The Galaxy’s a fun place. You’ll need to have this fish in your ear.

March 12, 2010 at 10:00 am 14 comments

Posted by: John Martz
Book: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
(purchase on Amazon)

Ford, with a lightning movement, clapped his hand to Arthur’s ear, and he had the sudden sickening sensation of the fish slithering deep into his aural tract. Gasping with horror he scrabbled at his ear for a second or so, but then slowly turned goggle-eyed with wonder. He was experiencing the aural equivalent of looking at a picture of two black silhouetted faces and suddenly seeing it as a picture of a white candlestick. Or of looking at a lot of coloured dots on a piece of paper which suddenly resolve themselves into the figure six and mean that your optician is going to charge you a lot of money for a new pair of glasses.

The Babel fish is a living hearing aid that decodes the brainwaves embedded in all speech patterns. Like Star Trek’s universal translator, the Babel fish is a simple plot device used to avoid the obvious obstacle of an interstellar language barrier.

But like all good science fiction, the story and the characters here exist as vehicles for larger ideas. And with the Babel fish Douglas Adams, a self-described radical atheist, dismisses both Intelligent Design and the circular logic of religious extremism in one fell swoop:

Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mindbogglingly useful could have evolve purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as the final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God.

The argument goes something like this: ‘I refuse to prove that I exist,’ says God, ‘for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.’

‘But,’ says Man, ‘the Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.’

‘Oh dear,’ says God, ‘I hadn’t thought of that,’ and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.

I nearly didn’t illustrate this scene. After my first illustration, I was very aware that I hadn’t actually drawn any of the main characters yet. So I thought my next move should be to introduce Arthur Dent, the story’s protagonist, in some straight-forward, literal interpretation. But as I started to reread parts of my dogeared 1979 paperback, this image of the Babel Fish with a brain for a speech bubble materialized.

And it’s these little moments in the book that make Douglas Adams so much fun to read. The characters really do take a back seat to the ideas and philosophies sprinkled throughout. The main character isn’t Arthur Dent. As Douglas Adams would say, he’s just this guy, you know. It’s the book within the book, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, that allows Douglas Adams to bounce from one idea to the next, and inject his world view into a series of events that can give it shape.

For kicks, here are iPhone-sized wallpaper versions of this, and my previous scene featuring Arthur’s home about to be demolished. Click for full size:


Entry filed under: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

The Rats welcome to the jungle

14 Comments Add your own

  • 1. emily b  |  March 12, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    I love, love LOVE this! Truly an amazing interpretation.

  • 2. Reed Bond  |  March 12, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    You are BRILLIANT! I’m really inspired by the simplicity and yet the strength of this image.

  • 3. Mike K.  |  March 12, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    So great. Keep up the amazing work!
    You may as well sign me up for the entire print run now.

  • 4. Adam Rex  |  March 12, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    I’m loving these. Have you considered presenting the characters as Guide entries? In other words, an inforgraphic or whatever from the Guide of a Human, a Betelguisian (sp?), etc, but the graphic depicts Arthur and Ford and everyone?

  • 5. Daniel M  |  March 13, 2010 at 8:09 pm

    These are completely wonderful. Thank you. (And thanks for the iphone version – didn’t think I’d find anything worthy of replacing my Olympus Mons photo)

  • 6. John Martz  |  March 13, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    Thanks everyone!

    Adam, that’s not a bad idea. Also, I’m a big fan of your work. It’s nice to see you here.

  • 7. becca  |  March 14, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    Any chance prints are in the future?

  • 8. Shannon  |  March 14, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    Wow! I can’t decide which I like better, the first illustration or this one. You are transforming Hitchhiker’s for me, one of my favorite books. I’m starting to itch for a reread.

  • 9. ML  |  March 15, 2010 at 12:33 am

    Yes, prints please!

  • 10. WanderingBert  |  March 17, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    Holy Hammers! I love it!

  • […] your enjoyment, here is another wonderful illustration from the Picture Book Project for Hitchhiker’s, this time of the Babel fish. I think I am going to have to reread the Guide […]

  • 12. clive hicks-jenkins  |  April 23, 2010 at 11:10 pm

    This is just the greatest. I live in dread of someone ruining Hitchhiker’s for me with crass illustrations, but these… these are pitch perfect. Oh I so wish that someone enterprising will come along and publish an edition with your illustrations. I’d never have to think about what to buy as Christmas presents again!

  • 13. kernan insurance group  |  October 30, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    Hey Meredith, that logic is flawed 🙂


  • […] gigolos, much easier. This is the second illustration by John Martz in an ongoing series for Picture Book Report: Ford, with a lightning movement, clapped his hand to Arthur?s ear, and he had the sudden sickening […]


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