This week I read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. This book surprised me because after reading it I learned that the novel is actually an adaptation of a radio series. This story had a number of adaptations in fact. Starting in 1978 as a comedic radio series, then adapting into a five book (trilogy) novel series, comic books, a television series, a movie, and even a video game. I was genuinely shocked by just how many mediums this story has touched. However, I believe it is this transcendence of media, along with the hilarious and intriguing galactic venture of Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect, Zaphod Beeblebrox, Trillion, and the ever depressed Marvin, which makes this franchise a blockbuster.

In looking further into this franchise, I learned that the author, Douglas Adams, rewrote the story for each adaptation, meaning that the novel version may differ from or even contradict in the radio and movie versions. I find this fascinating because, on the one hand, it can be risky for a writer to deviate a story too much from the original version. There’s always a chance that fans of the original sequence of events may not appreciate the omission of certain plotlines or additions of new and unrecognizable characters when transitioning to a new medium. On the other hand, having multiple versions of the story creates new mysteries, new excitement. It seems like a good way to keep people engaged when they are no longer able to automatically assume what events will happen in the story and when.

From my point of view, I think having multiple versions of a story spread across different mediums can be quite creative and fun. It clearly worked for Adams, and it appears to be a decent means by which to retain original readers while gaining new ones. There appears the risk of splintering the fanbase by effectively creating multiple canons which can then lead to discussions of which canon is the real canon, but I feel that for a story as zany as Hitchhiker’s it works quite well. Our protagonists after all are said to be in possession of the question and not the answer.

For my own writing, I hope to also transcend mediums. My goal was always to have my stories adapted, but I had never considered the possibility of broadly changing the narratives. Thus far in my life, I had only seen movies and television shows which omitted portions of the source material for purposes of time constraints. The changes and cuts made were typically pretty minor like cutting a mischievous ghost or two from the Harry Potter movies or adding new characters for the Coraline movie. Generally speaking, the changes were inoffensive; however, I have seen where major amendments have been made to the likes of the Ender’s Game movie which left fans feeling more than a little disappointed if not annoyed. When it’s my time, I hope I too can find the balance.

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