If ever our world has needed the gentle, hilarious madness of Douglas Adams, now would be the time. He was born on my birthday, but five years later than me … and he died in 2001, which seems to have been a good year for endings and a bad one for beginnings.
I love Douglas Adams — in case you didn’t already guess. Although he has been gone from our world for 14 years I miss him as much as ever. Maybe more. The world has become such a grim place and he could always make me laugh — not only because he was funny, but because he made fun of the universe. Such good times we had together. And since he recorded some of his books, I can actually still hear him speak.
I needed a short audiobook to listen to. I needed short, and I need funny. So I returned, again, to “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.” It’s just over three and a half hours — precisely the right length and correct degree of lunacy to lighten my spirits.
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detection Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul were published in 1987 and 1988. They were originally going to be a trilogy (The Salmon of Doubt was to be the third part) but the Douglas Adams up and died before completing it. The only unforgivable thing he did was to die. It was May of 2001 and worse was to follow later that year.
I first read these when they were published in the late 1980s. I have no idea how many times I’ve read them since, but I keep spare copies on my Kindle in case I need a fix. I have owned many copies in paperback and hard cover, and have had the audio versions on cassette, CD, and now as Audible downloads. I have listened to the recordings so many times you might think I’d grow tired of them. I never do. Of the books Douglas Adams wrote — I love all of them — these two are my favorites.
Unlike the Hitchhiker series, the Dirk Gently books have plots. They follow a linear timeline. Bizarre, outlandish, hilarious, but are real detective stories, albeit full of ghosts, gods, and other weirdness.
I love the character of Dirk Gently and have always wondered how much of Douglas Adams he embodies. Certainly his description is that of Douglas himself. Dirk is strange. He doesn’t understand his strangeness, but has accepted it and learned to use it for good. He is the “holistic detective.” His purposeful yet random behavior produces results and he is especially good at finding lost objects. And people. Both alive and dead.
The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul was the book in which Adams introduced the idea that gods without worshipers fade away, that their powers spring from having followers. The idea was new when the books were published in 1987 and 1988. Since then, the concept has been widely adopted by many authors and is now a staple in the fantasy genre.
The title of the book is taken from Adams’ novel Life, the Universe and Everything (my favorite of the Hitchhiker series) to describe the wretched boredom of immortal being Wowbagger, the Infinitely Prolonged. It’s also a play on Dark Night of the Soul by Saint John of the Cross.
Douglas Adams left his fingerprints all over the fantasy genre. Although Dirk was not a magician, he had magic. Descended from him is a legion of magic-wielding detectives solving crimes around the world. Douglas’ proclamation that “The Gods live!” has become the backbone of more than a few well-known authors. An entire sub-genre of literature is peopled by immortals and gods from various Pantheons.
Douglas Adams got there first and got there laughing.
If you haven’t read “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” and “The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul” you should correct that omission as soon as possible. You don’t have to read them in order, but I think they are better that way although each book stands on its own. You’ll love the gods … gods of rain, gods of thunder, gods of every little thing … as they roam the earth, wondering what happened to all their worshipers.