On the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series

The Only Sane Man in the Universe

By Marguerite Krause

Analyzing humor is a dangerous business. Have you ever told a joke to a friend, been met with a blank stare, then tried to explain what was supposed to be funny about it? Your explanation probably didn’t make your friend laugh, and might have permanently ruined the joke for you in the process. Humor that needs to be studied or translated in order to be appreciated likely wasn’t all that funny to begin with.

That’s part of the enduring pleasure of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Its humor needs no explanation. Hitchhiker’s Guide is a peculiar creation in any of its incarnations—radio program, book or TV series—full of odd characters dealing with bizarre events, written in a distinct, some would say utterly unique, style. But its best, funniest moments have a universal appeal, thanks in large part to the series’ Everyman character, the indomitable Arthur Dent.

How can something unique have a universal appeal? And what’s so special about Arthur Dent?

It’s hardly unusual to have an Everyman character in a work of fiction. Writers have been putting them to good use for centuries. The Everyman or, in modern terms, the “audience identification” character, may serve as a vehicle for expressing the author’s point of view or as a familiar touchstone for the reader (or listener or viewer) entering an unfamiliar uni-verse—especially handy to have around in the literally out-of-this-world situations common to fantasy and science fiction stories. Arthur certainly serves both of those classic purposes. In addition, he is a particular  …

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