If you’re a geek and a sucker for British comedy like me, then you’ve probably heard about Douglas Adams and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a long-running radio series later adapted as a novel series, TV show, and movie.
Most of my exposure was with the books. I want to specifically talk about the fourth book, but let’s get the others out of the way first:
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Absolutely brilliant. A great setup to the adventures of Arthur Dent after Earth gets blown up for a hyperspace bypass.
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe: Good black comedy and satire. Nice follow-up to the first book.
Life, The Universe, and Everything: A bit slow on the uptake, but still has a decent finish. Also nice to see Slartibartfast back in the plot.
Mostly Harmless: Not as good as the rest. Bit of a downer ending, though still funny from time to time.
And Another Thing: The only book that Adams didn’t write (on account of being dead). I have to admit I didn’t actually bother reading this one.
Now that all that’s out of the way, let pause for a moment, catch our breath, and consider Book Four: So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish.
By some mysterious quirk, the planet Earth has materialized back into existence and no one seems to recall the Vogons blowing it up in the first book. Arthur Dent hitches a ride back to Earth and decides to pick up his old life where it left off. He soon, however, makes the acquaintance of a lovely young woman named Fenchurch who seems to be as much of a magnet for weirdness as he is. With a little timidity, Arthur and Fenchurch find love, learn to fly, and go on a quest to discover why all the dolphins disappeared. This ties into a subplot from the previous book, so they get a ride with Guide researcher Ford Prefect to find the planet where God’s Final Message to His Creation can be found.
The thing that I really love about this book is how sweet it all is. Arthur Dent is no longer just the gaping, slightly stuffy everyman from the first book. He’s been around the universe and is ready to settle back down. He also gets some nice development with Fenchurch, who is quirky enough to appreciate the stories of his bizarre travels (and if you like how she and Arthur get along, then stop after this book and don’t read Mostly Harmless because it won’t end well).
With the exception of the occasional subplot on other planets, most of this book is set on Earth and deals with mundane Earth life from Arthur’s extraterrestrial perspective. His romance with Fenchurch is actually well-written and not just the punch line of a joke (much like it was with Trillian). We also get comedic interludes with Ford Prefect, as he finds his original entry on Earth restored to the Guide and proceeds to abuse his privilege as a field researcher across several star systems. So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish is the most lighthearted and romantic book in Adams’s series and I think it deserves a lot more consideration than most readers give it.
Bibliography: Adams, Douglas. So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish. New York: Harmony Books, 1984.