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How Arthur Dent sheds the bathrobe and finds true love
on December 16, 2002
So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish, the fourth book in the Hitchhiker's "trilogy," is a much different read than the books preceding it. Gone are the skips and jumps from one galaxy and time to another, the almost constant evasions of certain death, the madcap hilarity that ensued whenever Zaphod, Ford, Trillian, Arthur, and Marvin got together (or split up), and the maddening pace of a well-told tale going happily along with little care whether or not the story ever approached an appropriately witty conclusion. This is basically the story of the young lady who figured out the secret of happiness just seconds before Earth was destroyed by a Vogon fleet preparing the way for a hyperspace bypass. It is also Arthur Dent's story. Sure, we got to now Arthur fairly well in the first three books, but he does spend an inordinate amount of time saying things like: What?, I don't understand, Is it possible to get a cup of tea? and That's it then, we're all going to die. Once you get him out of that well-traveled bathrobe, Arthur Dent turns out to be a real person-a little weird, of course, but real, rather complex, and surprisingly interesting nonetheless.
The story opens with Arthur's return to Earth. I know Earth has already been destroyed, but that's just a minor detail. Why and how Arthur returned is something of a mystery, but he is amazed to find that his home planet not only exists, but that no more than six or eight months have passed since he left suddenly eight years earlier. His readjustment to life back home makes for good reading, but what is really important is that hapless Arthur Dent soon falls in love; it happens at first sight, even though the enchanting Fenchurch is quite unconscious at the time. Lucky enough to accidentally meet her in a more lucid state, Arthur's rather feeble attempts to tell her how and why he is powerfully drawn to her surprisingly meet with some success. Then the type of thing that can only happen to Arthur Dent (or me, in all likelihood) separates the two soon-to-be lovebirds for some time. I found the description of Arthur's dysfunctional romance with Fenchurch to be as touching as it was humorous. Their entwined fates take them on a journey of discovery which culminates in their discovery of God's final message to Creation. Those who want the type of nonstop action found in the preceding books may be somewhat disappointed here. The pace is much slower, but the character development is rich and winsome. Zaphod fans will be disappointed by his total noninvolvement in this book. Ford makes only a glorified cameo appearance, while Marvin makes a brief but quite memorable return. I myself have a special affinity for this novel; unlike its more humorous predecessors this one seems important and meaningful. Additionally, you have to be happy for Arthur's unprecedented feeling of happiness in a universe he can verifiably assert to be quite off its rocker.