douglas adams inspired "Hitch hikers guide to the galaxy" H2G2If 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.

Long dark tea time of the soulI 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.

Categories: Arts, Author, Book Review, Books, Humor, Sci Fi - Fantasy - Time Travel

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24 replies

  1. Forever 42!

    I used to have the individual books before almost all of them got whacked (borrowing and not returning is not any different from stealing). So I got myself the Omnibus. Every time I pick that up, I read the whole thing. And enjoy it, always!

    The book of his though – which sadly doesn’t seem to be as well known – that impressed me the most was the non-fictional “Last Chance To See” which was written during the TV shoot for the series of the same name that dealt with conservation efforts. His trademark wit was elevated by a rare sensitivity. Touching, hilarious, warm. Incidentally my copy of that book also disappeared.


  2. The Hitchhikers radio interpretation was superbly done. I recorded quite a bit of it. Great stuff. Didn’t like the movie tho.


  3. Thank you so much for this great review! Douglas Adams is one of my favorite authors. 42 was a very profound number in my life. At the age of 42 I had the best discussion about Mr. Adams and his books in a pub in a very dark area near the train station heading to Bedfordshire. It ended up drawing all these different people in to it. At the end the long haired punk gentleman, with a very proper accent because he had actually gone to public school, thanked me. He said he had been drinking in this pub near these blokes for years and they had never talked to each other before. How funny one crazy Californian could drawn them together over a discussion of Mr. Adams great books. My favorite line is always, So long and thanks for the fish! I had not read these two books and am off to so I can get them in British English version : ) You made my day!!!!


  4. I love Douglas Adams. Although I didn’t steal anything, the tone of my book (currently unpublished) owes more than a little to “the Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul”.


  5. It’s been many years since I read those books but they were very good.


    • You have a hint of his style in yours. I first read the books many years ago, but each time I read them again, I get something more from them. Something I missed or maybe it’s that I’ve changed. I need a little pure madness in my world.


  6. The world is definitely a less amazing place without him!


  7. I love this post and enjoyed reading i ☺ Having said that, Larry Niven wrote a story called The Magic Goes Away in 1976 which treated magic like a finite resource that gets used up and i always felt that the concept of gods fading away without followers borrowed a lot from that. Good post ☺


    • I probably read it. I think I read every science fiction book from the beginning of the genre through the late 1970s. After that, life got more complicated and many more authors entered the field. However, the concept of magic as a finite resource? I believe the statuette goes to Robert Heinlein for Waldo and Magic, Inc. (1950) and for all we know, Shakespeare or Christopher Marlowe before that. I think Adams was the first person who featured the gods as prime characters in his book, but I could be wrong. It’s hard to track ideas and sometimes difficult to decide if this idea and that idea are basically the same idea … or not. Thanks for commenting!!


      • Ah. Although i read a lot if Heinlein i never read Waldo and Magic Inc. My Heinlein reading years were mostly the 70s when i was confined to whatever the local library owned. I guess, as you say, they all build upon each other. Even Shakespeare borrowed from others before him. ☺


        • Then you might have a little treat in store. Waldo and Magic, Inc. are two novellas, always bound in a single volume. One is the foundation for the other. I’m always amazed at how many people read it and totally miss the point. I got it on Kindle and I think it was just a couple of dollars. In hard copy, I don’t know if it is still in print.


      • Ah. I knew i had seen the idea earlier ☺ Star Trek. The episode “Who mourns for Adonis”. Apollo states that the gods need worship to survive. 1967.


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