The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy | Study Guide

Douglas Adams

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Douglas Adams | Biography


Douglas Noel Adams was born on March 11, 1952, in Cambridge, England. He always liked the fact that his initials were DNA, particularly because he was born nine months before Cambridge scientists Crick and Watson famously discovered the chemical structure of DNA. Adams's parents divorced when he was five. Living with his mother and younger sister on the eastern fringes of London, Adams attended Brentwood School in Essex. He recalls the years there as being good and fairly happy, and providing him with a solid understanding of English and physics. Master of the school, Frank Halford, was an especially inspirational teacher who once gave Adams a 10 out of 10 for a story—an exceptional award. Later in life, during bouts of writer's block and insecurity, Adams found encouragement in that memory. More than best sellers and money, Halford's 10 out of 10 meant that, at some fundamental level, Adams must be able to write.

After 12 years at Brentwood, Adams went on to St. John's College, Cambridge, to study English literature. It was about this time, in 1971, that the idea for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was generated in a field outside of Innsbruck, Austria. Adams had been hitchhiking around Europe and, being penniless, had not eaten for a couple of days. After too many beers on an empty stomach, he went to lie down in that field. His travels had been guided by the ultimate budget handbook of the day: The Hitchhiker's Guide to Europe. As he lay in the field watching the stars come out, it occurred to him that someone should write a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy as well. He later recalled that he "promptly fell asleep and forgot about it for six years."

Adams left Cambridge in 1975 and set his sights on breaking into television and radio writing. The work was sporadic, and he eventually found his career badly stalled. Flat broke, he took on some very odd jobs, including chicken-shed cleaner and bodyguard for Arabian royalty. It was at this low point that his idea to produce Hitchhiker's as a radio series was accepted and brought to life by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

The pilot episode aired on BBC Radio on March 8, 1978. The timing was perfect. The hit movie Star Wars, released in 1977, set off a surge of popular interest in science fiction. Furthermore, audiences had been primed for Adam's absurd and analytical brand of humor by watching Monty Python's comedy sketch shows.

At this time, Adams was also working as a script editor for BBC's Dr. Who series. The radio broadcast of Hitchhiker's, however, quickly spawned a recording, a second radio series, a television series, and most importantly, the first novel. Adams's workload was enormous, and he began to build a legendary reputation for procrastinating. "I love deadlines," he once said. "I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was published in the fall of 1979 and immediately hit number one on the London Sunday Times best-seller list. Adams left the BBC to write full time, creating four sequels: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980), Life, the Universe and Everything (1982), So Long and Thanks for All the Fish (1984), and Mostly Harmless (1992).

On May 11, 2001, fans worldwide were stunned to hear Douglas Adams had died of a heart attack at age 49. He, with his wife and daughter, had recently moved to Santa Barbara, California, and he was working on a feature film version of Hitchhiker's. Close friend and evolutionary biologist and writer Richard Dawkins said in tribute, "Science has lost a friend, literature has lost a luminary."

On the day before Adams died, the International Astronomical Union named Asteroid 18610 "Arthurdent" after Hitchhiker's protagonist. Among Adams's other works are:

  • The Meaning of Liff (1984)
  • Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (1987)
  • Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (1988)
  • The Deeper Meaning of Liff (1990)
  • Last Chance to See (1990)
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