Chris Walsh (chris_walsh) wrote,
Chris Walsh

Douglas Adams on my mind

Like a lot of us, I miss Douglas Adams.

Never met him. Timing never worked out to do so. I'm guessing the closest I came was maybe being in the same state as him: I know Adams visited Portland in 1992 when his fifth Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy novel, Mostly Harmless, was published. Years later I visited Portland's Heathman Hotel, which often hosts visiting authors, and its library had a signed copy of the book.

Like a lot of us, I remember Douglas Adams. He had success with Hitchhiker's, something deeply weird, idiosyncratic, satirical, very very dryly funny...and a work built on sadness and depression. Adams lived with those. They influenced him.

The story grew out of an idea he had for a BBC Radio program that was going to be called The Ends of the Earth, where in six episodes the Earth would be destroyed in six different ways for six different reasons. It evolved into the radio version of Hitchhiker's, becoming a single story instead of six; its main character — whom he almost named "Aleric B" (really) before deciding on the more likely name Arthur Dent — became more of a British everyman, not quite and not exactly a stand-in for Adams, because the most Douglas Adams-y part of Hitchhiker's is probably its narration. That's clearer to me having just re-read his 1987 novel Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, a series I wish Adams had been able to write more about. His voice is there in his narration, sometimes more than it is in his plots, often the less-weak parts of whatever Adams wrote.

But Hitchhiker's Guide is about someone losing something huge, as Arthur Dent loses Earth. In Fall 2016 I re-read all five of Adams' Hitchhiker's novels — you have to make that distinction because of Eoin Colfer's official 2009 follow-up And Another Thing..., though I'm on record disliking that book — and the sadness and depression in the series seemed still more obvious. Arthur loses. He grieves. He's surprised by what makes him grieve: first he's hit hard by realizing London no longer exists, then he's hit harder by realizing all McDonald's restaurants are gone, too. Grief can be triggered in odd ways. I've seen that. You've seen that. It can be tough to see. It's tougher to feel. It's tough to live with it. Sadness and depression do not play fair. The universe of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy does not play fair (and Agrajag thinks it's even more unfair, but due to circumstances he really, really has a chip on his shoulder). And Arthur Dent deals with this as long as he can. As did Adams, who did get joy later in his life, like his daughter. Douglas Adams seems like someone who was meant to be a parent.

How do I deal with sadness, with what's unfair? I'm working on that.

Thinking of this makes me wonder: as esoteric as his work often is, David Lynch is very attuned to emotions, especially the difficult ones. I wonder if Lynch likes Douglas Adams's work.
Tags: books

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