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Let's Talk Trillian

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I want to do a series of articles about female characters in sci-fi, and talk about which ones are successful, which ones aren’t, and why. Since Towel Day was a few days ago, and I already had the beginnings of this essay, I figured I would start with my dear old friend Trillian.
For those who don’t know: Trillian (also called Tricia McMillan or Trillian Astra, depending on which universe we’re in) is the only significant female character in the first three installments of the 6-book Increasingly Inaccurately Named Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy. Her creator, Douglas Adams, said that he never quite knew what to do with her, and trust me, it shows.
Apart from Trillian, all of the principal characters have distinct personalities and purposes. Arthur is the quintessential Englishman: an antihero to be dragged across space and time, though all he wants is a hot bath and a cup of tea. Ford is the dragger: he is a reckless journalist from Betelgeuse Five who wants to go to parties and dance with girls. Zaphod Beeblebrox is the former Galactic President who provides the starship: he wants “excitement and adventure and really wild things”. Marvin is, of course, a manically depressed robot who lightens scenes with such quips as “Oh, God, I’m so depressed,” and “I've calculated your chance of survival, but I don't think you'll like it.” He does so much to advance the plot I can’t even start.
And then there’s Trillian. She’s supposedly smart enough to have doctorates in mathematics and astrophysics, though there’s never any indication, in her actions or words, that she’s smart. She’s supposedly the only one who can fly the ship, but when they actually need someone to fly the ship she doesn’t know how. The only way in which I can see that she’s important to the plot is that she owned the white mice, but let’s face it: there are plenty of other ways in which the mice could have gotten on the ship.
Really, what does she even want? What is her character? She’s almost aggressively aimless. In the most relevant version of her life, she spends years getting her doctorates, then goes off to space with some weirdo, and has no notable reaction to anything, including the destruction of the Earth. Then she changes her name again and becomes an interstellar newscaster. Also, she wants a child and has herself artificially inseminated, but then never pays any attention to said child.
That’s it. She wanders blandly across all of time and space.
They did no better in the 2005 movie. Though I adore Zooey Deschanel, didn’t give her much to go on. This Trillian was quirkier (dressing as Darwin comes to mind), but this just pushed her into the realm of Manic Pixie Dream Girl. And as for the Trillian-Arthur love story…. I love both of those actors. So much. The idea that they have not only met, but actually kissed blows my mind. Nonetheless, that plotline doesn’t adequately resolve Trillian’s issues, and it’s so far from any other part of Hitchhiker’s that I don’t understand how anyone justified it.
Trillian is kind of a lost cause. We’ll have to keep searching for a great sci-fi heroine. Onward!




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