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I was having a discussion with a co-worker about HGTTG and he referred to Arthur Dent as the "hero" of the story. I disagreed, however several wikis refer to him as the hero.

He is the lens by which we relate with the universe, but he hardly seems heroic.

In what way is he heroic? How could he be the hero? And if he isn't who is?

  • 5
    Isn't he more of an antihero? – Junuxx Nov 13 '12 at 0:56
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    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antihero – psr Nov 13 '12 at 4:31
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    @Junuxx Certainly a "reluctant hero"...not sure if I would go so far to call him an antihero though. – NominSim Nov 13 '12 at 15:54
  • Well, according to Douglas Adams, he is. In the end of the first episode of the radio show, he describes Arthur & Ford as "our heros". – Juan Nov 13 '12 at 19:26
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    @Juan That was a typical phrase used in radio shows at the time. That doesn't mean that they are heroes. Just that they are the main characters of the story. – Force Flow Nov 13 '12 at 22:10
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He's the main character of the story, but I wouldn't call him the heroic figure of the story considering that he's just shuffled from one crisis to another. He's usually described as being the "hapless protagonist".

  • 18
    +1 sometimes "hero" gets used instead of "protagonist" - even for characters that do not fit a heroic mould – HorusKol Nov 13 '12 at 1:28
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    Like Frodo and Sam... Frodo is a protagonist Sam was the real Hero – StarLordBlair Nov 13 '12 at 16:22
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    +1: I find this better than the accepted answer, as this adresses the general use of "hero" as a synonym to "protagonist" rather than specific plot points. Less subjective and more likely to be the case in the conversation described by OP. – evilcandybag Nov 13 '12 at 18:14
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There are a few points where Author can be described as a "hero".

Things like

  • On the Vogon construction ship:

    Arthur said brightly: "Actually I quite liked it."

    Ford turned and gaped. Here was an approach that had quite simply not occurred to him.

    To be sure, it doesn't work out, but it was worth a try.

  • He suggests, and in the end does engage the infinite improbability drive when the Heart of Gold is about to be destroyed by two missiles tipped with courtesy-detail fully-armed nuclear warheads.

In the sequels, we get a few more:

  • He is able to make some kind of life for himself on prehistoric Earth. Albeit a rather dirty and greasy one.

  • He goes after Random when she's stolen the Guide Mk. 2, despite the storm and his leg.

    Again, to no avail, but not for lack of courage or effort.

  • He is able to peel Trillian off of Thor in the flying party by a feat of verbal trickery requiring no mean courage.

Not that he has a lot of success or ever gets any credit.

11

"Hero" means a variety of things - in some stories, the hero is the central idea, not even a character.

In Hitchhiker's, Arthur is arguably the most important centre-point of the story. While the story goes through its remarkable twists and turns, Arthur remains the pragmatic, slightly depressed, tea-drinking hub around which the action revolves and evolves.

So it's not "hero" in the sense of wielding a sword and defeating the dragon, but a more technical, literary sense.

  • 1
    I disagree. As the others said, the "technical, literary" word is protagonist. – Mr Lister Nov 13 '12 at 7:44
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    Sorry, Mr Lister, but you have misunderstood my post. Hero and protagonist are largely interchangeable terms - at least in regard to modern works. See my post and others in this thread - we are largely saying the same thing. – gef05 Nov 13 '12 at 10:27
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Like many (most?) words, "hero" has more than one meaning. See definition 2a in MW, for example:

the principal male character in a literary or dramatic work

In other words, sometimes "hero" is simply used as a synonym of "protagonist"; no heroics required.

7

The key quote that describes Arthur is his own in Life, The Universe And Everything:

“No, I’m very ordinary,” said Arthur, “but some very strange things have happened to me. You could say I’m more differed from than differing.”

The original version of this quote - King Lear's "I am a man more sinned against than sinning" was meant to show Lear's total lack of self-awareness, but Arthur's version does display an understanding of his own character. From the story-internal point of view, he's the trigger for some pretty crucial events - don't forget he almost destroys the entire universe at one point, but saves it at the last second. And story-externally, of course, he's the Everyman character that we can identity with who helps us understand the story. From those points of view, yes I would say Arthur is the hero.

5

Some are saying that if he is a hero, then surely he is one only in the sense that he is the story's protagonist. But what I think they are all forgetting is that one of the universal archetypes is that of the fool.

It's one of the cards in the set of Tarot cards proper, surviving in a deck of playing cards as the joker, no less. I mention this to highlight the connection to comedy.

The Fool in the classic sense is no loser, though he does not necessarily exit all his battles victoriously. He is directionless, never choosing where he will go so much as having his direction chosen for him. This inevitably leads to adventure (and misadventure). Great things happen in his wake, and great people often seem little more than props in the tale... some even recognize that they are such. And when the "right thing" happens despite the fool's ineptitude, it is often the case that this is so because of the fool's heart, his capacity for selflessness, you might even say it's because of his wholesomeness.

Does this sound familiar?

I contend that Arthur Dent really is a hero in the proper and classical sense.

4

The Word of God answer from Douglas Adams is that he does consider Arthur a hero, albeit one with decidedly non-heroic tendencies...

I suspect there is a cultural divide at work here. In England our heroes tend to be characters who either have, or come to realise that they have, no control over their lives whatsoever Pilgrim, Gulliver, Hamlet, Paul Pennyfeather (from Decline and Fall) Tony Last (from A Handful of Dust). We celebrate our defeats and our withdrawals the Battle of Hastings, Dunkirk, almost any given test match. There was a wonderful book published, oh, about twenty years ago I think, by Stephen Pile called the Book of Heroic Failures. It was staggeringly huge bestseller in England and sank with heroic lack of trace in the U.S. Stephen explained this to me by saying that you cannot make jokes about failure in the States. It's like cancer, it just isn't funny at any level. In England, though, for some reason it's the thing we love most. So Arthur may not seem like much of a hero to Americans he doesn't have any stock options, he doesn't have anything to exchange high fives about round the water-cooler. But to the English, he is a hero. Terrible things happen to him, he complains about it a bit quite articulately, so we can really feel it along with him - then calms down and has a cup of tea. My kind of guy!

I've hit a certain amount of difficulty over the years in explaining this in Hollywood. I'm often asked 'Yes, but what are his goals?' to which I can only respond, well, I think he'd just like all this to stop, really. It's been a hard sell. I rather miss David Vogel from the film process. He's the studio executive at Disney who was in charge of the project for a while, but has since departed. There was a big meeting at one time to discuss, amongst other things, Arthur's heroicness or lack of it. David suddenly asked me 'Does Arthur's presence in the proceedings make a difference to the way things turn out?' to which I said, slightly puzzled, 'Well, yes.' David smiled and said 'Good. Then he's a hero.'

In the current, latest version of the screenplay, I think that Arthur's non-heroic heroism is now absolutely preserved, and I'm pleased with the way he works out.

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