chapter  17
16 Pages

Destroying Arcadia: The Construction and Deconstruction of Earth in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

ByJennifer Harwood-Smith

According to Simon Schama, “it was always the inherited tradition, reaching back to the myths of Arcadia, Pan’s fertile realm populated with nymphs and satyrs, that made landscape out of mere geology and vegetation”.2 World-building, then, could be considered the act of making verbal geologies into landscapes through the use of literary traditions. It is these traditions which help the reader to understand the subcreation, while simultaneously defamiliarizing it. An interesting example of this is the use of Arcadian ideals in Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio plays, novels, TV series, text adventure game, and film, ranging from 1978 to 19923 (henceforth Hitchhiker’s will be used to refer to the entirety of the series, while individual texts will be referred to by their medium). There are five versions of Earth in Hitchhiker’s: the Earth destroyed at the beginning of each media incarnation; Prehistoric Earth; Backup Earth, appearing only in the novel So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish (1984); NowWhat, an alternate Earth in the novel Mostly Harmless (1992); and another unnamed alternate Earth in Mostly Harmless, where Tricia McMillan did not leave with Zaphod Beeblebrox to become Trillian. For this essay, I will focus on the original Earth, which in Hitchhiker’s serves a very specific function, as it is, for Arthur Dent, an Arcadia, representative of a perfect

landscape which becomes lost to him. However, Hitchhiker’s is not only an science fiction (henceforth SF) text, but also a comedy series which relies on displacement jokes to achieve laughter; thus, the Arcadia Adams represents on Earth is itself a joke and a commentary on constructed landscapes. Earth is the beginning of the narrative in all versions of Hitchhiker’s,4 and this essay will explore the literary and social influences on its construction, and how its destruction ultimately draws attention to the constructedness of all landscape. The effect of this is to make Adams’s world-building techniques visible to the audience, laying bare the subcreation’s construction.