It’s Towel Day so I feel compelled to write about the effect Douglas Adams had on my world view and my life. I’m certainly not alone in recognising his impact on the world and it delights me to be one of many who felt touched by his writing.
I received my first copy of The Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (a trilogy in four parts) in 1984 when I was the ripe age of 7. I think I bought it during one of many regular trips to the book store that my parents would take me on.
I don’t think I have ever officially thanked them for that so I will take the opportunity now: I always looked forward to the times I could spend wandering the aisles and browsing through books, and I don’t remember a time when I didn’t leave the store with a purchase; frequently a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, and in later years Pratchett books. But back to Mr Adams.
The edition I have has a wonderful cover that is truly of its time: A heavily pixelated star field with the title and author’s name in computer generated extruded type.
I fell in love with the writing immediately. Nothing had so perfectly blended the absurdist humour that I’d inherited from watching Monty Python and listening to The Goons courtesy of my Dad with real characters that I could invest in. It set my imagination on fire in ways that even The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings had failed to do. Not that I love Tolkein’s work any less, but there’s something grounded in reality in Adams’ stories and characters that make them easier to get lost in.
The book rarely left my side and I devoured it in short order, and I have continued to revisit it every year since. Thanks to a recent purchase of a nook, I now have a copy on me at all times (next to my towel, of course).
It was another three years before I found another Adams book to love, which was Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. This was the book that introduced me to the notion that a book didn’t have to be high fantasy or science fiction to be compelling. By this time I had already started programming computers (I had just received an Acorn Archimedes 310) and felt a connection to Richard MacDuff and his Anthem software that converts corporate accounts into music is the basis for my continuing fascination with data visualisation.
Similarly, The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul released the following year introduced me to Norse mythology and Mostly Harmless a few years later encouraged me to pursue the beauty inherent in the perfect cheese sandwich.
I can trace so many influences directly back to Douglas Adams’ work that I must offer my heartfelt thanks, not only for all the fish, but to opening my young mind to a world of wonder, imagination, and absurdity.
To quote Dirk Gently himself, “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”