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||Douglas Adams (1952-2001)|
British author and humorist, best known for the comic
science-fiction series The
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979). Though primarily
characterized as a science fiction author, Douglas Adams always
insisted that he is a "comedy writer" who merely uses "the
devices of science fiction to send up everything else." Basically
the series carries on the old tradition of fantastic voyages to other
worlds (Lucian's Icaro-Menippus, Cyrano de
Bergerac's Other Worlds, Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, etc), in which
the form serves as a vehicle for satire on contemporary society.
"It's a sort of electronic book. It tells you everything you need to know about anything. That's its job." (in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, 1979)
Douglas Noël Adams was born in Cambridge, the son of
Christopher Douglas Adams, who had abandoned taking holy orders for
teaching, and Janet (Donovan)
Adams, a nurse. After his birth, the family moved to London. Adams
didn't learn to speak until he was almost four. His
parents divorced in 1957, and he moved with his mother and sister to
live with his grandmother in Brentwood, Essex. Both of his parents
remarried later. At school Adams excelled in creative writing. He
was also much taller than the other children. His first
publication was a short story, entitled 'Suspense' (1965), in the
popular boys' comic Eagle.
In 1974 Adams was given
the opportunity to write for the fourth series of Monty Python show ('A Doctor Whose
Patients Are Stabbed by His Nurse'), and he had two brief appearances
the sceen. Later he said, "I would certainly not lay claim to being a
contributory writer for Python because Python was those six guys, and
role was quite incidental and coincidental." With Graham Chapman he
wrote sketches for the television show Out of the Trees (1975) and an
episode for Doctor on the Go
and Chapman first met at the opening of the West End run of Chox, the Footlights revue.
Following the success of the series, Adams was asked by Pan Books to write a novel based on his radio scripts. The book went to the top of the London Times best-seller list. Adams's protagonist is an Englisman named Arthur Dent. When Earth is destroyed by Vogons to make way for a hyperspatial express route, Arthur is saved by his friend, Ford Prefect, an alien who is a contributor to an electronic Baedeker, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy". Readers are also given answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. The answer is 42. (Adams told The Independent in 1996 that he chose the number because he "wanted a nice, ordinary number, one that you wouldn't mind taking home and introducing to your parents.") It has been argued that Lewis Carroll was particularly interested in that number. In the poem 'The Hunting of the Snark', the only rule quoted is No 42. In addition, there are many open and hidden references to 42 in Alice in Wonderland (The Mystery of Lewis Carroll by Jenny Wolf, 2010, pp. 56-58).
"Some of us grieved when Douglas Adams came along with his Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy and grew rich doing the Sheckleyan things which appeared to keep Sheckley poor." (Brian Aldiss & David Wingrove, Trillion Year Spree, 2001, p. 378.)
Eventually the Hitchhiker
saga evolved into a five-novel "trilogy"
although after the third installment Adams had got tired of "sitting in
the dark room and writing". He moved in 1983 to Los Angeles to work on
a film version of the story. The movie was never made and Adams
returned to England, feeling that he had hit his first major failure in
Adams once said, "I
have a well-deserved reputation for being something of a gadget freak,
and am rarely happier than when spending an entire day programming my
computer to perform automatically a task that it would otherwise take
me a good 10 seconds to do by hand." After giving up writing books with
a typewriter (Hermes Standard 8), Adams became known as an Apple fan.
Both Adams and Stephen Fry have claimed to be the first person in
Britain to own an Apple Macintosh. An amateur musician, Adams played
guitar and piano. Dawkins dedicated
his book The God Delusion
(2006) to Adams, quoting a line from the Hitchhiker: "Isn't it enough to see
that a garden is beautiful without
having to believe there are fairies a the bottom of it?"
For further reading: '"The Game's Afoot": Predecessors and Pursuits of a Postmodern Detective Novel' by Kathleen Belin Owen, in Theory and Practice of Classic Detective Fiction, edited by Jerome H. Delamater and Ruth Prigozy (1997); Hitchhiker: A Biography of Douglas Adams M. J. Simpson (2003); The Making of The hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: The Filming of the Douglas Adams Classic, edited by Robbie Stamp (2005); 'Counterpointing the Surrealism of the Underlying Metaphor in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' by M.J. Simpson, in British Science Fiction Television: A Hitchhiker's Guide, edited by John R. Cook and Peter Wright (2006); 'Adams, Douglas' in Encyclopedia of American Popular Fiction by Geoff Hamilton, Brian Jones (2009); 'Douglas Adams' in Gale Contextual Encyclopedia of World Literature, Volume 1, edited by Anne Maria Hacht and Dwayne D. Hayes (2009); Philosophy and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, edited by Nicholas Joss (2012); The Frood: The Authorised and Very Official History of Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Jem Roberts (2014)