The late Douglas Adams created a brilliantly daft universe in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and now it looks as though his literary baton will be picked up by Irish writer Eoin Colfer, author of the “Artemis Fowl” series.
Adams used to say that he hatched the idea for “Hitchhiker’s Guide” while staring up at the stars as he lay drunk in a field in Austria after a day of wandering countryside and feeling like a clumsy alien for reasons of language and booze. There’s been debate whether that’s an authentic account, but, really, how much unvarnished reality should be expected from the man who cooked up the Vogons and Zaphod Beeblebrox? Adams died in beautiful Montecito in 2001, the victim of a fatal heart attack at age 49.
“Hitchhiker’s Guide” began as a radio series, became a massively successful run of novels and has also been adapted (with mixed results) for television, film and gaming. Now, according to Colfer and an essay he posted on his website a few days ago, the series will resume with a sixth installment. It’s clear that Colfer is excited and a bit intimidated by the notion of adding to the Adams canon.
“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” was like nothing I had read before, or since for that matter. If you have read it then you know exactly what I am talking about. If you haven’t then read it now, moron. The problem is the hyperbole puts people off. If it’s so popular then it must be middle of the road, brimming with clichés and easily digested on the sands of Ibiza.
All false assumptions. “The Guide” is a slice of satirical genius. A marvel of quantum tomfoolery. A dissection of the absurdities of our human condition. A space odyssey that forces us to face ourselves and collapse in hysterics. Imagine if Messrs. Hawking and Fry were locked in a room with the entire cast of Monty Python and forced to write a book which would subsequently be edited by Pink Floyd, then the result would need a lot of work before it could be cut from Douglas Adams’ first draft.
For the next couple of decades I followed the exploits of Arthur Dent and his intergalactic troupe as they stumbled through space and time befuddled and bereft, drinking tea in the face of impossible odds and generally failing to find enlightenment at every turn. It’s like a quest for the Holy Grail where the Grail is neither holy nor grail-shaped. I traveled with Arthur Dent as he lost his planet, learned to fly, found love, made sandwiches, got to know his daughter, found his planet again briefly and finally got blown to atoms.
Blown to atoms! Surely not, but no need to panic, Douglas Adams would surely reassemble Arthur somehow in the next book.
But as we all know, the next book never came and the legions of Hitchhiker fans were left with their hearts beating a little too quickly for all eternity.
It became a whimsy of mine to finish the story, just for my own peace of mind. I often wondered how Douglas Adams would have resurrected his beloved characters. And now, almost a quarter of a century after first reading Hitchhiker, I have been given the incredible opportunity of writing the next chapter in the saga myself. In an actual book rather than in my head.
My first reaction was semi-outrage that anyone should be allowed to tamper with this incredible series. But on reflection I realised that this is a wonderful opportunity to work with characters I have loved since childhood and give them something of my own voice while holding onto the spirit of Douglas Adams and not laying a single finger on his five books.
Once again I am terrified by a Hitchhiker book and this time it is my own. I feel more pressure to perform now than I ever have with my own books, and that is why I am bloody determined that this will be the best thing I have ever written. And if it isn’t then I will make sure that the cover is extremely pretty.
This is an interesting but volatile endeavor. Adams told interviewers that he hoped to add a sixth book to the series, and one that ended the epic with a more upbeat tone. How will fans feel about a new author’s name on the cover, though? We’ll find out. Jane Belson, Adams’ widow, has given her blessing to the project, which will be entitled “And Another Thing…” and will be published by Penguin. The book is scheduled to hit shelves in October 2009.
There’s more information on this at our sister blog, Jacket Copy, which tracks authors on this planet and beyond.
— Geoff Boucher
Eoin Colfer portrait courtesy of the author’s website.
Cover image from a vintage paperback copy of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”
Photo of the late Douglas Adams courtesy of his website.