Douglas Adams, 1952-2001
Andrew C. Thomas
It is said by many that Paris is the most romantic city in the world. The power of Paris, sporting long walks along the river Seine, the beautiful Notre Dame cathedral, and the spectacular view from atop the Eiffel Tower, is doubted by few. It is no coincidence that in the middle of a field nowhere near Paris, while slightly drunk, an 18-year old hitchhiker armed with a guide to Europe conceived of the idea of writing a similar book about the galaxy. After several years, several jobs and sobering up, his idea became reality, first as a bizarre series of radio plays, then in the novel Trilogy in four parts (later parts), a form many of us hold dear. It had immediate appeal -- the travels of a writer and his Terran companion after the destruction of Earth, written in an unmistakable comic style as dynamic as an agitated wasp and as multi-directional as a small child with a sugar high.
But now the author himself has left us. Passing away Friday at age 49 of a heart attack, Adams leaves behind a wife, a daughter, and a vast supply of genius carefully pureed, sorted and filtered into book form. Aside from his ever-popular series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, his equally strange books about holistic detective Dirk Gently still grace the shelves of bookstores (rather a pity for the author, who would have preferred them purchased). Along with BBC writer/producer John Lloyd, he co-authored The Meaning of Liff and a sequel, two dictionaries of things that don’t have words (but really ought to). And most recently he published an account of his travels in Madagascar searching for a rare lemur. In one of the most popular campus events of this year, on November 2 in 26-100, Adams told a massive crowd this story and others. I find it sadly ironic that the title of this book, Last Chance To See, turned out to be self-referential.
What he leaves behind is a vast legacy of works in many media. He engineered the award-winning computer game Starship Titanic, starring Monty Python’s Terry Jones, one of the most innovative and delightful collaborations seen on this planet since peanut butter and jelly. The first two of the Hitchhiker’s novels were turned into a BBC series, and his writing contributions to Doctor Who still echo in science fiction lore in much the same way than an ant’s footsteps don’t.
But what impacts me most is his outlook on life. Past all the puns, the pages saturated with a style of humor he pioneered, was possibility. It’s immediately reflected in his characters -- most notably, the galactic explorers and generally great guys Ford Prefect and Zaphod Beeblebrox, and his holistic detective Dirk Gently. Ford and Zaphod travel with great improbability to wondrous places in the known and unknown universe, to the beginning and the end, and still have time to play psychic drinking games. Dirk solves crimes by seeing the connections between two seemingly distinct things -- for example, a table leg and a grisly murder -- and tries to understand the purpose of everything. His belief in the impossible (and disregarding of Sherlock Holmes’ deductive methods) is a literary construction, granted, as is his success with this belief -- but it represents a wonderful look into the nature of 20th century science reduced to its core. Adams knew without a precise understanding of modern physics that everything is interconnected, and that “impossible” is a word that should be used with as much seriousness as one would use the word “dalfibble.” (Definition: To spend large periods of your life looking for car keys. -The Deeper Meaning of Life)
In his passing, Adams has sent his last message: Live. Explore. Be a part of this world, because even if you don’t want to believe it, this world is certainly a part of you. It’s best to take advantage of this fact while you still can.
To Adams himself, no doubt we all offer him the words he coined so curiously: So long, and thanks for all the fish. Or, in this case, books.
Andrew C. Thomas is a member of the class of 2004.