Book/Radio Play- Compare and Contrast

Phillip Menzies

Staff member
I listened to this session with much anticipation as I know the HitchHikers radio play from my youth, before there were books. Unfortunately I found the session somewhat disappointing with no real resolution of any themes. I got the impression that Corey felt some disappointment too. In limiting the discussion it was more difficult to find the way to any real conclusion.
He clearly stated his intention of not going back to archival material and purely comparing the two "texts", but I found this stymieing and comparable to the experience of studying The Book of Lost Tales while constantly comparing it to the Silmarillian which Corey has encouraged us not to do. The reason that so many people in the session wanted to talk about how the story developed is that it is important in our understanding of the two versions together.
It is generally not realised that HitchHikers was a slow evolution of ideas and themes over a number of years. Let me give an example. It would surprise most people to learn that something that is fundamentally HitchHikers, the concept of the towel did not enter the story until the second season. The first mention of a towel is by Ford when he talks to Arthur about his mate Roosta who works on the guide and refers to him saying "Now there's a guy who really knows where his towel is" to which Arthur replies "I think your head has come undone." That scene is in Fit the Seventh while Ford and Arthur are trapped on prehistoric Earth waiting to be rescued, far along in the main story in fact. The concept of towels has been inserted quite early in the narrative in the book and this happens many times throughout the book but always with valid reasons. This insertion of other material makes it difficult to do what Corey wanted to do which was to look at the parts of the first book that were covered in the radio play only and to compare the two. In my mind he would have been better served by looking at broad themes.
Series 1, broadcast in early 1978 developed its main theme into the search for the ultimate answer of life, the universe and everything with the resolution being that in the end it is impossible to understand the nature of the universe in the terms that the pan dimensional beings had dictated. That year's Christmas Special (Fit the Seventh) started some themes that were followed up on the the second series broadcast in 1980 which were, who really rules the galaxy when the role of the Galactic President clearly does not. In broader terms it asked the question, where does ultimate power lie? I can compare this to the reboot of Doctor Who in having distinct themes. The first season's theme was "Bad Wolf". The second season's theme was "Torchwood".
So when Douglas went about writing HitchHikers in novel form he basically wrote the first two books together and interwove through them from the beginning themes from both radio series, thus we get from the beginning in the books the mystery about Zaphod's craniums and his hidden purpose which is only present in series 2 and also the reason why book one has no proper resolution. If Tolkien was a master of retcon, then Adams was not far behind. In writing the novels he worked out inconsistencies that remained in the radio plays due to incredible time pressures of the production, changed things like Arthur's reply to Mr. Prosser to Ford because they made greater sense and they fit better. One of the casualties was of course one of my favourites, the long sequence set on the planet Brontitall with the Bird People, Lentila and of course the guy who only happened to be Hig Hurtenflurst. He dispensed with the super evolving Haggunenons in favour of the episode with Hotblack Desiato and preferred this version by publishing a reworked dramatsation that was only available on LP (which I have only listened to once).
This retconning process was used once again after Douglas' death in the writers and producers of the dramatisastion of Book Three, Life the Universe and Everything when they has to reconcile the different ending of the second radio series and the second book the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, so that the story could be continued either from a radio play or a book perspective, and yes if you did not know there are dramatisations of all five books available which reunited the original cast where possible.
In closing, the session would have been a more satisfying conversation if it incorporated the evolution of the stories which in turn would have granted a fuller comparison between the two media.
Yes I agree.

I think this universe is unique in its development, as far as sequential re-adaptations and such go. There's no real gold standard source upon which the adaptations are based; it's almost like they were done in the wrong order or something.

And of course that's what makes it so fun. All of the adaptations are so different and awesome.
I've always considered the radio series to be the definitive source material; partly because it WAS first; partly because I remember it through the nostalgic haze of the summer before my last year of college; but mostly because radio seemed to be uniquely suited to telling the Guide's story. The books were fun, but they tended to spell out details in a way that detracted a bit from their spontaneity. The TV series, when it came, was distractingly low-budget; it was difficult to get in the spirit of it the way one did with a good episode of Dr. Who. (Though they did have some wonderful graphics from the book, including a delightful depiction of Grunthos the Flatulent's major intestine interrupting his poetry reading by leaping up through his neck and throttling his brain :)). But the voice actors in the radio series were very talented, and the sound effects were excellent - just enough to evoke the imagery of the scene you were in, then allow your imagination to paint in the details!

I taped the series from the radio, and made copies for my friends; and bootleg copies of those cassettes, and copies of the copies, circulated surprisingly widely outward from Hopkins where I went to school. I could tell when tapes were descended from my originals, because I gave my own names to each of the 12 episodes (e.g., "Earth Blows Up" and "Land(?)fall on Brontataur.")