Arthur Philip Dent is the hapless human protagonist and hero in the comic science fiction series The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Dent's situation is reminiscent of the actual case of Edward Pilgrim, whose confrontation with British local government bureaucracy ended in tragedy in 1954.
With his friend of several years, Ford Prefect, Dent barely escapes the Earth's destruction as it is demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass. Arthur spends the next several years, still wearing his dressing gown, helplessly launched from crisis to crisis while trying to straighten out his lifestyle. He rather enjoys tea, but seems to have trouble obtaining it in the far reaches of the galaxy. In time, he learns how to fly and carves a niche for himself as a sandwich-maker on the planet of Lamuella.
In the radio, LP and television versions of the story Arthur is played by Simon Jones, no relation to Peter Jones, the voice of the Guide. In Ken Campbell's stage production from 1979, Chris Langham took the part. In the theatrical movie he is played by Martin Freeman. In The Illustrated Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, he is portrayed by Jonathan Lermit.
Dent is described as "about thirty... tall, dark haired and never quite at ease with himself". He is from Earth, and his species is Human.
In most versions of the series, Arthur and Ford eventually find themselves back on Earth – but two million years in the past, marooned with an entire useless third of the Golgafrincham population (consisting of hairdressers, account executives, film makers, security guards, telephone sanitisers, and the like). The other two thirds of the Golgafrincham population, consisting of brilliant leaders and the workers who actually do the physical work, continued to live safely on their planet, having tricked the other allegedly useless third of the entire Golgafrincham population into leaving. That is, until the brilliant leaders and workers were entirely wiped out by a virulent disease contracted from a dirty telephone. The Golgafrincham arrival spurs the extinction of the native "cavemen" (although, as Ford Prefect pointed out, they did not live in caves, to which a witty repartee was that they 'might have been getting their caves redecorated'), resulting in the human race's eventual replacement by a shipload of middle managers, telephone sanitisers and hairdressers.
The original radio series and the television series end at this point, although a second radio series was made in which Ford and Arthur are rescued by Ford's cousin Zaphod Beeblebrox and have further adventures, and which ends with Arthur stealing Zaphod's spaceship, the Heart of Gold (which Zaphod had himself stolen) and striking out with only Marvin the Paranoid Android, Eddie the shipboard computer, a cloned archaeologist named Lintilla, a bunch of appliances with Genuine People Personalities, and a rather battered copy of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy for companionship.
In the novels and the new radio series, Ford and Arthur escape prehistoric Earth via an eddy in the space-time continuum and a time-travelling Chesterfield sofa that deposits them in the middle of Lord's Cricket Ground at the climax of the final (in more ways than one, it turns out) match in the Ashes series, the day before the destruction of Earth by the Vogons. Having escaped the destruction of Earth once more and survived further adventures, Arthur eventually finds himself once more back on Earth (or rather an alternate Earth found by the Dolphins to save the human race from extinction). Here he falls in love with a woman named Fenchurch and seems set to live happily ever after – at least until the following - and final - novel, Mostly Harmless. By the end of this fifth novel, Earth and all of its possible permutations and alternate versions are destroyed once and for all, and everybody dies, at least as far as the novel Mostly Harmless goes.
In the Quintessential Phase of the radio series, there are multiple alternative endings after the final destruction of all possible Earths. The final ending here consists of the Babel fish carried by Arthur, Trillian, Ford & Random having a sense for self preservation, i.e. at the last minute they teleport the person they are inhabiting, and anyone nearby (namely Tricia McMillan), to safety. They are teleported to Milliways where they meet up with Zaphod, both Trillians merge together, leaving her with her British accent but her blonde-American hair. Marvin has been rebuilt as his warranty has yet to expire and is parking cars at Milliways again (he has been promoted, he remarks; he now has his own bucket). Finally, they meet up with Fenchurch again who was teleported to Milliways after we last saw her in the Quandary Phase and has been working as waitress there, waiting for Arthur. They all settle in together, leaving the series on an upbeat note and allowing for further adventures.
Other Arthur DentsEdit
A Puritan writer called Arthur Dent wrote a best-selling book called The Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven (first published in 1601). This is still available in a modern edition (ISBN 978-1-877611-69-8).
- The plaine-mans path-way to heaven. Wherein every man may cleerly see whether he shall be saved or damned. Set forth dialogue-wise, for the better understanding of the simple. By Arth. Dent, preacher of the word of God at South-Shoobery in Essex.
In the Doctor Who episode, "The Christmas Invasion", the Tenth Doctor, appearing in pyjamas and a dressing-gown, compares himself to Arthur Dent, whom he describes as a "nice man", possibly suggesting that the Doctor has at some point inhabited the same universe as the characters in the Hitchhiker's Guide. Interestingly, the Fourth Doctor was seen to be reading and criticising a book by Oolon Colluphid in the episode "Destiny of the Daleks"; Douglas Adams apparently inserted the reference himself while working as a script editor on the show. Alien activity is also explained as 'hallucinations caused by goverment testing' in a Doctor Who episode, a reference to So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, which had the same explanation.
Arthur apparently dies in the fifth installment of the book series, Mostly Harmless, at a restaurant called Stavro Mueller Beta when the Earth and all its duplicates are simultaneously destroyed by the Vogons. Adams frequently expressed his distain for this ending in retrospect, claiming that it was too depressing and came about as the result of him having a bad year. He had planned to write a sixth book before his death, but never got around to it. Eoin Colfer was recently hired by Penguin Books to write a final installment, entitled And Another Thing. In this book, Arthur is saved along with Ford, Trillian, Zaphod Beeblebrox and Random by Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged. In the radio series, Arthur does not die, but rather is saved by the Babel Fish, which can teleport itself, along with its carrier, out of danger.