Douglas Noel Adams is my favorite author.
His brand of comedy has inspired and delighted me ever since I discovered The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in my early teens.
His works have touched many more, but not many enough!
So if you are unaware of any of the things I’m about to tell you about, you really owe it to yourself to check them out.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
While he started his career as a contributor for Monty Python’s Flying Circus, ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ is Douglas’ most popular work.
It first started out as a comedy radio play in 1978, but it is mostly known for its 1979 book adaptation, and its sequels.
‘Hitchhiker’ follows the story of Englishman Arthur Dent, one of the last remaining human beings following the destruction of Earth (to make way for a new hyperspace bypass road).
The story is filled with satire, often making fun of British bureaucracy.
There are five ‘Hitchhiker’ books written by Douglas, and the later TV-show, video game and movie were all adapted by Douglas himself, making necessary changes to fit the medium.
I love all the different vesions of ‘Hitchhiker’, but the books hold a particularly special place in my heart.
Douglas first started working for the long-running British scifi television program when he wrote the season 16 story ‘The Pirate Planet’, released in 1978.
He then got the job as script editor for 1979’s season 17.
While working as the script editor, he also wrote the season 17 story ‘City of Death’ with producer Graham Williams, under the joint pseudonym David Agnew.
They had to use a pseudonym because the BBC in the late 1970s did not like producers and script editors writing their own stories, as that would put other writers out of a job, failing to realise that producers and script editors can be writers.
‘City of Death’ is cited by many as their favorite Doctor Who story.
The ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide’ book, ‘Life, The Universe and Everything’, was originally intended to be a Doctor Who story.
Much of the story is unchanged, but The Doctor is replaced with Slartibartfast, and the Daleks are replaced by the Krikkiters.
Douglas also wrote ‘Shada’ as the last episode in season 17, but the filming of this episode was never completed due to a labour strike at the BBC.
He later reworked the story into his first Dirk Gently book, ‘Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency’.
The Meaning of Liff
Douglas worked with John Lloyd to make a humorous dictionary, which was published in 1983 with the extended ‘The Deeper Meaning of Liff’ coming out in 1990)
The Dictionary borrows names from lesser known places in Britain, and use them as words for “things that there aren’t words for yet”.
“Liff” itself is actually a village in Scotland, but this dictionary defines liff as “A book, the contents of which are totally belied by its cover. For instance, any book the dust jacket of which bears the words, ‘This book will change your life’.”
‘Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency’ and its sequel ‘The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul’ are two incredibly charming and weird novels.
They are so weird in fact, that I don’t quite know how to sell the concept to you, beyond describing them as detective novels heavily influenced by genre fiction, and by admitting that I prefer Dirk Gently to the Hitchhiker series (and that says a lot).
There have been two television adaptions of the books (with no involvement by Douglas himself), but while both shows capture different elements of what I enjoy about the books, neither nails it.
I think it is quite possible that the Dirk Gently series is just one of those written works that are next to impossible to to adapt properly, and needs to be drestically altered in some way to work in a visual medium.
So even if you have seen Dirk Gently on TV, you should really check out these books!
Douglas Adams was always a tech proponent, even if he ridiculed the corporate side of tech, particularly corporations trying to sell “friendly” toasters or whatever, trying to convice the customers that their lives would be improved by spending money on devices.
Still, he was fascinated by the possibilities of what new technology might bring, illustrated by the 1990 documentary Hyperland, starring himself and Doctor Who’s Tom Baker, in which they effectively predict the internet as we know it today (without predicting the negative things that came with it).
He even worked on video games, like ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ video game (1984), ‘Labyrinth: The Computer Game’ (1986), ‘Bureaucracy’ (1987), and ‘Starship Titanic’ (1998).
Last Chance to See
‘Last Chance to See’ started out as a 1989 radio documentary series.
In it, Douglas Adams is invited by British zoologist and photographer Mark Carwardine to travel the world to look at animal species on the brink of extinction.
The radio series was later adapted by Douglas into a book released in 1990, featuring photographs of the animals taken by Mark.
Douglas did a great job describing the journey in a very humorous way, often surpassing the comedy in his fictional books.
The experience of seeing the dire situation many of these animals faced changed Douglas forever, making him a staunch environmental activist to the day he died.
In 1994, he even climbed Mount Kilimanjaro while wearing a hot and heavy rhino suit, to raise money for the British charity organisation Save The Rhino International.
The BBC released a television sequel to ‘Last Chance to See’ in 2009, eight years after Douglas’ passing.
In the program, Mark and Stephen Fry (of QI fame, and a friend of Douglas) revisit the animals Mark and Douglas visited for the book, to see how things had changed.
It is one of my all-time favorite TV-programs.
The day I posted this would have been Douglas Adams’ 67th birthday, if he had not died of a heart attack on the 11th of May 2001, at the early age of 49.
It makes me sad to think about all the great things he could have done between then and now, but on the other hand, I’m glad we even have what we have.
In any case, I’ll always remember his words.
“The fact is, I don’t know where my ideas come from. Nor does any writer. The only real answer is to drink way too much coffee and buy yourself a desk that doesn’t collapse when you beat your head against it.”– Douglas Adams