Douglas Noel Adams died on May 11, 2001. He was forty-nine years old. I never got to say goodbye.
The meaning of life, the universe, and everything is forty-two, if we go by the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, penned by the great Douglas Adams. The first time I heard of the idea of forty-two, it was when I was in eighth grade, and the person I was sitting next to in my social studies class answered “42” to all of the questions on the quiz we were given. He told me that it was necessarily the correct response to all of the questions, because it was the meaning of life, the universe, and anything. Of course, I had to ask him where he would come up with such an idea, and he told me all about the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. He also suggested that I should read the books myself.
This wasn’t the first time I had heard of the books. I strongly recall being in a comic book shop when I was around seven or eight and seeing what looked like a planet sticking its tongue out at me. Being that age, I found the image to be amusing, of course. Being that age and not of an independently wealthy home I had no money about to buy the book, and I forgot about it. I saw advertisements for a computer game based on the first book in the series, but didn’t have a computer suitable for playing such games, or the inclination to go out and get the game.
I eventually went ahead and bought the first book in the series, by which point in time I was a freshman in high school. I was well advised at that point that it was something that everybody just had to read at some point in time. After all of the things I had heard about the books, I knew that I had to at least read the first one. I believe I finished reading the first one the day I got it, which is unusual for me because I normally take my time when reading books. This book, however, had an addictive quality, stemming from the fact that it was one of the funniest books I had read to that date, and it had extremely clever dialogue and cultural references. It made me think differently about things that I would have never thought about in such great detail.
For example, I have always taken digital wrist watches for granted, as just a part of existence. This might have something to do with the fact that I was born in 1977, and that digital watches have been the norm as long as I have been aware of them, or at least it seemed that way in the late ’80s. Is it a coincidence that I don’t wear digital wrist watches anymore, and that I consider them to be really unattractive in the aesthetic sense? That might have come from seeing too many cheap ugly digital wrist watches at garage sales, but I’m fairly sure that Douglas Adams had some influence there. The book made me laugh a lot, but it wasn’t an empty comic piece.
Speaking of influence…
A lot of my writing has been influenced, at least a little bit, by the writing of Douglas Adams. It is conceivable that my writing has been influenced by writers who were influenced by Douglas Adams. There is even a real Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on the web where you can find out information about life, the universe, and everything, including things such as the band REM, The Simpsons, and, well…. a ton of other information. It’s all supplied by so-called Researchers, in other words, ordinary people who observe the world around them. In terms of entertaining information, by which I mean something that edifies while not being as dry as a drying towel in a lazy person’s home, this is one of the best web sites out there. Can we thank Douglas Adams enough?
Recently, while I was in Puerto Vallarta, I brought a copy of The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul, a book that my darling fiancée bought for me for Chanukah. It had been a good number of years since I had read anything by Douglas Adams, though I had thought about him occasionally. People make references to Douglas Adams and his writing all the time in popular culture. I was honestly quite excited when the game Starship Titanic came out, but not excited enough to go out and buy it. It must have been that lack of money thing again. In retrospect, it wasn’t until somebody bought me the first book that I read it. Does that say anything about me as a fan of Douglas Adams? I would imagine it says a little bit more about my wallet. In any case, I slowly read that book, using it as a break from The Sentimental Education (Gustav Flaubert) which was not nearly as clever or funny as the book by Adams, though it was considerably longer and had more footnotes.
I guess you could say reading it got me on a sort of Douglas Adams kick. I noticed that the writing I was doing at the time (working on a novel) got a little more clever as I continued, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t entirely from reading Adams. Too much Corona? That certainly wasn’t it.
Then, he died.
I tend to want to meet people, or realize that I want to meet them only after they have died. On a rare occasion I will meet someone considered to be famous, but it’s usually not anyone I have been wanting to meet for years on end. Douglas Adams is someone I would have wanted to meet, perhaps even to ask a few questions about his writing technique, but it seems that will never happen. I’m not troubled by this fact, though, as the writing of Douglas Adams isn’t going anywhere, and I can enjoy it any time I pick up one of the books. The books will live as long as someone is there to read them.
If you haven’t read anything by Douglas Adams, I suggest that you do. Let the genius live on.