Aliens, robots, and talking whales: Gaiman and Riddell’s journey into Douglas Adams’ Universe (interview: video).
Recently, a meeting of talents brightened the screen of Forbidden Planet TV. Andrew Sumner, ever the charming host, extended a warm welcome to Chris Riddell, former Children’s Laureate, illustrator, author, and cartoonist for The Observer, and fantasy author Neil Gaiman.
The purpose of this noteworthy gathering? A deep dive into a vibrant conversation revolving around Riddell’s illustrated edition of ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.’ Journeying through the whimsically chaotic cosmos of the late, revered Douglas Adams, Riddell and Gaiman offered a homage to the legendary sci-fi author, their dialogue filled to the brim with heartwarming stories and a profound appreciation for Adams’ distinctive tales.
This memorable assembly not only celebrated an enduring work of literary art but also offered audiences a rare glimpse into the minds of three exceptional creators, all linked by their shared love of storytelling.
Douglas Adams: the man who taught the world how to fly – just by throwing oneself at the ground and missing – sadly missed the ground himself back in 2001, leaving a gaping void in the universe of wacky wordsmithery. Best known for his paradoxical ‘trilogy in five parts’, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Adams spun a BBC radio comedy into an intergalactic sensation, selling over 15 million copies of the books. And for a man who couldn’t count the number of books in a trilogy, he managed to etch his name into the Radio Academy’s Hall of Fame.
Aside from his Hitchhiker’s legacy, Adams also penned the delightfully eccentric Dirk Gently series, co-wrote a guidebook on the most oddly named things in existence (The Meaning of Liff and its sequel), and humorously documented his worldwide travels in ‘Last Chance to See’. If writing wasn’t enough, he dipped his toes into TV script editing, contributing two stories for Doctor Who, and co-writing a Monty Python sketch. The breadth of his work is as baffling as a Babel fish translating Vogon poetry.
Posthumously, the world was treated to ‘The Salmon of Doubt’, a collection of his works, including an unfinished novel – a final glimpse into the absurd mind of a man who viewed the world from a slightly skewed angle. Unabashedly self-proclaimed as a ‘radical atheist’, Adams was as famous for his environmental advocacy and love for fast cars as for his eccentric characters and plotlines.
One can’t discuss Adams without a nod to his notable contributions to Doctor Who, which included an unfilmed story known as ‘Shada’. Though it was never completed due to a small matter of industrial disputes, it was eventually animated, aired, and novelised – much like the regenerating Doctor, ‘Shada’ refused to die.
Adams’ idiosyncratic ideas, however, didn’t always fit within the confines of pre-established universes. His creativity extended far beyond, culminating in ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’. This particular idea hit him when he was – unsurprisingly for Adams – lying drunk in a field in Innsbruck, Austria. One can only imagine him, clutching a copy of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Europe, contemplating the utility of towels and the improbability drive. A man drunk under the stars, pondering a universe yet unknown to us. Typical Adams.
His writing process, however, was far from conventional. Much like his creation Zaphod Beeblebrox, Adams struggled with deadlines, often preferring to let them whoosh by. It’s a wonder he managed to produce five novels in the series (albeit with the ‘assistance’ of being locked in a hotel suite with his editor for So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish).
Despite Adams’ unconventional methods, his works evolved into various adaptations: comic books, an interactive computer game, and even a feature film – a project he tirelessly pursued since 1980, and which was sadly realised only after his death in 2005. Today, we remember him not just for his remarkable narratives and the delightful absurdities they introduced but for his enduring spirit, one that made us ponder the mysteries of life, the universe, and everything else.