morninglite

Everything you need to have a beautiful morning, sleepyhead.

Morning Lit: Hitchhiker’s Guide

on November 27, 2011

THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY

 

A GUIDE TO THE GUIDE
Some unhelpful remarks from the author

The history of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is now so complicated that every time I tell it I contradict myself, and  whenever I do get it right I’m misquoted. So the publication of  this omnibus edition seemed like a good opportunity to set the  record straight-or at least firmly crooked. Anything that is put down  wrong here is, as far as I’m concerned, wrong for good.

The idea for the title first cropped up while I was lying drunk in a field in Innsbruck, Austria, in 1971. Not particularly drunk, just the sort of  drunk you get when you have a couple of stiff Gassers after not having  eaten for two days straight, on account of being a penniless hitchhiker. We  are talking of a mild inability to stand up.

I was traveling with a copy of the Hitch Hiker s Guide to Europe by Ken  Walsh, a very battered copy that I had borrowed from someone. In fact,  since this was 1971 and I still have the book, it must count as stolen by  now. I didn’t have a copy of Europe on Five Dollars a Day (as it then was)  because I wasn’t in that financial league.

Night was beginning to fall on my field as it spun lazily underneath me. I  was wondering where I could go that was cheaper than Innsbruck,  revolved less and didn’t do the sort of things to me that Innsbruck had  done to me that afternoon. What had happened was this. I had been  walking through the town trying to find a particular address, and being  thoroughly lost I stopped to ask for directions from a man in the street. I  knew this mightn’t be easy because I don’t speak German, but I was still  surprised to discover just how much difficulty I was having communicating  with this particular man. Gradually the truth dawned on me as we  struggled in vain to understand each other that of all the people in  Innsbruck I could have stopped to ask, the one I had picked did not speak  English, did not speak French and was also deaf and dumb. With a series of  sincerely apologetic hand movements, I disentangled myself, and a few  minutes later, on another street, I stopped and asked another man who also  turned out to be deaf and dumb, which was when I bought  the beers.

I ventured back onto the street. I tried again.

When the third man I spoke to turned out to be deaf and dumb and also  blind I began to feel a terrible weight setting on my shoulders; wherever I  looked the trees and buildings took on dark and menacing aspects. I pulled  my coat tightly around me and hurried lurching down the street, whipped  by a sudden gusting wind. I bumped into someone and stammered an  apology, but he was deaf and dumb and unable to understand me. The sky loured. The pavement seemed to tip and spin. If I hadn’t happened then to  duck down a side street and pass a hotel where a convention for the deaf  was being held, there is every chance that my mind would have cracked  completely and I would have spent the rest of my life writing the sort of  books for which Kafka became famous and dribbling.

As it is I went to lie in a field, along with my Hitch Hikers Guide to Europe, and when the stars came out it occurred to me that if only someone  would write a Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy as well, then I for one would  be off like a shot. Having had this thought I promptly fell asleep and forgot  about it for six years.

I went to Cambridge University. I took a number of baths-and a degree  in English. I worried a lot about girls and what had happened to my bike.  Later I became a writer and worked on a lot of things that were almost  incredibly successful but in fact just failed to see the light of day. Other  writers will know what I mean.

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