Monday, November 21, 2022

The Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy: I still think digital watches are pretty neat

Douglas Adams would have an excellent metaphor for the way his writing affected me when I first read the Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy when I was 10. He would say that his writing hit my brain with the force of a mailbag full of drunken salamanders or something.

But nobody can ever quite write like Douglas Adams did, and he hasn't been with us for a long, long time now to do it, so I'll just have to say that reading Hitch-Hikers at an extremely impressionable age was one of the very best things to ever happen to me.

Before the book, my first exposure to the worlds of Douglas Adams were sometime in the early 80s, when a local radio station was playing the original Hitch-Hikers Guide To the Galaxy radio show, and only caught a bit of it.

I didn't understand a bloody thing. I couldn't figure out why that guy could Zaphod had two heads, or even what a pan galactic gargle blaster. It was a scary and atmospheric and echoed around my young brain for a while, until I stumbled across the first book.

A family friend let me borrow it, the paperback with the running colours that told you nothing about the wit and pleasure that lay within. I promised I've give it back to them, but I never did, and I still feel a bit guilty about it, even as the book still sits in a pride of place at the top shelf of my best bookcase in the living room

But everyone should go through a Douglas Adams phase, it's good for you. Even if only for the wonderful, wonderful writing, which made fun of the dullest dullards, finding metaphors for the human condition in the endless spaceways of the universe.

The high absurdity of the adventures always balanced out by the dour common sense of Arthur Dent, who might be the hero of the story, but doesn't really do anything, just swept along by the silliness. (At least he had some common decency. Arthur doesn't force his ways of thinking on the people he meets out there - unless you count his many terrible attempts to teaching the locals to brew a cup of tea, he just goes with the flow.)

And Adams would never be happy with just one bit of silliness, there were always more layers to it.The description of how to fly is good enough (throw yourself ant the ground, but just kind of miss it), but to then be whacked in the small of a back by a floating party as you soar through the air is just perfect. Cricket isn't just a dull thing the English foisted on the world, but a symbol of the most awful and destructive war the universe has ever known, because of course it does.

I read all the Hitch-Hikers books multiple times (although not the post Adams ones, because they prove how incredibly difficult it is to maintain that tone), have rewatched his Dr Who episodes a lot, and followed Dirk Gently on his quietly philosophical adventures. The first Neil Gaiman thing I ever read was his book about Hitch-Hikers.

The Hitch-Hiker books have aged spectacularly well, no doubt due to a vein of humour that isn't 100% cringe in the 21st century, another small impossibility Adams pulled off before breakfast. The original radio series is more timeless than the 80s TV show (although the use of that theme song is immortal), and even the maligned 2005 film has some lovely moments.

But I will always just be so glad to stumble across these books at just the right time in my life. When you're 10-years-old, and starting to figure out how the world works and how you fit into it, a worldview that incorprates insanely clever writing, a bit of total ridiculousness, a truckload of disrepect for blind authority and some deep humanity is just what you need. even if we do all get blown up right at the start.

No comments: