the construction crew building the bypass that will drive itself through Arthur's house is a funny little man. As a direct descendant of Ghengis Khan he is plagued with visions of hairy men, blood, and battles. You must read the argument between the foreman, Arthur, and Ford Prefect, it's one of the best parts of this book.
Did I casually slip Ford Prefect into that last sentance? That's just how he would like to be slipped into a sentance, casually, not formally. Ford Prefect is from another world. He's cool under pressure and has a sweet job. He is a roving field researcher for the Guide. He dropped in on Earth and accidently got stranded on this planet. The poor guy spent the 15 years prior to the first chapter looking for flying saucers to take him to more exciting and drunken parts of the galaxy. We'll talk more of him in later chapters as he shows up a lot in the book.
Arthur, our main character, is less impressive at first glance. He isn't particularly bright, funny, or quick on his feet. What he does have is the ability to not go insane when the whole world goes bonkers around him. Is this because of his lower intelligence (compared to some of the aliens around him)? I think it's due to an enduring quality of being human, being blindly stubborn. The scene with him in the mud, laying against a huge machine that would suffer no damage all if it rolled right over him, is a portrait of pure stubbornness. Stubbornness humans show when things aren't like they think they should be. Stubbornness that lead man to make cars so we wouldn't have to walk or chaff on saddles anymore. Artur against the bulldozer is beginning of Arthur against the Universe. He is slow, stubborn, but ultimately the man to survive it all and still ask for a cup of tea.

I hope this will be fun, I've never done this sort of thing before and if you, my dear reader have any tips, thoughts, or critiques about how my first re-read went, let me know in the comments. Until next time, Don't Panic.


Arthur Against the Bulldozer, gouache and ink in my Moleskine sketchbook

1 comment:

drunkerton said...

That sounds really interesting looking forward to hearing more about it.