The plain man’s pathway to Heaven, or, The hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy?

Among the older Welsh books in the Salisbury Collection at Cardiff we have the two seventeenth century editions of “Llwybr hyffordd yn cyfarwyddo yr anghyfarwydd i’r nefoedd” by the Puritan Arthur Dent (d. 1607), originally published in English as “The plain man’s pathway to heaven” in 1601.  When I first came across this title I was struck at once by the author’s name being the same as that of the hapless main character of Douglas Adams’ “The hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy”, and indeed, the similarity of the title. I filed the information away in the recesses of my memory, used the catalogue record whenever I wanted an example to explain the display of a uniform title for a translated work, and thought that one day I would look into it further. As is the way with such things, others got there before me, as you can read here on the h2g2 online guide (“The guide to Life, the Universe, and Everything”).

The site’s article mentions Douglas Adams’ interview of March 1987, in which he said that he had been contacted by someone with a research interest in the period. The (unnamed) researcher had jumped to the same conclusion, pushing it further by finding many parallels in the respective texts. Adams stated that he had never heard of the book or of its author Arthur Dent, so the similarity really is a pure coincidence.  Both works, as article and interview point out, are a version of the “Everyman” story, the innocent in a strange world which may or may not be a version of our own world which must be explained to him. (Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is probably the best-known later example of this popular genre).

The hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy” has not, as far as I am aware, been translated into Welsh, but “The plain man’s pathway to heaven” was, first appearing in 1630 and again in 1682. It is one of several translations of religious works made by Robert Llwyd, Vicar of Chirk (1565-1655), intended to improve Welsh devotional life by making suitable books available in the Welsh language. While there are a number of locations  for the 2nd edition of 1682, the 1st Welsh edition of 1630 is rarer (it is also held at the National Library of Wales, the British Library, and Bangor University Library). As was usual with Welsh books before the lapsing of the Licensing Act in 1695, it was printed in London. The printer, Nicholas Okes (d. 1645), is better known for his editions of Elizabethan and Jacobean plays, including his1st Quarto of Shakespeare’s King Lear and Othello.

The copy at Cardiff formerly belonged to Victorian Bible collector James Dix of Bristol (and is inscribed many times over with the name of an earlier owner, Ellis Powell, 1740). While the title-page is worn, the book is otherwise in good condition.

3 responses to “The plain man’s pathway to Heaven, or, The hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy?

  1. Bywyd, y Bydysawd, a Phob DIm …

  2. Dear Hcpbs,
    I too arrived at this conclusion, but via a different route. I discovered the name Arthur Dent and the book “The plain man’s pathway to heaven” in an old newspaper cutting. I too thought of Hitchhiker’s Guide and started to dig. Whilst Adams may have denied knowing the book or its author in he interview you quoted, he cannot have been telling the whole truth. Adams studied English Literature at Cambridge and would have been familiar with the work and life story of John Bunyan. Bunyan’s wife brought him just two items as a dowry, both books, of which The plain man’s pathway to heaven was one. He loved the book so much that it was with him in prison and is thought to have inspired the Pilgrim’s Progress, so Adams must have known this. He won his scholarship to St John’s with an essay on religious poetry. He may have forgotten, but it is simply not possible for him not to have ever heard of Arthur Dent the author. Surely, Arthur Dent of the HGTTU is the plain man who is saved when the whole earth perishes and what is he doing but making a pathway through the heavens? He even ends up in an earthly paradise. Wouldn’t Adams have found it the ultimate joke that the world considered him a staunch atheist, but his greatest work was (perhaps subconsciously) inspired by the book which had also inspired one of the greatest works of Christian literature of all time?

  3. Interesting! I am tempted to agree with you; it does seem unlikely to have been a coincidence. I would, of course, not like to accuse the late great Douglas Adams of making a mistake, or even of being economic with the truth, so forgetfulness is as good an explanation as any!

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