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In the original radio series of Hitchhiker's, the mice have no interest in taking Arthur's brain, and are only interested in offering him money for what he might know about the question.

In the later novel and the TV series, the mice want to take Arthur's brain, possibly killing him in the process (although this is not clear), and they almost enter physical conflict before being interrupted. After that, the mice are not mentioned again.

Why was this changed between the versions? It seems an awkward change and introduces a potential plot hole; if the mice wanted to co-operate with Arthur, it makes sense they would leave and forget about it once he refused. If they aimed to extract his brain under duress because it was critical for their project, there seems to be no reason they should not continue to assault him across Magrathea and even into space (and since they are "hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings" with the resources to build custom planets, and this is something they have worked on for more than 10 million years, this would likely not go well for Arthur).

Was there pressure from a publisher to build a conflict point in the story? Or some other reason?

  • Adams continually tweaked the story across the decades and various formats (radio, TV, book, film) – NKCampbell Oct 2 '18 at 16:19
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    Because it's funnier – Valorum Oct 2 '18 at 18:54
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To summarize the summary of the summary - he came up with better ideas, or the story had to change for different media.

The common thread between the first two versions of the plan is Benjy and Frankie Mouse give up almost immediately on retrieving The Question from Arthur's mind, opting instead for making something up, like "How many roads must a man walk down?" That's really the joke - after a ten million years plan goes bust, they opt for manufacturing a solution, which is what people have been doing all along.

The original radio play is quite an embryonic thing, and quite a number of things that we see as canon were added in later. Similarly, a lot of jokes vanished - the Haggunenons apparently evolved themselves right out of other media and adaptations (possibly because they'd be so expensive to show).

So in the original radio play, the mice offer Arthur a ridiculous amount of money if he should happen to work out The Question. Funny, but it's conflict that drives a story. So in the book, the re-recording of the original play, and the TV series, while money is still offered, Arthur's brain will have to be removed, and properly treated(*) to extract the question. They offer the suggestion of replacing it with a (simple) electronic one, which would be programmed not to notice that it was a replacement.

By the time the film came along, they upped the ante again - it was clear that the mice never actually intended to part with any money, as they drug the really lavish meal they offer Arthur and his team, and get right to trying to extract (with extreme prejudice) the information, and its container. That goes a bit too far - the suggestion of the action is funnier than actually seeing it about to occur. Also, the "Aw heck, let's make something up" joke is lost.

Each change made to the plotting for the various media (save for the movie which was completed after Adams' passing, but supposedly with his approval) was simply Adams coming up with what he thought was a better idea, or a necessary change for the larger narrative to fit the new media. The plotting of the original six episodes of the play changed quite a bit when the first two books were written. This was so the first book could have a relatively happy ending - they escape Magrathea, and only go to Milliways in the second book, which is now located on Frogstar.

Adams never worried much about continuity - if a better idea came to him, he'd use it, and not worry terribly much about how it might contradicted past works. IMHO, most writers do this, he was just much more blatant about the not worrying part.

(*) diced.

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    Yea, it was the movie that made me think of it. Arthur apparently isn’t drugged, he is the only one who isn’t, even though he was the one the mice wanted (and the scene isn’t funny at all, it’s a jarring tone mismatch). It makes it apparent that these guys could easily have defeated Arthur but didn’t because plot, which is kind of weak, and the same thing then applies to the book and TV series. (We never establish that the offered electronic brain would not actually be 100% effective, though.) It just seems awkward to up the ante at all when Arthur should be totally outclassed. – Mark Green Oct 2 '18 at 20:22
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    The implication is that it would not be 100% effective, as it would include instructions not to notice. As Zaphod says, it'd include the ability to say things like "What?" and "Where's the tea?" which everyone agreed (save Arthur, who was not consulted) would suffice. – VBartilucci Oct 2 '18 at 20:29
  • It’s possible that Zaphod was just making a facetious comment, though. A race with the technology to make planets might be quite capable of making an electronic brain that could sustain Arthur’s consciousness to prevent his death. – Mark Green Oct 2 '18 at 20:32
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    True, but the running joke is they think the "monkey man" is almost criminally simple, so the idea that something on par with a Speak And Spell would be a viable replacement is perfectly in line with that mindset. – VBartilucci Oct 2 '18 at 20:34
  • Fair enough. I thought it was more a contribution to the running background of existential horror/crisis that the humour is paradoxically built on. After all, given what we see, he might be right. – Mark Green Oct 2 '18 at 20:51

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