Arthur Dent is the major overall protagonist of the science fiction comedy series The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. He has been played by both Simon Jones (in the TV series) and by Martin Freeman in the 2005 film. Martin Freeman has also played John Watson in the BBC series of Sherlock Holmes and also Martin Freeman played Bilbo Baggins in Sir Peter Jackson's films.
On Earth, many years ago, (this was before the Earth got blown up by the Vogons to make way for a hyperspace bypass) Arthur Dent used to play football. He was awful at it and used to score own goals for the opposing team in matches. When this happened, the image of grass and mud and lots of jeering little boys punching him came vividly to mind and he often got a peculiar creeping sensation coming up through his midriff into his skull.
Arthur Dent was born in the 1960s and he was a particularly awful student at school. He just lacked the motivation and ability to succeed, and was always put down by everyone. He had an unnamed sister and parents in London. He also ended up working with the BBC as a salesman and said it was a fun job. And it was - most of his friends worked in advertising.
Arthur Dent ended up living in Dorset, by Bournemouth, in the South of England. He also had a relatively good life, despite his blunder, and would be a regular at the village pub. Halfway through his life, he met a mysterious man, Ford Prefect, who claimed to be an out of work actor from Guildford, despite never having an Essex accent whatsoever.
According to Arthur, most of his life seemed to make "some kind of sense" at the time.
The destruction of his house
One year in the 1970s, Arthur Dent had a scheduled demolition order for his house by the Dorset County Council because "it's a bypass. You've got to build bypasses." Arthur was furious with the director, Mr Prosser, who was a Mongolese by ancestry and the descendant of Genghis Khan. Arthur Dent knew nothing of this and neither did he care, he just wanted to save his house. The irony was, that according to Prosser, the plans and demolition orders had been in display at the Council offices for five months, so Arthur had had plenty of time to lodge any formal complaint. He had spoken to the villagers about it in the pub that night, and was met only with blank stares.
Arthur Dent was not at all surprised when he woke up one morning and found a gigantic yellow bulldozer in front of his house.
He went outside and spoke with the director, Prosser, who told him he couldn't lie in front of the bulldozer forever (Arthur was lying in the mud in his dressing gown right in front of the bulldozer) and Arthur said he was willing to see who would rust first. Prosser just said the bypass was necessary for progress. However, an agreement was reached that Arthur lay in front of the bulldozer all morning until he could contact the Council and lodge a complaint. However, Ford Prefect arrived on the scene.
Ford tricked Prosser into lying in front of the bulldozer instead of Arthur. Ford then led Arthur to the pub, saying they wouldn't demolish the house until the end of the world, which actually was five minutes away. "Huh?" said Arthur in reply.
The destruction of the planet Earth
In an ironic twist, the Galactic Government had been usurped by the Vogons, who were building a hyperspace express route through the Solar System and this entitled Earth to be blown up. The true irony was that, just with Arthur's house, the orders had been on display in the Alpha Centauri planning offices for fifty years, and so the Vogons were not sympathetic with humanity for failing to lodge any complaint. They arrived and began to demolish Earth.
It was then that Ford Prefect revealed himself as an alien from planet Betelgeuse III, and he hitched a ride up to the Vogon ships using a Sub Etha Electronic Thumb, which was how he hitch hiked off the various planets he came to. He took Arthur Dent with him, as a payback for Arthur saving Ford Prefect from being hit by a cab a few years back.
Aboard The Heart of Gold
Arthur Dent found himself on a Vogon ship when he was regained consciousness. He also found Ford with him and finally believed he was who he said he was. Arthur was astounded at being in an Unidentified Flying Object, and he was amazed for awhile until Ford told him of Earth's destruction. Arthur said he was extremely upset at that and Ford said yeah, he could see it. So he showed him The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy which is a semi-sentient book which is a guide book for the Galaxy. Arthur did feel comforted by it, to an extent, because it had DON'T PANIC on its cover.
But then Vogons arrived, having known of their hitch hiking, and tortured them with the worst poetry in the Universe, and their captain, Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz, got angered when Arthur implied he wrote sentimental poetry just because he wanted to be loved. He ordered them thrown off the ship to die in the vacuum of space, but Ford hitch hiked onto the Heart of Gold ship passing by at that time.
Because The Heart of Gold was empowered by the Improbability Drive, weird things happened upon their arrival, such as the ship resembling Southend, then having unicorns flying to the Uncertain Areas, and then having chattering monkeys showing them a screenplay of Hamlet they'd written.
However, as reality unfolded itself round them, they became clear they were in a beautiful spaceship, brand new and all white. Soon, a robot named Marvin took them through to the Bridge, and complained all the while because he was a depressed robot. The Sirius Cybernetics Corporation had experimented with giving robots (normally emotionless beings) personalities, and this was evident in Marvin, and the ship's computer Eddie having an overly cheerful personality. The ship's captain and Galactic President Zaphod Beeblebrox hated the robots.
Ford was delighted to meet Zaphod again, because they were cousins, and introduced Arthur Dent to him. Zaphod appeared to like Arthur and said "Hi, glad you could make it" and his second head said "Hi" and went back to picking his teeth.
After a brief argument when Arthur said he'd met Zaphod before in London at a party, where he had stolen Tricia McMillan from him, and then Arthur was astonished to see Tricia on the ship, who had hitched a ride out of boredom. Arthur was relieved a normal human was on board and he got closer with Tricia. That night they arrived at Zaphod's destination, the planet Magrathea, an ancient planet whose civilization had made planets themselves, for eccentric billionaires.
They all started to land on Magrathea, but a missile system was shot at them, meaning they were all going to die, in Arthur's words, but to everyone's astonishment, in the ensuing missile chase, Arthur did the first heroic act: He activated the Improbability Drive which despite Zaphod's warnings could potentially save their lives. Arthur activated the device regardless, and instead of backfiring on them, the Drive affected the pursuing missiles, turning them into a bowl of petunias and a sperm whale.
A grateful Zaphod congratulated Arthur until Arthur said it was nothing, not understanding modesty, Zaphod cut it off and landed. It was said that if one knew why the bowl of petunias thought Oh no, not again as it fell, the nature of the Universe would be a lot clearer.
On arrival at Magrathea, Zaphod found the sperm whale's carcass, and everyone was sympathetic yet disgusted. A foul stench hung in the air. Tricia believed they were being followed, but to her disquiet saw no one. Zaphod cowardly left Arthur to defend the place, despite Zaphod saying there was no danger, and left Marvin with him, which was really unhelpful. Arthur's last words to them were "I hope you have a really miserable time!" to which Marvin assured him they would. Marvin was no help, so Arthur busied himself reading The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and found out to his surprise Zaphod Beeblebrox had a biro business, and he stole pens from businessmen. Arthur also found out that one of Zaphod's friends found a planet home to lost gel pens, or so he claimed, and upon travelling to it for real, so he claimed, he found only an asteroid inhabited by an old man who said nothing was real, but he was later discovered to be lying.
Because of this, Arthur ran into the old man before he noticed him.
The man, whose name was Slartibartfast ("I said my name wasn't important!") took Arthur deep into Magrathea and showed him the new empire they were waking up to set in order after the Galactic Stock Market crash. Slartibartfast also told Arthur the true history of Earth - Slartibartfast had helped make the Earth along with his race, and they made it for interdimensional life forms whose forms on Earth were mice. Because the mice had one day asked a computer named Deep Thought which was the Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything, Deep Thought comically said 42 was the Answer, but upon hearing that wasn't an Answer, the computer said the Answer to Life the Universe and Everything wasn't even a Question, so they had to build a new computer, the Earth, to find out what the real Question was.
After escaping the mice who wanted to kill Arthur and brainwash his friends, they escaped the Galactic Police who were after Zaphod Beeblebrox and discovered Marvin made their ship commit suicide, then they left for the Restaurant at the End of the Universe.
At the Restaurant
During the journey to the Restaurant, the ship got ambushed by Vogons. However, when Zaphod ridiculously called a seance, and summoned the ghost of his great great grandfather, who teleported Zaphod to the offices of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and turned the ship Heart of Gold in a metal lump in Zaphod's pocket, and when this happened, Zaphod was hunted down by Frogstar Fighters from the Galactic Government. He ended up in a parallel dimension where only Zaphod could survive the Vortex, an execution device which shows one the entirety of creation, but Zaphod was whisked out of this dimension by Zarniwoop, the man he had wanted to see for no apparent reason.
When this had been going on, Arthur had jammed the ship's computer before the Vogon attack because he wanted some tea. However the ship's computer was down during the attack and thus Arthur was responsible for their inability to fight back. Arthur, Ford and Tricia were stuck in pitch darkness on the desolate ship, and Ford walked up and down thumping instruments which had light music on them, they turned off the light music.
Arthur found a game of Scrabble saying EXQUISITE which he said was a really high score. He then found the most delicious cup of tea he had ever tasted, solving that problem.
When Zaphod found the ship in his pocket expand to its proper size, the power came back on and everything was back to normal. Upon asking the computer to go to the nearest restaurant, the computer obliged, sending them all to the Restaurant at the End of the Universe.
At the Restaurant, they had a good meal, apart from Arthur who was sickened by the idea of eating an animal asking them to eat it. When Zaphod said it's better than eating an animal who doesn't want to be eaten, Arthur saw the point, but still ordered soup instead of a steak.
Upon learning of the nature of the Restaurant, Arthur was dumbfounded, even more so when he was told that Ford's explanation of the origins of the Universe (watching sugar spiral out of a bath backwards) wasn't the true origins of the Universe at all, it was just a great way to relax.
Arthur and Ford were sent back in time during a chaotic incident with Disaster Area rockband's sacrificial starship, which would have thrown them into a fiery sun. Zaphod and Tricia were whisked back to the Heart of Gold and their proper time, Ford and Arthur were sent back to prehistoric times and landed in a Golgafrincham spaceship.
These people were egocentric idiots, and they crashed on a planet soon revealed to be Earth, becoming the ancestors of humanity. Arthur was horrified upon learning this, but Ford said it slotted together nicely, because the Golgafrinchams were killing off the native primates and messing up the true Question to the Ultimate Answer of Life, the Universe and Everything, which still came in at 42.
Ford left to explore as he knew this planet was the Earth, and Arthur was left in his cave. The Golgrafrinchams had many of them die in the Winter and those who survived went off to Africa in the next Spring and history says they survived.
During his extremely miserable two year sojourn in his cave, Arthur lived off rabbit and became forgetful of civilization, he was even forgetting how to talk. He practiced by talking to trees but they all died.
So one day when an alien landed and insulted him by calling him a jerk and an asshole Arthur finally got his voice back but was too stunned to use it.
One day, Ford returned, saying he found a signal and he took Arthur out of prehistoric times into modern 1980s, just a day before the Earth's destruction. At a cricket match in London, which caused a commotion, Arthur tried to phone himself at home. Ford strongly discouraged him. They met Slartibartfast, who said the evil Krikkit empire was rising again. To prove his point, Krikkit robots attacked.
They fled the planet in Slartbiartfast's ship.
Agrajag and the Party
To stop the Krikkit robots, they needed the Wikkit Gate, because the planet Krikkit had been completely ignorant of the Universe until one day a starship crashed into their world and they wanted to destroy the cosmos. Arthur saw to his astonishment that the Universe ran from an Italian restaurant, in Slartbiartfast's ship.
Slartbiartfast told them that the next part of the Gate was in a Party, delighting Ford, and they teleported out. An evil demon named Agrajag diverted Arthur to his Temple, and said every bit of meat Arthur had ever eaten was Agrajag, reincarnated throughout history. Arthur was shocked but felt pity for Agrajag and his tragic state of vengeance. He then said he had to get going to save the Universe but Agrajag scoffed at this and said Arthur should have thought of it before his vendetta began.
Upon trying to kill Arthur, Agrajag pushed a demolition switch but ended up being killed by Arthur strangling him accidentally.
The Party was a waste of time because the Krikkit robots appeared and stole the Gate.
The parts of the Gate were:
- The Perspex Pillar, the Argubarthon Scepter of Justice
- The Steel Pillar, or Marvin's leg
- The Wooden Pillar, or the Ashes of an English Cricket Stump
- The Gold Bail, or the Heart of Gold's Improbability Drive
- The Silver Bail, or the Rory Award for the Most Gratuitous Award for the Use of the Word Fuck in a Serious Screenplay
When fitted, the parts of the Gate returned Krikkit to its former glory. However, Zaphod Beeblebrox had been captured alive by the robots, the only man to have done so, and was rescued by Slartbiartfast, who was amazed they did keep Zaphod alive.
When the Gate was restored, the Krikkit empire would have won in conquering the Galaxy, but Marvin had managed to wind up captured by the Krikkit robots, and had brainwashed them into being morose and depressed constantly. This, coupled with the demise of their true leader Hactar the computer, made them lose the war and become a harmless planet again.
After learning that the starship Heart of Gold caused much trouble in the Universe through being perceived as a comet by the Princes of the Plains and the Shepherds of the Hills on a planet Dorfalsas, Arthur Dent was infuriated by the journalist Prak for not giving him a reason why Arthur was so important to the future of the cosmos. Prak merely laughed and said the only good bits of the Whole Truth were Arthur Dent and frogs.
Arthur settled on Krikkit.
Return to Earth and Fenchurch
One day Arthur got a lift with a friendly alien to planet Earth, which to his amazement was still existing and still in one piece. Arthur found his ten month disappearance easy enough to explain as going off to California.
One day he met a beautiful woman named Fenchurch whose brother said was mentally ill, but all that had happened was that she had had a sudden revelation of unity and harmony, and then she fell into her lunch and apparently at this time the Earth was demolished, or so they thought. Next thing, the Earth went back to normal, minus dolphins, who were actually the most intelligent species on Earth, who left humans a farewell gift in the form of fish bowls.
Arthur and Fenchurch soon learned how to fly and they made out in the night sky. They also went to the Caribbean to meet John Watson, a former scientist named "Wonko the Sane" who knew about dolphins' intelligence. Also they heard about Rex McKenna the Thunder God, who was beginning to get famous for his raincloud followers.
Over the next few weeks they looked for UFOs but Ford Prefect unexpectedly turned up in a gigantic UFO which crushed Harrods and the Sheraton Park Tower. They also found a gigantic silver robot who only wanted a lizard leader in the UFO. However one day the robot relocated to Bournemouth, very near Arthur's house, and Ford Prefect turned up complaining Arthur never answered the phone.
He got them on the UFO after a fight with police.
Arthur and Fenchurch went to the planet Preliumtarn round the sun Zarss to find God's Final Message to His Creation, they found a dying Marvin there, who felt good for the very first and last time upon seeing the Message, which was: WE APOLOGIZE FOR THE INCONVENIENCE.
As if proving the Message true, Fenchurch disappeared on the way back in a hyperspace hop.
Exile and presumed death
Now feeling worse than ever, Arthur realized because of a prophecy Agrajag made, he could not die until he'd been to Stavromuella Beta, so despite no one hearing of such a planet, Arthur took unnecessary risks. He crashed onto a backwoods planet one day and the residents there saw him as a messenger from God and revered him. Life was finally beginning to go back to normal for Arthur until Tricia arrived with his daughter. Arthur was totally shocked, until Tricia said she had got his sperm from a sperm bank without the need of sex.
Arthur's daughter was a nightmare, breaking things of sheer enjoyment, and she escaped to Earth with a version of the corrupted Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy which the Vogons had taken over. Arthur and Ford went after Arthur's daughter, who shot Agrajag at Stavro Mueller's club in New York. Arthur finally realized his final mistake, and strangely, felt peace, knowing it was finally over, and the Vogons then blew up the final Earth, ending the deal they had made with the Galactic psychiatrists.
It is left ambiguous as to whether Arthur dies or not. His feeling of peace at the end could be interpreted as going to Heaven or some form of peaceful Afterlife after his chaotic and stressful life.
However, in the sequel, And Another Thing, Arthur and Ford as well as Tricia and his daughter are whisked to Milliways, the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, where they meet Fenchurch to Arthur's surprise, who had been recruited as a waitress in the Restaurant. This sequel is more upbeat than the final novel which even Douglas Adams was unhappy with. He even references this in the final book, where Tricia has a message from a random guy named Gary Andress saying Not happy.
The destruction of Earth affected Arthur deeply and its strange though that things like his parents and sister and all his friends dead didn't affect him but faraway, trivial things like Nelson's Column and hamburgers gone made him break down in tears. He didn't believe in things unless he saw them face to face, like America, he had doubts of its existence until it was blown up with the rest of the world.
Arthur was a man who never valued what he had at the time but when it was all gone he realized what he'd missed. Upon his return to Earth he made sure to value what he had and treasured every moment of it.
Arthur also valued his close friends, like Ford and Fenchurch. Even his enemies he was decent with, such as his pity for Agrajag instead of contempt. He could also make frequent wisecracks despite the stress he had, showing a decent and sane mind.