Don’t Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Neil Gaiman

Publication Date: September 15, 2009

 

NG_Dont_PanicDon’t Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy best-selling author and Dr. Who writer, Neil Gaiman, takes readers behind the curtain to discover the late Douglas Adams through his life and work.

 

 

 

Written much in the style and humor of the author it honors, Neil Gaiman’s Don’t Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a wonderful treat for fans of “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” and its author. The book contains supporting material from Douglas Adams himself, as well as his own words as compiled from Gaiman’s interviews with him, as well as a tireless search of the media.

Adams early aspirations were toward the stage. He saw John Cleese perform while at Cambridge and thought to himself, “I can do that… I’m as tall as he is” (page 7).  Gaiman connects for the reader Adams early work with the work that would become The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  While working with Graham Chapman after the days on Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Adams amassed ideas he thought either too good to discard or too interesting to forget and they would make up elements of his later masterpiece. The Adams that Gaiman outlines for us very much worked on instinct and inspiration. Douglas said that he “Didn’t so much like writing as having written (Page 7).”

What readers might not know is that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was originally a radio comedy produced by Simon Brett and probably best known for his own subsequent mystery writing career.  I’m sure many DNA fans are also Whovian fans and will be quite interested to know that Adams was contacted to write for that show after submitting a draft of the pilot for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to the producers of Dr. Who (Page 37).  Gaiman includes snippets of the original script that show the origins of what would become the “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” that we know. Interestingly, Gaiman tells us that there was a backlash against Adams’s writing of “Dr. Who” because fans thought his style “too silly” (Page 50). I wonder how anyone writing for Tom Baker could be “too silly”, but then as someone who disliked Matt Smith’s frenetic energy until his last season, perhaps this reviewer isn’t one to talk.

Gaiman writes in Chapter 22 of going through Adams’ personal correspondence and finding the experience illuminating. Adams was a man of notable wit and who took questions, no matter how silly, seriously and answered with the seriousness of someone who has deeply thought out his world. One writer asked for the recipe of a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster and Adams answers in a way that’s truly Guide worthy…“I’m afraid it’s impossible to mix a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster in Earth’s Atmospheric Conditions, but as an alternative I suggest you buy up the contents of your local liquor store, pour them into a large bucket and redistill them three times. I’m sure your friends would appreciate this” (Page 158). On Page 159, a writer asks where he got the inspiration for his novels and Adams answers “From a mail-order company in Iowa.” (Page 159).

Don’t Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy  is a fanboy love letter to an author known and admired. There is, after all, a reason a day is dedicated to this internally best-selling author. In this fifth edition of Don’t Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Gaiman gives old fans, new readers and generations to come a clear view of what the world lost when we lost this great author in 2001. “Don’t Panic: Douglas Adams and the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” is a wonderful reference for any fan of Douglas Adams and gives us a true insight into his process, his insecurities, his challenges and ultimately his success. Written in the light and thought-provoking style of its subject, I am now inspired to go out and snap up everything Nail Gaiman has ever written.

While the majority of the book focused on the success of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and its sequels, Gaiman gives readers a complete look at Adam’s career from Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency to the The Deeper Meaning of Liff: A Dictionary of Things There Aren’t Any Words for Yet—But There Ought to Be. He briefly outlines all of the media platform in which the original work and subsequent works have appeared making clear to readers that if  The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is all you’ve read, you’re missing out. Last year I reviewed Last Chance to See (click here to read that review) for Towel Day that highlighted his love of this planet and its creatures that he was so fond of destroying in fiction.

On Page 59, Gaiman lists three opinions of why The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was so successful. The consensus seems to be that it’s because it’s not like nothing the reading public had ever seen before. As someone who first read Adams as a teenager and has been searching for like authors for the better part of my life, I believe this perfect style of brilliance and madness is so hard to produce that we’ll see it infrequently as time goes on. Adams is lost to us now. Jasper Fforde remains, and up and coming authors like Ford Forkum as well, but catching the magic in the bottle that was Adams is elusive. Don’t Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was a sheer delight to read and to remember the man that was Douglas Adams. Read an excerpt of

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Neil Gaiman is a noted graphic artist and author. In 2011, Gaiman followed in Adams’ footsteps writing episodes for Doctor Who. He is the co-author of the brilliant “Nightmare in Silver” episode starring Matt Smith as the Doctor and Jenna-Louise Coleman as Clara. He also wrote the episode “The Doctor’s Wife,” also starring Matt Smith.

Neil Gaiman books and stories have been honored with four Hugos, two Nebulas, one World Fantasy Award, four Bram Stoker Awards, six Locus Awards, two British Science Fiction Awards, one British Fantasy Award, three Geffens, one International Horror Guild Award and two Mythopoeic Awards.

For more information about Neil Gaiman, visit his website, his fansite and forum. You can connect with him on Goodreads, Facebook , YouTube and Twitter @neilhimself. Series readers can track his books on FictFact.

Karen

Hi, great review, but Neil Gaiman didn’t write the Discworld novels (their author is Terry Pratchett). He has written many novels and short stories (eg Coraline, Neverwhere, American Gods etc).

Julia Hughes

A massive fan of Douglas Adams, totally original and off the wall. As a Londoner, I found Neil Gaiman’s “NeverWhere” inspired. Sounds like the perfect combination, and a must read.