Douglas Adams’ archive reveals writer’s frustrations
By Sherna Noah
Douglas Adams’ frustration with his most famous work – The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy – has been revealed in his archive.
The writer, who also penned stories for Doctor Who and served as script editor for the show, died of a heart attack, aged 49, in 2001.
A book, titled 42, is being published some 20 years after his death, and features his notebooks, letters, scripts, jokes, speeches, to-do lists and poems from his archive.
In one of the notes, written to himself, Adams reveals his anxiety and frustrations with the best-selling Hitchhiker’s Guide series of books.
“Arthur Dent is a burk. He does not interest me. Ford Prefect is a burk. He does not interest me. Zaphod Beeblebrox is a burk. He does not interest me,” he writes, of his most famous characters.
“Marvin is a burk. He does not interest me. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy is a burk. It does not interest me.”
His complaining quickly morphs into an imagined conversation with a giant dragon called Lionel.
After the author’s death, his family loaned the 67 boxes of archive material to the author’s former Cambridge college, St John’s.
The book has been developed in close association with Adams’s estate and family.
Publishers say notes in the crowdfunded book also show “Adams’ extraordinary ability to predict the future direction of technology”, from Kindles to the rise of multiplayer games like Fortnite.
Elsewhere, Adams writes to himself: “Writing isn’t so bad really when you get through the worry. Forget about the worry, just press on. Don’t be embarrassed about the bad bits. Don’t strain at them…
“But writing can be good. You attack it, don’t let it attack you. You can get pleasure out of it. You can certainly do very well for yourself with it…”
The late writer’s family said: “What Douglas loved more than a good idea was sharing a good idea, and whether it was the first or 100th time you had heard it, his obvious delight never diminished.”
The book’s editor Kevin Jon Davies said it was “emotional” to see Adams’ notes and that the archives mirrored his first meeting with the writer in 1978 with his “cluttered desk and his butterfly mind – draft pages, letters and notebooks, with inky crossings-out and ‘middles of thoughts’ – rich with comedic genius and some truly terrible typing”.
Mathew Clayton, head of publishing at Unbound, said the book – whose numerical title reflects the supercomputer Deep Thought’s answer to life, the universe and everything in the original Hitchhiker’s Guide – finds “a new way to unlock the archive of one of the most creative thinkers of the past half-century…
“We wanted to make a book to enhance that legacy, to fix and reinforce Adams’s reputation as a philosopher and seer.
“Thanks to the enthusiastic support and guidance of his family, we think 42 will do that – and crowdfunding it is exactly the sort of revolutionary strategy that Adams would have embraced.”
42: The Wildly Improbable Ideas of Douglas Adams is due out in 2022 to mark what would have been the writer’s 70th birthday. Crowdfunding details are at https://unbound.com/users/sign_in