“A towel, (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have.”
My deep admiration for Douglas Adams is no secret. (Link here if you have only just crawled blinking and confused from a cave.) Those who know me very well might know that the first possession I would rescue from my burning house is my signed edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Those who know me inordinately well know that nearly every night of my life, I’ve gone to sleep listening to recordings of the Hitchhiker’s radio shows.
This morning, a couple of new Amazon reviews compared my writing and Rhubarb to DA and THGTTG. I fully, and shamelessly, claim him as an influence. But it got me thinking. What is it about Douglas Adams that I admire so much?
I was introduced to DA in the eighth grade by new friends in a new town, who thrust his books into my hands flabbergasted that I’d never even heard of him. (Hipster moment: I read DA back when his trilogy had only three books.) So is my admiration simply nostalgia—that I spent my most embarrassing emotionally formative years comforting myself by reading and rereading those books? Nah. It’s got to be more.
I do admire his writing style. He’s concise. (A sentence construction and paragraph design and planning skill, often related to proper word selection, that I have often neglected in the recent past.) He took big risks with his writing and never shied away from absurdity; yet somehow always seemed to make a salient point. (See almost any quote from Marvin the Paranoid Android.) I admire his work ethic. (“I love deadlines,” he famously said. “I love the whooshing sound they make as they go by.”) And I have learned to enjoy a good soak in the tub now and then. (What better use for a towel?)
Do I admire his later work in the cause of endangered species? Is it his ability to blend true satire and speculative fiction to lampoon everyone and everything? (“To boldly split infinitives that no man has split before…”) Do I admire his willingness to wade into any and every medium that would have him—radio, novels, comics, nonfiction, television, computer games, Hollywood, theater? That the Guide is ostensibly the inspiration for Wikipedia? It’s impossible to put a finger on a single thing.
During the production of the notoriously horrible BBC television series of Hitchhiker’s, a bit actor called in sick, so Douglas stepped in to replace him. This wasn’t unusual; he played other bit extra parts in the series, and had appeared on Monty Python’s Flying Circus. But on this particular day, Douglas Adams stepped in front of the camera, and on action promptly waded naked, and towel-less, into the ocean.
That’s the kind of author I’d like to be.