The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy | Study Guide

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Course Hero. "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Study Guide." November 28, 2016. Accessed January 20, 2019.


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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy | Chapter 3 | Summary



As Thursday progresses, several huge, yellow spacecrafts quietly move into position above Earth, "biding their time, grouping, preparing." Their arrival is so secret that even Earth observatories looking for extraterrestrial life miss them. However, a device winking quietly in a leather satchel around Ford Prefect's neck knows the vessels are there. Also in the satchel are a couple of scripts for plays Ford is pretending to audition for, an Electronic Thumb, and a largish electronic "book" with the words DON'T PANIC printed on the cover. This is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy—"the most remarkable book to come out of the great publishing corporations of Ursa Minor." Beneath all this is a towel.

According to The Hitchhiker's Guide, a towel is the most useful thing to have if you are an interstellar hitchhiker. It has many practical uses—drying yourself, waving it as a distress signal, or wrapping it around your head to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal. A towel also has great psychological value. A hitchhiker who has hitched the length and breadth of the galaxy, endured every misfortune, and still knows where his towel is, "is clearly a man to be reckoned with."

As the huge yellow spacecrafts begin fanning out into position, Ford suddenly asks Arthur is he's got his towel with him. While Arthur is struggling to respond—he's on his third pint of beer—a huge crash draws him to a window, where he sees his house in the distance, being knocked down. Dashing from the pub, Arthur bawls for the destruction to stop, while Ford quickly buys four packets of peanuts from the barman. He pays with another five-pound note, assures the barman that the world is ending in less than two minutes, and chases after Arthur. Clearing his throat, the barman calls out to all remaining patrons, "Last orders, please."

Before Ford catches up with Arthur, a mind-boggling noise erupts as yellow spacecrafts tear across the sky. A sudden silence follows, and a huge, heavy ships hang "in the sky much the same way that bricks don't." A voice booms out, informing the people of Earth that the planet is scheduled for demolition to make way for a hyperspatial express route. The speaker identifies itself as Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz of the Galactic Hyperspace Planning Council.

A terrible noise is followed by terrible silence, and then the Vogon Constructor Fleet coasts away "into the inky starry void."


This chapter again makes use of metafiction's book-within-a-book technique to inform readers of the uses and importance of a towel. In addition to casting a towel in a new and impressive light, the book entry signals to readers that the world of the galactic hitchhiker is unlike anything that might be imagined. Travel there is quite an adventure, and possibly dangerous. It's interesting to note that the handheld electronic device displaying The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is not unlike ebook readers. Douglas Adams's imagination created it, however, about 20 years before the first real-world device, called the Rocket, was released. It allowed ebooks to be downloaded from a PC by a way of a serial cable.

Like the yellow bulldozers that converge on Arthur Dent's house, the yellow Vogon spaceships cruise silently into formation above Earth. Adams's absurd simile "The ships hung in the sky much the same way that bricks don't" paints a perfect picture. Before maneuvering into place, the ships pass several recognizable landmarks related to space and space exploration:

  • Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station: a large radio communication site located on Goonhilly Downs in Cornwall, England
  • Cape Canaveral: home of the Kennedy Space Center, the hub of the nation's human space program
  • Woomera Rocket Range: site of the largest and most expensive scientific and engineering activity ever conducted in Australia in peacetime
  • Jodrell Bank Experimental Station: (later, the Nuffield Radio Astronomy Laboratories) from 1966 to 1999 in Manchester, England; now the Jodrell Bank Observatory

The destruction of Earth is imminent. Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz of the Galactic Hyperspace Planning Council announces that it's too late for complaints. Plans for the demolition have been on display for 50 years in the local planning department in Alpha Centauri. This echoes Mr. L. Prosser's statement to Arthur regarding the plans to demolish his house. Evidently, no matter where a being looks in the universe, things are being run by plodding, insensitive bureaucrats. The idea that both Arthur and the people of Earth should have gone looking for something they did not know existed is absurd, of course, and hints at bigger problems afflicting the universe due to bureaucratic thinking.

To prepare for the end, Ford Prefect lightens his bag by throwing out his script copies of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and of Godspell. Both are lightweight, though still popular, musicals with biblical themes. First staged in 1968 and 1971, respectively, they reflect a more secular point of view of the subject matter. It seems that Ford, knowing what is in store for Arthur and him, feels that these musicals with their Earth-bound themes will be useless.

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