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Friday, April 26, 2013

On the beautiful absurdity of Douglas Adams.


If someone asked me my favourite author of all time, in a heartbeat I’d say it was Douglas Adams. I regularly have a good natured yet heated debate with a friend who dislikes his books. “They’re too smug”, she complains, and I’m always taken aback that anyone could feel anything but overwhelming affection for this man and his work.

I read the Hitchhiker’s and Dirk Gently series when I was 16 and they instantly struck a chord with me. At that age they taught me to stop taking myself too seriously and to appreciate the value of the bizarre; to give free reign to my imagination and let it leap and wander into fantastic places it had never been before. Absurd was not a pejorative anymore and logic was no limitation to anything. It might have just been due to fortuitous timing, but I would gladly attribute all of my imagination, lateral thought and humour to having being shaped by Douglas Adams.

In the foreword to A Salmon of Doubt, Stephen Fry has expressed a perfect perfect sentiment. He mentions that Adams’ work appears to speak to you, the reader, and to you alone. That although everyone else might admire him, you feel like you’re the only person who truly understands and connects with what he is saying. You feel chosen, special.

"It's like falling in love. When an especially peachy Adams turn of phrase or epithet enters the eye and penetrates the brain you want to tap the shoulder of the nearest stranger and share it. The stranger might laugh and seem to enjoy the writing, but you hug to yourself the thought that they didn't quite understand its force and quality the way you do- just as your friends (thank heavens) don't also fall in love with the people you are going on and on about to them."

It’s as though Fry was reading my mind. As irrational as it may seem, words cannot describe how irreparably hurt I was when I read this. To learn that exactly what I felt was shared by countless others, to hear this emotion described as the result of a clever writing style, it stung. I was terribly jealous of everyone else in the world who had felt this connection; I wanted to be the only one. Such is Adams’ genius, he really has communicated so strikingly, as though he was speaking to you individually and appealing to your taste without even trying. And not with evidently deep insights either, though his over the top humour and zaniness have an underlying truth about the world and its people. You read what may seem like a sci-fi story about maniacal aliens and might not immediately realise you have read a book on existentialism and the human condition.

Adams’ style is simple enough that the lack of structure in his stories is a plot device by itself. His metaphors and similes are unparalleled; many have tried to replicate his style of description and always fallen short. The leaps of his imagination would’ve put a Kentucky Derby horse to shame (see, I just tried and failed) and not once did he seem to let sanity be an impediment to his expression. He’s used unfathomable comparisons that you’d never think could work but are absolutely spot-on. A few remarkable sentences stay with you long after the books are done and gone, which is what makes them so eminently quotable. None of it makes a whole lot of sense, except… it all does. The characters are all extreme parodies of their type, the situations they find themselves in are utterly ridiculous and yet everything comes together in a harmoniously chaotic way that no one could have foreseen.

You’ll see I haven’t bothered to describe any of the books in detail. They’re too implausible, too rich in wit and humour to be successfully summarised. Every time I reread any of them, I find something fresh and new and marvel at his brilliance, at his turns of phrase, at his strange thought process. The inexplicable worlds created by Adams will always be something you’ll wish you could experience for real.

“The Galaxy's a fun place. You'll need to have this fish in your ear.”

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