The Vogons are a fictional alien race from the planet Vogsphere in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy—initially a BBC Radio series by Douglas Adams—who are responsible for the destruction of the Earth, in order to facilitate an intergalactic highway construction project. Vogons are slug-like but vaguely humanoid, are bulkier than humans, and have green skin. Vogons are described as “one of the most unpleasant races in the galaxy—not actually evil, but bad-tempered, bureaucratic, officious and callous", and having "as much sex appeal as a road accident" as well as being the authors of "the third worst poetry in the universe". They are employed as the galactic government's bureaucrats.
Appearance and personality
Here is what to do if you want to get a lift from a Vogon: forget it. They are one of the most unpleasant races in the Galaxy. Not actually evil, but bad-tempered, bureaucratic, officious and callous. They wouldn't even lift a finger to save their own grandmothers from the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal without orders - signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public inquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighters. The best way to get a drink out of a Vogon is to stick your finger down his throat, and the best way to irritate him is to feed his grandmother to the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal. On no account should you allow a Vogon to read poetry at you.
Vogons are roughly human-sized, although much bulkier, with green or grey skin. Their noses are above their eyebrows, which are either ginger (in the television series) or white (in the film). The film's commentary states that the idea behind the high flat noses was that they evolved both the noses and the severe bureaucracy from being repeatedly whacked by the paddle creatures under the sand on Vogsphere whenever they had an independent thought (in the film, the Vogon bureaucracy is centred on Vogsphere).
Garth Jennings deliberately based his conception of the Vogons on the work of cartoonist James Gillray (1757–1815). "His creations were so grotesque...when we looked at them, we realised they were the Vogons"
The series tells that, far back in prehistory, when the first primeval Vogons crawled out of the sea, the forces of evolution were so disgusted with them that they never allowed them to evolve again. Through sheer obstinacy, though, the Vogons survived (partly by adapting a misplaced, badly malformed, and dyspeptic liver into a brain). They then emigrated en masse to the Brantisvogon star cluster (although the film has them staying on Vogsphere), where they form most of the Galactic bureaucracy, most notably in the Vogon Constructor Fleets (which, despite their name, patrol the galaxy demolishing planets). The only named Vogons in the stories are Jeltz (see below), Kwaltz (who appears in the film), Zarniwoop, revealed to be a Vogon in the Quintessential Phase, and Jeltz's son Constant Mown.
Vogons are described as officiously bureaucratic, a line of work at which they perform so well that the entire galactic bureaucracy is run by them.
On Vogsphere, the Vogons would sit upon very elegant and beautiful gazelle-like creatures, whose backs would snap instantly if the Vogons tried to ride them. The Vogons were perfectly happy with just sitting on them. Another favourite Vogon pastime is to import millions of beautiful jewel-backed scuttling crabs from their native planet, cut down giant trees of breathtaking beauty, and spend a happy drunken night smashing the crabs to bits with iron mallets and cooking the crab meat by burning the trees. In the movie, the Vogons seem to smash the crabs for no apparent reason besides pure pleasure at killing something.
The Vogons' battle-cry, and counter-argument to dissent, is "resistance is useless!" (cf. "Resistance is futile").
Vogon poetry is described as "the third worst poetry in the Universe". The main example used in the story is a short piece composed by Jeltz, which roughly emulates nonsense verse in style (example below). The story relates that listening to it is an experience similar to torture as demonstrated when Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect are forced to listen to the poetry (and say how much they liked it) prior to being thrown out of an airlock.
- "Oh freddled gruntbuggly,
- Thy micturations are to me
- As plurdled gabbleblotchits on a lurgid bee.
- Groop, I implore thee, my foonting turlingdromes,
- And hooptiously drangle me with crinkly bindlewurdles,
- Or I will rend thee in the gobberwarts
- With my blurglecruncheon, see if I don't!"
Vogon poetry is of course the third worst in the Universe. The second worst is that of the Azgoths of Kria. During a recitation by their Poet Master Grunthos the Flatulent of his poem "Ode to a Small Lump of Green Putty I Found in My Armpit One Midsummer Morning" four of his audience members died of internal haemorrhaging, and the President of the Mid-Galactic Arts Nobbling Council survived by gnawing one of his own legs off. Grunthos is reported to have been "disappointed" by the poem's reception, and was about to embark on a reading of his twelve-book epic entitled "My Favourite Bathtime Gurgles" when his own major intestine, in a desperate attempt to save life and civilization, leaped straight up through his neck and throttled his brain. The very worst poetry of all perished along with its creator, Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings of Greenbridge, Essex, England, in the destruction of the planet Earth.
Vogon poetry is widely accepted as the third worst in the Universe. The second worst is that of the Azgoths of Kria. During a recitation by their Poet Master Grunthos the Flatulent, of his poem, "Ode to a Small Lump of Green Putty I Found in My Armpit One Midsummer Morning", four of his audience died of internal haemorrhaging, but the president of the Mid-Galactic Arts Nobbling Council survived by gnawing one of his own legs off... The absolute worst poetry was written by Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings of Sussex... luckily, it was destroyed when the Earth was.
An unused extended version of the poem is also excerpted in Neil Gaiman's book Don't Panic: The Official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Companion, in Appendix III.
A third example appears in The Quintessential Phase of the radio series, again written by Jeltz.
Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz
The Vogon Captain in charge of overseeing the destruction of the Earth, Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz is sadistic and unpleasant to look at, even by Vogon standards. He enjoys shouting at or executing members of his own crew for insubordination, and takes professional pride in his job of demolishing planets. He very rarely smiles: "Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz smiled very slowly. This was done not so much for effect as because he was trying to remember the sequence of muscle movements."
It is revealed in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe that Jeltz had been hired by Gag Halfrunt to destroy the Earth (though in the film it was Zaphod who gave the order by mistake). Halfrunt had been acting on behalf of a consortium of psychiatrists and the Imperial Galactic Government in order to prevent the discovery of the Ultimate Question. When Halfrunt learns that Arthur Dent escaped the planet's destruction, Jeltz is dispatched to track him down and destroy him. Jeltz is unable to complete this task, due to the intervention of Zaphod Beeblebrox the Fourth, Zaphod's great-grandfather.
In Mostly Harmless, Jeltz is once again responsible for the destruction of the Earth, after the Vogons infiltrate the Hitchhikers' Guide company offices to turn the Guide into a device capable of destroying all Earths in every dimension, this time presumably killing Arthur, Ford, Trillian, and Arthur's daughter, Random—a fate dodged by the characters in the Quintessential Phase.
"Prostetnic Vogon" may be a title, rather than part of his name, since during the second episode of the third radio series (Fit the Fourteenth), two other Prostetnic Vogons are heard from. Also, in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Gag Halfrunt refers to Jeltz as "Captain of Vogons Prostetnic" (although this may have been a play on Halfrunt's accent).
Jeltz appears in:
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
- The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
- Mostly Harmless
- And Another Thing...
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (computer game)
- The Quintessential Phase.
In the first radio series, he was played by Bill Wallis. On television, it was Martin Benson. In the third, fourth and fifth radio series, he was played by Toby Longworth, although Longworth did not receive a credit for the role during the third series. In the film, he is voiced by Richard Griffiths.
The ships of the Vogon Constructor Fleet were described as "impossibly huge yellow somethings" (the colour being a parallel to bulldozers that demolish Arthur's house) that "looked more like they had been congealed than constructed" and "hung in the air in much the same way that bricks don't"; they are said to be undetectable to radar and capable of travel through hyperspace. They are not crewed exclusively by Vogons; a species known as the Dentrassi are responsible for on-board catering.
In the television version of the story, the craft are shaped like battleships, albeit with a flat bottom through which the demolition beams are fired. In the film version, the craft are grey and cubic, a continuation of the emphasis on bureaucracy in the Vogons' conception: "Douglas [Adams]'s description of the Vogon ships hanging in the air in much the same way that bricks don't [led to] these Vogon ships which are these massive concrete tower blocks, with hardly any windows, they just have a few doors around the base," says Joel Collins.
- Quoted in Stamp, R. (Ed.) and Simpson, P. The Making of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Boxtree 2005), p.48
- In the original radio series, the name here was Paul Neil Milne Johnstone, a real poet who complained and had his name removed from all future versions and broadcasts of the story.
- "THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY THE QUINTESSENTIAL PHASE: Fit the Twenty-Six" - Review by Jason Davis at Mania.com (retrieved 5 August 2008
- Quoted in Stamp, R. (Ed.) and Simpson, P. The Making of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Boxtree 2005), p.58