Monday, March 11, 2013

Entry#7: Do You Know Where Your Towel Is Today?


Do You Know Where Your Towel Is Today?
There are certain people who become fixtures in our lives. We couldn’t imagine a world without them. Douglas Adams was one of those people for me.

I first encountered the writing of Douglas Adams when I was twelve…

Wait; let me back up a bit.

I first heard of his writing when I was eleven. This all came to me by an indirect source; The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In the now classic gaming book The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ Guide to the Universe, there is a very interesting disclaimer. 

It read like this, “The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ Guide to the Universe is not related to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and is in no way meant to infringe on that property.”

Being overly observant as I am, I read the copyright page. I’m forever grateful that I did. Reading that disclaimer lead me to think, “What is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?” And what connection did it have to TMNT? I returned to my local bookstore a few weeks later. I was to see these large, leather-bound books with gold letters on the spines. They read, “The More than Complete Hitchhiker’s Guide--Douglas Adams.”

That answered my question, sort of. Now, I had to read this impressive tome. It was so impressive, that it had a gold-colored creature on the cover, a parody of the “smiley face.” And that silly creature was sticking his tongue out, and laughing. I had to read this book. I needed to know, “What was the secret of the Hitchhiker’s Guide?”

I had placed The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on my Christmas list that year. I asked, and I had received. This proves that Santa Claus not only exists, but that he must indeed be of alien origin. I read that first novel as if it were an actual guide book. Granted, I knew it was fiction, but I wanted it to be real. I wanted to carry a messenger bag like Ford Prefect (which I do). I wanted to know where my towel was at all times. And I wanted to see these odd places first hand. And, I wanted to sample a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster, no matter what the cost!

Needless to say, I was in love with this book. It was, and still is, my first love. You never forget your first. I wanted more of this strange universe as recounted by Douglas Adams. And for my thirteenth birthday (in the early 90’s) I was given that same large, leather-bound volume I had seen at age eleven. I still have it on my bookshelf. It sits next to a large collection of Douglas Adams books; both fiction and non-fiction. I also received another great gift that year: an audio book of Douglas Adams himself reading The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. I could then hear his voice reading his work in his own words!

I listened to that audio book throughout that summer. I then read that large, leather-bound book. It was then comprised of the first four novels in the series; The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; The Restaurant at the End of the Universe; Life, The Universe, and Everything; and So Long, and Thanks for All The Fish. Since that summer I have read, and re-read, and re-read those books consistently. And once more, I didn’t have to wait long for another book in the series. Adams published Mostly Harmless about a year later! It was from that point on that I have made it my mission in life to track down EVERYTHING Adams wrote. Some guys get turned on by cars. Some get into baseball. I wanted to be a writer, and nothing else.

Why did Douglas Adams work connect with me so completely? The answer to that is a long one.

First, he wasn’t boring.

One of the great sins of our culture is that we purposefully bore children to death with really overbearing books. We drill it into their heads that “real” writing must be slow, overly long, and dull as watching paint dry; but without the heady aroma and side effects. Granted, I had the joys of Encyclopedia Brown, and Choose Your Own Adventure at that age. I also discovered Sherlock Holmes around the same time. But none of it could compare to the humor I found in Adams’ work. Though that time that Sherlock and Watson dressed in drag to infiltrate that Hong Kong brothel; you have to admit that was funny. Oh, you didn’t read that book? Well, I’m sure Sir Arthur would have written it, had he been given the chance.

Second, the works of Douglas Adams are philosophical.

All of his novels are detailed analyses of the society around us. Whether it was conscious or not, Adams became a great social critic. The absurd civilizations he wrote about mirror our own world. The outrageous choices that are made by seemingly “enlightened” societies are just as illogical as our own. An example is the survivors of the Ark in Space and their tree-killing ways. Or, be it the Krikkit Men, hell bent on annihilating the universe using sports equipment. Or, the senile Man Who Rules the Universe. These are all clear metaphors for the world around us.

Third, they were the first novels I could quote.

The dialogue and scenarios are memorable episodes; both on the page, the airwaves, and the idiot box. And in recent years, it has been adapted for the silver screen. One can vividly see Ford, Arthur, Zaphod, and Trillian in their mind’s eye. And one can see themselves in these characters.

That brings me to point number four.

These books are not about heroes. They are not about extraordinary people. They are about the everyman on an adventure. Arthur Dent is that everyman. This tradition goes back to the medieval mystery play, simply titled, Everyman. We also see echoes of it in Dante’s Divine Comedy. Though, if the truth be told, Douglas Adams was much funnier than Dante.

Everyman always had a guide. In this case, Ford Prefect is that guide. Dante had his Virgil, Arthur had his Ford. And along the way, the two go from one odd situation to another. In the end, both learn about the universe around them; in all its greatness, and foibles. We are all everymen on an adventure. We are all drifting through the galaxy on one great starship. And we are all trying to figure out why we are here. And much like The Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question, the question is more complex than the answer.

I was shocked in 2001, when I learned of Douglas Adams’ death. He was only forty-nine years old. He’d left behind a wife, a daughter, and a legacy of humor. He also left behind tireless efforts to save the world from itself. His conservationist efforts are often overlooked. But his quest to help preserve endangered species, and humanity, are among his finest works. It is these works, both on, and off the page, that have ensured his memory will endure. Writers never really die. As long as their work is available, people will hear their voices. Future generations will discover their work, and then pass it onto the next generation.

Douglas Adams inspired me to become a writer. And when I find myself in difficult times, I remind myself of his struggles. He once went from having a seven-thousand pound overdraft, to having over eight million books in print. He once hitchhiked from England to Greece, got food poisoning, and lived to tell about it. And Douglas Adams got to jam with Pink Floyd on his forty-second birthday. What started out as an idle thought, “I wish someone would write a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” evolved into a cross-cultural phenomenon.

Here’s ten things you didn’t know about Douglas Adams.

1. He has an asteroid named for him. DNA-42-2001

2. He was six-foot tall at age twelve. He would eventually grow to be six-foot- two.

3. He was a left-handed.

4. Adams was also a skilled guitarist. He not only jammed with Pink Floyd, he also jammed with Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits.

5. He introduced Lalla Ward (former Dr. Who companion) to her
husband, biologist Richard Dawkins.

6. He was a patron of the Dian Fossy Gorilla Fund.

7. Adams was script editor for Dr. Who. He wrote four episodes, “City of Death,” Pirate Planet,” and “Shada.” The Christmas Special of 2012 was based on an unproduced script Adams had left behind…nearly thirty-three years ago.

8. Another asteroid was named in honor of Arthur Dent. It is simply named, “ArthurDent.”

9. He was close friends with Graham Chapman of Monty Python fame. The two collaborated on a rarely-seen TV pilot, “Down From the Trees.” 

10. Adams had predicted the invention of the E-book. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is electronically updated via the Sub-ether net as well. Perhaps he predicted downloads to iPads, and other electronic devices?

Stay cool and froody, kids.

Copyright Johnny X. 2013
Video From the Vaults
Douglas Adams made a guest appearance on Letterman in 1985. This was during the promotion for So Long, and Thanks For All The Fish.


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