Books, TV, Movie, Comics, Life, The Universe, and Everything: A Year’s Worth of Douglas Adams

My early experience with Douglas Adams was fairly limited.  When I was a teenager someone had suggested I read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy because they thought I would enjoy it.  I did – but I did not enjoy the movie that coincidentally came out shortly after I finished reading the book.  Around the same time I became a fan of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and occasionally Adams’ name would appear in the credits and I would think “Oh, he wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy“.  That’s it.  I was aware of his work, I liked his work, but I wasn’t necessarily a fan.  All that changed about this time last year.

Last fall, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency came to Netflix and that’s about when my year-long journey with Douglas Adams began.  I hadn’t heard of Dirk Gently until my boyfriend told me that he was watching a weird new show on Netflix and that it was so weird I would probably like it.  He was right – it was weird and I really liked it.  As a show, and with no prior experience with the Dirk Gently books and limited experience with Douglas Adams, it is fantastic.  If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it.  The early episodes can be confusing at times, and as you journey through each episode there are many loose threads and story lines that don’t necessarily make sense.  But by the end of the season everything comes together perfectly.  Basically, with no clues and very little direction, Dirk Gently relies only on the interconnectedness of all things to solve cases – even if he doesn’t even know what the case is.  So all of those weird individual threats in the show are interconnected to form one spectacular show.  It is a unique and mind blowing experience and I am really looking forward to season 2 (which will be airing on BBC America on October 14th).  (Season 1 Trailer / Season 2 Trailer)

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Since I absolutely adored the show, when I received an Indigo gift card for my birthday a few months later I immediately knew what I was going to buy.  Then I power read all three Dirk Gently books in under a week.  Although the Dirk Gently of the novels is a little different from the Dirk Gently of the Netflix show, these books still made for a good read.  Book 1 (Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency) definitely conveyed the same feeling as the show in that many random threads and plot lines came together into one larger narrative by the end of the novel, and although Book 2 (The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul) did the same it felt a little weaker compared to the previous book.  Book 3 was a different experience altogether – it was frustrating, but in a good way.  The Salmon of Doubt was published posthumously and contains a variety of published and unpublished material from Douglas Adams, including eleven or so chapters that were originally intended to be the third Dirk Gently novel.  The publisher has arranged these random chapters in an order that they believe makes sense and it is probably my favourite out of all the Dirk Gently books.  It’s got some really fantastic and intriguing elements – a few of which seem to have been included in the Netflix show – and it’s an exciting read and…  It’s not finished.  It is a bunch of chapters published posthumously – there is no ending!  That was the most frustrating read of my life because I was dying to know how everything was going to come together in the end and I will never find out what Adams actually had planned.  This will bother me for the rest of my life.

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Starship Titanic was next up.  A couple of years ago (long before I got hooked on Dirk Gently, but even longer since my early experiences with Douglas Adams) I found this used copy at Value Village and decided to get it just for fun.  I picked it up because I recognized the names of the authors – Douglas Adams “that guy who wrote Hitchhiker’s” and Terry Jones from Monty Python’s Flying Circus – so I knew that it would be an entertaining and funny read if nothing else.  A little while after I finished reading the Dirk Gently books I figured it was about time to pull Starship Titanic off the shelf and start reading.  The novel is based on a computer game that Douglas Adams created (and the Starship is mentioned in one of the Hitchhiker’s books), but it was Terry Jones who actually wrote the novel at Adams’ request.  Probably the most interesting thing about this book is that Jones wrote it while nude.  Yes, you read that right.  And that right there should give you an indication as to just how silly this book is.  At times it reads like a computer game as opposed to a novel but overall it’s a decent book.  Not the most sophisticated thing I’ve seen from Douglas Adams but it is filled with elements of humour that are characteristic of his work, and additional humorous elements that are reminiscent of Monty Python.  I finished it in about two days so it’s just a fun, light read but now I kind of want to try to find the computer game so I can play it.

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Of course, I eventually wound up back at the beginning.  I had delved enough into the works of Douglas Adams that I was due for a re-read of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  This time, I was determined to read all 5 books in the series.  The first book is obviously a classic – there’s no denying that.  I definitely enjoyed it more the second time now that I’m older and have a better grasp of what is going on.  Also, some of what I read in The Salmon of Doubt certainly added to my understanding of Adams’ works, including Hitchhiker.  I found, however, that as I continued through the series each of the four remaining books got progressively weaker.  The other four books are not bad, but they are not as strong as the original and each is slightly less impressive than the previous.  Overall I would argue that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as an individual book is Adams’ strongest work, but as a book series I find that the Dirk Gently series is superior.

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The film adaptation of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was my biggest challenge.  I hated it the first time I saw it.  I had a bad habit as a teenager involving film adaptations of books.  You see at that age, the only way I was able to get around watching certain films (particularly horror films) was if I read the book first.  So basically, any time I ever finished reading a book I would immediately go out to the nearest video store (yes, they still existed then) and rent the film adaptation.  But since I had only just finished reading the book I would compare both versions to the point where I ended up hating almost all film adaptations of books I had read – Hitchhiker’s was no exception.  If you’ve seen the film, you’ll know there are some differences between it and the text – teenage me was not pleased.  But then I re-watched it as an adult.  I had read some of Adams’ other works, I had read tidbits about the film in The Salmon of Doubt and in the extras from the film tie-in edition of Hitchhiker’s – I had a better understanding of what the film was trying to do.  It is also worth noting that many of my Douglas Adams books mention the fact that Adams has created many contradictory versions of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The film is not supposed to be exactly like the book; the film is simply a new and unique way of re-telling this story.  And yes the film is a little weaker than the novel, but it is a decent adaptation of this science fiction classic and definitely much more enjoyable once I became more familiar with Adams and his works.

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Finally, and thanks to my boyfriend once again, I got my hands on a copy of The Salmon of Doubt in graphic novel form.  True to anything Douglas Adams it is not a true adaptation of any one specific Dirk Gently story line, but rather a collage of many.  There is a series of Dirk Gently comics that I have yet to read (but you can bet they’ve made it onto my to-read list) and this seems to be the backbone of the story.  Within the plot are elements from all three Dirk Gently novels, the Netflix show, and even some references to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books.  I am so glad I read this after having read/watched everything else.  If you are reading the graphic novel after only having seen the show, you are missing out on quite a bit.  Just as Dirk Gently focuses on the interconnectedness of all things, this comic displays the interconnectedness of all things Douglas Adams.  This was a fantastic way to wrap up all that I had read and watched this past year.

Well, now I’ve come full circle.  Dirk Gently’s Hollistic Detective Agency season 2 is fast approaching.  I started the show knowing very little about the works of Douglas Adams and now I’m going into season 2 as a fan.  I am beyond excited.  And now my to-read and to-watch lists have grown even more.  Adams has written even more than what I’ve managed to get through this year, plus there’s all the Dirk Gently comics I’m going to have to read.  I’ll certainly be on the hunt from now on for any remaining Douglas Adams works I can add to my collection.  There was also another Dirk Gently tv series made years before the Netflix one, and Adams has even written for some older Doctor Who episodes! So where Douglas Adams is concerned I still have a lot of reading and television watching to do.  At least for now, until I get my hands on everything else, there’s Dirk Gently season 2 to look forward to.

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