- Believe: We get odd little specifics about his life, like the fact that his beloved house has oddly unpleasing windows. This makes us say, “oh, I’ve never heard that detail before, but it sounds like a real concern, so this must be a real person.”
- Care: Arthur realizes the house is about to be torn down, and he’s been treated in a way that makes us burn with indignation.
- Invest: Arthur then acts heroically to save the house, lying down in the mud to block the bulldozers. This is a hero willing to do what it takes.
So we’re off to the races, right? But we quickly have problems:
- Arthur is, it seems at first, the only survivor of the destruction of the planet Earth, which is a perfect set-up for a hero, but one key reason is missing: Why? What did he do differently than everybody else?
- The bigger problem is that Arthur then suddenly becomes very passive for most of the book. Once Ford sweeps back into his life, Arthur just stumbles after him, mouth agape, for basically the rest of the book (and the next two) passively taking in information and complying with Ford’s orders semi-competently.
So let’s meddle with it. Two minor fixes:
- We never have a sense of how Arthur and Ford became friends. I think that it would greatly strengthen Arthur as a hero to show a moment in the past where he did something nice for Ford. That nice action would then result in Ford saving his life someday, making Arthur more the hero of his own story.
- It’s okay for Arthur to be trailing behind Ford for a lot of the book if he comes into his own in the final quarter, and the book kind of does that by having the rest of the gang get sidelined while Arthur meets with Slartibartfast the planet-builder, but that meeting is too inconsequential and Arthur doesn’t say much. Give Arthur a little moment where he convinces Slartibartfast to recreate the Earth just as it was (so that we can keep trying to find the question to the answer of Life, the Universe, and Everything).
The movie did a slightly better job with this: Giving Arthur a moment in his restored home before he decides to travel the galaxy some more, but ultimately it, too, was unsatisfying.
In some ways, this series is like “A Song of Ice and Fire”: a writer who seemed allergic to satisfying endings kept stretching out the story into sequel after sequel. In this case, the fears of Martin fans were realized: Adams died young after writing a particularly unsatisfying installment, before he could provide the happy ending Arthur deserved. Martin fans, beware!