Today is March 11th, which marks the birthday of famed British author Douglas Adams. Adams needs no introduction, being a prolific author, scriptwriter, humorist, and essayist with a profound influence on British culture. He wrote the famed The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a comedy science fiction series first created as a radio drama before being adapted into books, a TV series, video games, and a feature film. Although certain details were changed between the various adaptations, the overall story remains the same: it follows the adventures of the last surviving man from Earth, Arthur Dent, after he is rescued before the Earth is destroyed to make way for an interstellar bypass and journeys across the galaxy, using the in-version guidebook The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for help. Along the way, he meets characters such as experienced hitchhiker Ford Prefect, the two-headed Zaphod Beeblebrox, and the depressed robot Marvin. The books have gone on to sell over 15 million copies worldwide.
The books sharply blended laugh out loud dry comedic wit with genuinely intriguing science fiction ideas. The series provides numerous iconic quotes and characters, from the alien Vogons reading awful poetry, to food items begging the protagonists to eat them in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, to the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything: ’42.’ The Hitchhiker series blended all these ideas masterfully and is just as likely to make you laugh as it is to make you think critically about the universe.
Of course, Douglas Adams’ career hardly ends there. He wrote numerous other novels, such Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency a humorous detective novel and The Meaning of Liff, a dictionary for words that don’t exist yet. He also worked on Doctor Who during Season 17, helping write what is considered one of the show’s strongest stories: “City of Death”. Furthermore he co-wrote the sketch “Patient Abuse” from Monty Python’s Flying Circus’s final season, a satirical sketch that showcases the ineffectiveness of bureaucracy, a common theme through Adam’s body of work. In addition, he had a hand in scripting a few video games, such as Bureaucracy and Starship Titanic.
Douglas Adams was an outspoken environmentalist, a lover of fast cars, and a proclaimed ‘radical’ atheist. (The radical part he added to show he was serious about atheism). He died of a heart attack in 2001, ironically in the gym with a towel in hand. This is ironic, as, according to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Fandom Wiki,
“A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have….you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough. More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc…[and] is clearly a man to be reckoned with.”
Nevertheless, Adams lives on, with his books remaining hugely popular and the phrases ‘Don’t Panic!’ and ‘42′ destined to live on forever.
Happy birthday, Douglas Adams! Do yourself a favor and read one of his novels today, while curling up with a towel. Just in case.
Featured Image Via BBC