The Trouble with Trillian

I haven’t gotten much response to my recent Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy posts, but I’m writing another one anyway. After all, it’s a series with a consistent popularity, and maybe somebody will want to read these in the future. This time I’m going to look at Trillian, who seems to mostly just be along for the ride in the early radio series and books.

I believe Douglas Adams said he had trouble writing female characters. It’s not that Trillian is merely eye candy (although she is attractive, and many of the male characters are interested in her) or a damsel in distress. She’s clearly the smartest member of the main cast. It’s just that she’s rather underused at first. In fact, in the Secondary Phase of the radio series, she’s written out entirely, with a brief mention that she was forcibly married to the President of the Algolian Chapter of the Galactic Rotary Club. (By the way, in my area, Algol is pretty much directly overhead, at least according to my Google Sky Map application.) In the third book, however, she gets a much more significant role. While the men are bumbling around, she figures out a key element in the plot.

Trillian’s birth name is Tricia Marie McMillan, and she’s an unemployed English astrophysicist whom Arthur Dent unsuccessfully tries to pick up at a party. Instead, she goes off into space with Zaphod Beeblebrox and adopts her new name. Due to the nature of the Infinite Improbability Drive that Zaphod steals, the two of them soon meet up with Arthur again, who is accompanied by Zaphod’s semicousin Ford Prefect. After her important part in Life, the Universe, and Everything, she doesn’t appear at all in So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, but Ford does mention that he thinks she and Zaphod settled down and had kids. In Mostly Harmless, it turns out that she only has one child, a daughter named Random, whom she had through artificial insemination. The name reflects the fact that Trillian didn’t specify whose sperm she wanted, but it turns out there was only one human donor, Arthur. She explains that she and Zaphod couldn’t have children because they weren’t the same species, and considering that Zaphod and Ford are known to share three of the same mothers, we can conclude that Betelgeusian reproduction isn’t much like our own. By this time, Trillian has taken the last name Astra (her new full name meaning “a trillion stars,” perhaps?), and works as a Sub-Etha news reporter. She’s so busy with her job that she has no time for her daughter, and eventually drops her off with Arthur, telling him, “It’s time for you to take responsibility.”

Picture by Dr. Runcible
Unless the Galactic laws are a whole lot different than our own, being a sperm donor gives him absolutely no responsibility whatsoever, but Trillian has become kind of a jerk in this book. She finds out where Arthur is, but makes no attempt to contact him until she needs a favor. Both Trillian and Random appear in And Another Thing…, in which the former hooks up with Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged; and the latter comes to live on an Earth colony sold to an Irishman by Zaphod, and dreams of becoming President of the Galaxy.

Picture by Lord Phillock
The first novel gives a physical description of Trillian: “She was slim, darkish, humanoid, with long waves of black hair, a full mouth, an odd little knob of a nose and ridiculously brown eyes. With her red head scarf knotted in that particular way and her long flowing silky brown dress, she looked vaguely Arabic.” Mostly Harmless specifically mentions that she has an English accent, as she did in the radio program. For the BBC-TV version, she was portrayed by Sandra Dickinson, an American actress known for playing dumb blonde stereotypes, who I really didn’t think was appropriate for the role at all.

In the Quandary and Quintessential Phases of the radio show, Dickinson voiced the alternate-Earth Tricia McMillan. In the feature film, Trillian was played by Zooey Deschanel, who fit the physical description in the book and my own concept of the character much better.

On the other hand, she was another American (not such a big deal overall, but wouldn’t an American accent stand out at a party in Islington?), and it’s never mentioned that she’s an astrophysicist. I guess she’s kind of nerdy, as she goes to a party dressed as Charles Darwin, but anyone watching the movie without experiencing the story in another medium wouldn’t know she’s supposed to be a scientist. The movie also threw in a part where the men had to rescue her. Granted, it was a rescue that fit with the general feel of Adams’ universe, but still. Most annoying of all was that she got together with Arthur at the end, apparently an idea Adams himself decided on because audiences of a Hollywood film would expect the male and female leads to hook up, or something like that. Seems like it would greatly change the dynamic for the later adventures, but I’ve heard no talk whatsoever of a sequel, so I guess it doesn’t matter much in the end.

Since I’m talking about Trillian, I might as well also mention Lintilla, as her name is basically an anagram of Trillian’s (the only exception is an extra L in place of the R). In the Secondary Phase of the radio series, after Trillian has been written out of the story, three Lintillas show up on the planet Brontitall. They’re actually clones, the original Lintilla having been cloned by a Brantisvogan escort agency.

Picture by Mark Sachs
They originally intended to make only six, but because the machine got stuck in such a way that it started making a new clone when the previous one was only halfway finished, it was ruled that turning it off would be murder. As such, there ended up being over 578 billion of her. The three on Brontitall were working as architects, and two of them were killed off by anti-clones known as Allitnils, but Arthur rescued one and took her back to the Heart of Gold with him. The implication seems to be that she will be his new love interest, but she was in so few episodes that their relationship was never developed. Apparently the program wrote out one female scientist lead only to bring in another with a similar name. If there was any connection between the two, we never found out what it was. Lintilla was voiced by Rula Lenska, who in the early eighties appeared in commercials in the United States despite really only being known in the United Kingdom. She introduced herself in the ads as if she were well-known, which led to Americans being confused. If only they’d listened to the Hitchhiker’s Guide, they would have known she was the cloned woman. Lenska voiced the Guide Mark II in the Quintessential Phase of the radio show, and Zaphod even mentioned that the new Guide sounded like the Lintilla chicks.

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8 Responses to The Trouble with Trillian

  1. I haven’t gotten much response to my recent Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy posts, but I’m writing another one anyway.
    If I HAD been reading blogs at ALL in the past month, I most certainly would have read and enjoyed and responded to your Hitchhikers’ posts, no worries. Particularly if you keep including certain pictures from the 2005 movie. Speaking of which,

    In the feature film, Trillian was played by Zooey Deschanel, who fit the physical description in the book and my own concept of the character much better
    –and also, Arthur Dent was perfectly cast, too. YOU CAN’T FORGET THAT ARTHUR DENT WAS PERFECT. Did I mention Arthur Dent was perfect?

    –look, there was no way I could make it through an ENTIRE series of posts about Hitchhikers without saying it.

    • Nathan says:

      While I don’t have the same love for Martin Freeman that you do, yes, he was a great Arthur Dent. Actually, he’s not all that dissimilar to Bilbo Baggins, as they’re both bachelors who just want to have their simple lives but end up getting dragged off on adventures anyway. I guess Bilbo is richer, though.

      • While I don’t have the same love for Martin Freeman that you do,
        I don’t blame you, as that would be extremely difficult to attain. Even for people who ARE attracted to men,

        It’s kind of a joke (or it’s used and/or taken the wrong way depending on who says it), that pretty much EVERY one of Martin’s well-known major roles (and quite a few of the little-known ones) is “Everyman/Straightman-to-crazy-people-who-rope-him-into-crazy-adventures” (one could argue the nature of “adventure” in The Office, but the general PLOTS at least are instigated by the crazy people). (I haven’t seen “The World’s End” yet but apparently he DOES get to be one of the NON-everyman/straightmen in a major role in THAT one at least, though it is other people still roping him into adventure). His detractors use it against him (“He always plays the same character”), but it’s just he’s so GOOD at it, and anyway, they AREN’T the SAME character, just the same trope, and the fact that he DOES make each of them unique when they’re so thematically similar is just FURTHER PROOF OF HIS AWESOMENESS.

        …sorry, you got me off on this topic again. This happens.

      • Nathan says:

        It might be difficult these days to find a British story that DOESN’T have a character like that.

  2. Vieen1810 says:

    Zooey is a bad actress and since she is fake and annoying I am sure you love her. I am glade the tv show had hot babes unlike the film.

  3. Richard Daniel says:

    Who is the woman with Douglas Adams in the black and white picture?

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