On Thursday 5th May 1999, I dressed in a long white robe and a fake golden beard, put a home-made halo on my head, and went with my venturer scout group to ‘Science at the Pub – a night with Douglas Adams’. I was dressed as a character from Adams’ book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Funnily enough, I didn’t know what character I was dressing as. I didn’t even know who Douglas Adams was and I certainly hadn’t read the book. I was merely going because it sounded like an interesting night out and a guy from my scout group said I’d make a perfect golden-bearded angel.
As with most sci-fi gatherings held at a local worker’s club at 7:30pm on a Thursday, a lot of people were dressed in costume. Of course the organisers ran a best-dressed competition. And low and behold, this little angel with a golden beard won.
As I stepped up on stage to shake the hand of Douglas Adams and receive a personally signed copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide, I was the awe of every pair of eyes in that room.
And I’d never heard of the man.
Feeling a little embarrassed about my win, I got home and started reading. It was heavy-going for a 17 year-old and I soon decided I had more important things to do than struggle through a 590-page book.
So I put it aside for a few years.
When I moved out of home I found the book in a box and gave it another go. I read the first few chapters, got bored, and didn’t continue.
My partner and I moved in together and he came across the book. He told me I had to read it because it’s one of the greatest books of all time. So I tried again. And failed.
I must have started reading the book almost 20 times over because last month, when sat down and picked up the now quite-battered paperback with a renewed determination to read it from beginning to end, I pretty much knew the first 5 chapters by heart.
But this time I achieved. You see, I’ve committed myself to reading 100 classic books before I die.
It took me 31 days, strained eyes, time away from my writing and my family, but I did it. I have finished the first book from my list of 100.
So what did I think of it?
But silly enough at times to make me laugh out loud. I admired Adams’ way of pointing out the ridiculousness of everyday actions in such subtle ways you would almost miss them. I admired his ability to create whole new worlds – cities, spaceships, galaxies, restaurants that can only be accessed via time-travel, wars, technologies (some surprisingly accurate of how the world turned out between 1979 and now).
But the storyline itself left a lot to be desired.
I started questioning myself: have I missed something? Did I drift off somewhere between pages 121-160 and miss the whole point of the story? But after flicking back I still couldn’t see it.
The book just didn’t follow the usual rising action-climax-denouement of Freytag’s pyramid that I’ve been used to. The characters seemed shallow (don’t even get me started on the main female character who, for 3/4 of the book, didn’t have any emotions other than to tell Zaphod suddenly that she was leaving him only to come back a few chapters later because he hit his heads a few too many times and she felt sorry for him) and the story chopped and changed without ever leading to a final destination.
The original story was written for radio, so I guess that could be the reason for the lack of clear, defined storyline.
Then on the last page, page 590, when I was hoping that maybe, just maybe, everything would be tied up neatly and would all make sense, Douglas Adams finished his ‘Trilogy in four parts’ with the following line:
There was a point to this story, but it has temporarily escaped the chronicler’s mind.
Thanks Adams. You totally infuriated me. But maybe that was your goal after all.
Reading the book cover-to-cover did answer one question for me at least, and that was the question about what I had gone dressed as to the May 1999 ‘Science in the pub’ session that won me first prize in the costume comp. I had gone dressed as the angels that Wonko the Sane insists visit him outside the asylum. These angels are mentioned a total of three times in the whole book, and only in the last few pages of the last part So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish.
Now I get why I won the prize! Going dressed as one of these angels must have really proved that I not only 1. finished the book (not an easy thing for a teenager to do), but 2. knew the ins and outs of every character so well that I chose the most obscure one possible.
Well, Adams, the joke’s on you.
So long, and thanks for the personally signed book.