Douglas Adams – A to Z: D

D is for Douglas Adams, the author who wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the Dirk Gently series, and a number of other books, TV series scripts (including Doctor Who and Monty Python’s Flying Circus), and many scripts for BBC radio broadcasts. He was born in 1952 and passed away in 2001, depriving the world of one of the greatest comedic writers.

Apart from being a writer of some of the funniest books I’ve ever read, he was also actively engaged in raising awareness of endangered species and environmental issues.

Some of the things that still make me smile years after last reading the HHGG books (I really should make the time to re-read them, shouldn’t I?) and the things that are running “insider jokes” among many people I know who have read them as well, are listed below. If I really stopped to think about it, I’d probably write half a novel’s worth, so here goes, just off the top of my head:

  • Towels – never go anywhere without them.
  • 42 – the answer to the ultimate question about Life, the Universe, and Everything. Seeking an answer to this ultimate question, some hyper-intelligent beings build a supercomputer, which, after several million years of calculations, announces that the ultimate answer is… 42. They then figure out that they may need to find the actual ultimate question, and end up building an even more powerful computer, which is so huge that it is commonly mistaken for a planet (sorry, slight spoiler: that computer is… Earth). The number of cultural references to this number is staggering.
  • Don’t Panic” – one of the reasons the HHGG has outsold the Encyclopedia Galactica is that it has these words written on the cover in large, friendly letters. (The other being that it is slightly cheaper.)
  • Mostly Harmless – the two-word entry in the HHGG on the topic “Earth”. The entry used to be “Harmless”, but Ford Prefect, after spending years stuck on earth, submitted a lengthy article to the HHGG, which was then edited down to these two words.
  • An SEP – anything not your problem, or something you don’t want to deal with just now, is considered to be “an SEP” (Someone Else’s Problem).
  • The Rain God – a truck driver who doesn’t know he’s actually the God of Rain and absolutely hates any form of rain. Of course, since rain loves its god, it always rains wherever he drives, and he is constantly miserable. He’s read that eskimos have 217 (I could well be remembering that incorrectly, but you get the point) types of snow (including the yellow kind on which the sled dogs have peed), and he has names for over 300 types of rain. To confirm his theory that the one currently happening is the one he thinks is a particularly nasty type where it doesn’t matter whether he has the windscreen wipers on or off, he switches them off. It gets worse, and one of the wiper blades starts to get loose. In the book, there follows a one-sentence paragraph that, despite being made up entirely of onomatopoetic words, describes what follows to such perfection that I start giggling stupidly just thinking about it (sorry if I don’t get this entirely right, I don’t have the book in front of me): “Swish swish swish flop swish swish flop swish flop swish flop flop flap scrape.”
  • This is not her story” – after the prologue introduces a character who finally figures out how everyone in the world can live together in harmony, and has the reader wanting to know what this wonderful solution is, it ends with the sentence, “This is not her story.” (I think it was the fourth book that has almost the exact same prologue, except that it ends with, “This is her story.”)
  • Pain – there is a section in one of the HHGG books where Arthur Dent tries to figure out where he is hurt, and every body part he touches causes a jolt of pain. After a while, he finally figures out that it is in fact his hand that is injured….
  • Marvin the paranoid android – worth a separate blog entry in the A to Z Challenge.
  • I’m sure there are countless more… but I’ll stop here 🙂
Don't Panic - Towel Day

“Don’t Panic” – the famous words written on the fictional “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” in the (real) novel of the same name are shown here on a towel on Towel Day… if that doesn’t make sense, read at least the first HHGG book.

Thank you, Douglas Adams, wherever you may be (he was a self-declared “radical atheist”) for many, many laughs.

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

About Amos M. Carpenter

Web dev by day, author by night, and generally interested in (and opinionated about) way too many things.

Posted on 4 April, 2014, in A to Z Challenge, Humour, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Great post! The amount of times I have replied with, ’42’ to a question is probably embarrassing by now 😀

  2. Thanks for featuring the great man… I believe the god of rain had a happy ending; didn’t he get obscene amounts of money to visit certain countries and avoid others?

    Also, when I read the “this is not her story”, I had flashbacks of How I met your mother (“this is not your mother”) kinda thing. Coincidence?

    • Yes, iirc he wanted to go on a holiday to somewhere it didn’t rain, took out insurance just in case, and of course cashed in big time when it rained somewhere in the desert. The insurance companies then paid him not to go to certain places 😀

      I’d never considered the HIMYM connection, great point!

      Oh, and also thanks for following and tweeting about the post, much appreciated 🙂

  3. A perfect choice for “D”. It amazes me to think that Douglas Adams questioned his ability as a writer, and was never sure if he was any good or not. I think, as writers, we can all relate to that feeling. But oh, to be as good as Douglas Adams and not believe it, incredible.

    • Thanks Eliza, and I agree completely. I read somewhere that he was told his style didn’t fit well with what people wanted to read at the time. What better response to that than to create your own unique blend of sci-fi and comedy (neither of which are my usual haunts, but I couldn’t go past “D” and NOT think of Douglas Adams, one of my all-time favourites) and have the world love it?

      • He certainly did create his own genre. I’ve been blatantly paying “homage” to Douglas Adams in a little writing exercise I set myself, just writing for the sake of writing when I am not writing anything else. atimetraveladventure.com is my serial sci-fi comedy. It was greatly inspired by the original radio play for hitchhikers, which wasn’t exactly bound by the rules of plot. It has been a very liberating experience. It is completely unedited and extremely rough, but fun to write.

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