Today is March 11, 2013. Douglas Adams would have been 61 years old today. Google has a great interactive Doodle to commemorate the day. I thought I would write some of my thoughts down as well. I had two other blog posts planned, but once I realized what today was I thought it better spent writing about Mr. Adams.
When I was young there was a great show on television, “3,2,1…Contact”. I think it was focused on science and was a typical after school type show. It was geared toward an older audience than “Sesame Street” but it was still educational. I wish I remembered more about it, but I really only watched it for the last five or ten minutes. The show had a feature that was a live action reenactment of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I had no idea that was what I was watching; I just thought it was the funniest and cleverest thing I had ever seen on TV. A depressed android, the President of the Galaxy, an alien, an Earthgirl, and a poor guy in a bathrobe who never knew what was going on all traveling through the universe with the help of an electronic book that explained everything. It would be years until I was exploring a library and found two great surprises. The first was that the story came from a book. The second was that there were (at that time) three more books after that! I think that is why I still love libraries today, you still find pleasant surprises there all the time. A book that could change your life or at least how you view it could be sitting there in a paperback spinner by the front door hoping to be checked out.
I devoured the four books, plus Adams’ other books in the Dirk Gently series. The younger me didn’t understand half of the puns, satire, and commentary wrapped up in the stories, but it didn’t matter. Like all great writing, you could enjoy the story even if you missed some of the points. They were still funny and still worth reading. More importantly the books helped me get through childhood. Kids can be cruel and growing up as a “husky” sized nerd had its moments. The books helped me develop a sense of humor that sticks with me to this day. They gave me something to laugh at when I might not have wanted to laugh. They also taught me to find my own humor in dark situations. If characters in mortal jeopardy can laugh at their situations or at least not take the danger too seriously, I could cope with mean kids. I could also make them laugh and take away their power to hurt people. I am sure we have all been there as kids. If you aren’t hurt by their words and you can make them laugh the bullies have no power.
As I got older I would reread the books and understand more of what I missed each time. I feel like I could pick them up and find new jokes that I missed the last time I read them. As I grew older and more knowledgeable of the world the more I found hidden in the stories. It took me years to understand why electing the President of the Universe and what the office was for was funny and a little true. It took until much later in life to really identify with Arthur Dent and how hopeless he could feel as events spun out of control. The young me loved the adventure, the older me loved the commentary on life.
I am not alone, and that is the best part of all of this. Douglas Adams never thought he was starting too much of anything with his book. I suspect he was just happy to be making a living at publishing his own work. I don’t think anyone could have predicted what would come next. Douglas Adams loved technology, and he really loved Apple. He wrote a multitude of articles and got involved in the web early on. He helped create H2G2, a sort of online Guide and community that mushroomed into something remarkably similar to Facebook or MySpace, but without all of the narcissism. It became a huge online community where everyone wrote factual articles about what they loved with a little of Douglas Adams irreverent style. It is Wikipedia with a sense of humor and wonder. It is still thriving today at www.h2g2.com.
Douglas Adams’ books also created a litmus test for his readers as they met new people. We will inevitably ask someone if they are readers and if they have read the books. If the answer is yes, we know we have something in common and we are well on our way to being fans. If you love the books, you share the same sense of humor and philosophy that is present in them. You have someone who knows why you must never forget your towel or why the number 42 is so important.
The community that surrounds Adams’ work on line has also given me a love for other authors that I would have never known about, or at least it would have taken a much longer time to find them. Neil Gaiman, Terry Prachett, and Christopher Moore are three that use fantasy, satire, and humor to help make their points. Each creates worlds that stand on their own and stories worth reading for just the stories. If you take more than that from their books it is a bonus for you. Each of them writes with wondrous craft, but will also make you laugh and think along the way.
Douglas Adams was taken from this world too young. He died from a heart attack on May 11, 2001. His universe continues to grow. There is one book of his work that was published posthumously, The Salmon of Doubt. It was a collection of articles and short stories along with the beginning of a sequel to the Dirk Gently series of books. It was a nice goodbye to give fans and a great chance to visit with him one more time.