I’d wanted to write this yesterday, but just got too busy.
I am a bit of a reader. I’ve always been that way, going to when I first learned to read. I was taught by my mother, even more of a reader than I am, before I even began kindergarden. I couldn’t begin to guess how many books I’ve read, and they’ve been from all over the Dewey Decimal System. When asked which author, living or dead, has influenced me the most, the answer has always been (well, since high school) Douglas Adams. So, yesterday’s news was terrible for me.
I began, of course, with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I read each of the volumes as it was written, devouring them all. Great classical literature, they’re not, but they don’t pretend to be. They’re full of loose ends and improbable plot twists. But they’re also my favorite. In these books, Adams showed me that humor can be found in the most mundane of things by turning them upside down, inside out. What’s the secret to flight? Throwing yourself at the ground and missing, of course! (The key is getting distracted by something right before you hit.)
By the time I got to college, I knew that the series actually began as a BBC radio series and had watched the TV adaptation several times through. I’d wanted to do radio drama myself, and I discovered during orientation weekend that my new school had a free-form closed-circuit radio station that gave away DJ slots for the asking. One of my newly-met fellow freshmen (Shawn, whom I was to later marry to Gypsy) had the BBC scripts, so we got people together and did the show ourselves. I was in charge of the operation, mixed sound effects, and narrated (”… with Eric Wagoner as ‘The Book’…”). I still have the cassette tapes we made — they’re awful. But we had a great time, and people actually listened to us. From there we went on to do The Hobbit (I wrote the adaptation myself) and most of BBC’s version of The Lord of the Rings. Later, we did a few scripts from Firesign Theater and quite a few wonderful episodes of The Goon Show. Our senior year, we re-did Hitchhiker’s, and these were much, much better. A few weeks ago, I discovered that some of my friends who helped with that last go-around got a new bunch of folks together and did it again this Spring.
Adams’ treatment of the Hitchhiker’s story taught me quite a few things. Unlike most stories that have been adapted for different media, Adams’ didn’t worry about canon. The four adaptations (there was a text-adventure computer game, as well) each began at the same point, but quickly diverged. Most of what happens in the radio series never appear in the books (and vice versa), and while the studios tried to keep the TV show true to the book, it too diverged. The game has its own storyline altogether. There’s a framework that kind of holds them altogether, but barely. His publishers were put off by this (”But the readers expect continuity!”), but Adams kept true to himself and we’re better for it.
He wrote other books, of course. His two Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency book were a whole other sort of lunacy. I wished he-d written more in the series. Last Chance to See should be required reading for everyone — the scene where he recounts being served a pregnant river dolphin at a banquet made me cry and stands out as one of the most memorable passages I’ve ever read. He recently collaborated with Terry Jones (of Monty Python) on the fantastic multimedia (book, computer game, and website) Starship Titantic. He also wrote several episodes of Tom Baker-era Doctor Who.
His humor style has greatly influenced mine. His unique way at looking at the world has influenced my vision. His refusal to get locked into a style, defined by publishers or our expectations, has helped me keep my options open. He will be missed.