Douglas Adams’s “six-part trilogy,” The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy grew from a blip of a notion into an ever-expanding multimedia universe that amassed an unprecedented cult of followers and became an international sensation. As a young journalist, Neil Gaiman was given complete access to Adams’s life, times, gossip, unpublished outtakes, and files (and became privy to his writing process, insecurities, disillusionments, challenges, and triumphs). The resulting volume illuminates the unique, funny, dramatic, and improbable chronicle of an idea, an incredibly tall man, and a mind-boggling success story.
In Don’t Panic, Gaiman celebrates everything Hitchhiker: the original radio play, the books, comics, video and computer games, films, television series, record albums, stage musicals, one-man shows, the Great One himself, and towels. And as Douglas Adams himself attested: “It’s all absolutely devastatingly true—except the bits that are lies.”
Updated several times in the thirty years since its original publication, Don’t Panic is available for the first time in digital form. Part biography, part tell-all parody, part pop-culture history, part guide to a guide, Don’t Panic “deserves as much cult success as the Hitchhiker’s books themselves” (Time Out).
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About the Author
Neil Gaiman is the celebrated author of books, graphic novels, short stories, films, and television for readers of all ages. Some of his most notable titles include the highly lauded #1 New York Times bestseller Norse Mythology; the groundbreaking and award-winning Sandman comic series; The Graveyard Book (the first book ever to win both the Newbery and Carnegie Medals); American Gods, winner of many awards and recently adapted into the Emmy-nominated Starz TV series (the second season slated to air in 2019); The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which was the UK’s National Book Award 2013 Book of the Year. Good Omens, which he wrote with Terry Pratchett a very long time ago (but not quite as long ago as Don’t Panic) and for which Gaiman wrote the screenplay, will air on Amazon and the BBC in 2019.
Author photo by Beowulf Sheehan
Date of Birth:November 10, 1960
Place of Birth:Portchester, England
Education:Attended Ardingly College Junior School, 1970-74, and Whitgift School, 1974-77
Read an Excerpt
THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO EUROPE
The idea in question bubbled into Douglas Adams's mind quite spontaneously, in a field in Innsbruck. He later denied any personal memory of it having happened. But it's the story he told, and, if there can be such a thing, it's the beginning. If you have to take a flag reading THE STORY STARTS HERE and stick it into the story, then there is no other place to put it.
It was 1971, and the eighteen year-old Douglas Adams was hitch-hiking his way across Europe with a copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to Europe that he had stolen (he hadn't bothered 'borrowing' a copy of Europe on $5 a Day; he didn't have that kind of money).
He was drunk. He was poverty-stricken. He was too poor to afford a room at a youth hostel (the entire story is told at length in his introduction to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: A Trilogy in Four Parts in England, and The Hitchhiker's Trilogy in the US) and he wound up, at the end of a harrowing day, flat on his back in a field in Innsbruck, staring up at the stars. "Somebody," he thought, "somebody really ought to write a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."
He forgot about the idea shortly thereafter.
Five years later, while he was struggling to think of a legitimate reason for an alien to visit Earth, the phrase returned to him. The rest is history, and will be told in this book.
The field in Innsbruck has since been transformed into an unremarkable section of autobahn.
"When you're a student or whatever, and you can't afford a car, or a plane fare, or even a train fare, all you can do is hope that someone will stop and pick you up.
"At the moment we can't afford to go to other planets. We don't have the ships to take us there. There may be other people out there (I don't have any opinions about Life Out There, I just don't know) but it's nice to think that one could, even here and now, be whisked away just by hitchhiking."
— Douglas Adams, 1984.CHAPTER 2
Deoxyribonucleic acid, commonly known as DNA, is the fundamental genetic building block for all living creatures. The structure of DNA was discovered and unravelled, along with its significance, in Cambridge, England, in 1952, and announced to the world in March 1953.
This was not the first DNA to appear in Cambridge, however. A year earlier, on 11th March 1952, Douglas Noel Adams was born in a former Victorian workhouse in Cambridge. His mother was a nurse, his father a postgraduate theology student who was training for holy orders, but gave it up when his friends managed to persuade him it was a terrible idea.
His parents moved from Cambridge when he was six months old, and divorced when he was five. At that time, Douglas was considered a little strange, possibly even retarded. He had only just learned to talk and, "I was the only kid who anybody I knew has ever seen actually walk into a lamppost with his eyes wide open. Everybody assumed that there must be something going on inside, because there sure as hell didn't seem to be anything going on on the outside!"
Douglas was a solitary child; he had few close friends, and one sister, Susan, three years younger than he was.
In September 1959 he started at Brentwood School in Essex, where he stayed until 1970. He said of the school, "We tended to produce a lot of media trendies. Me, Griff Rhys Jones, Noel Edmunds, Simon Bell (who wrote the novelisation for Griff and Mel Smith's famous non-award- winning movie, Morons from Outer Space; he's not a megastar yet, but he gives great parties). A lot of the people who designed the Amstrad Computer were at Brentwood, as well. But we had a very major lack of archbishops, prime ministers and generals."
He was not particularly happy at school, most of his memories having to do with "basically trying to get off games". Although he was quite good at cricket and swimming he was terrible at football and "diabolically bad at rugby — the first time I ever played it, I broke my own nose on my knee. It's quite a trick, especially standing up.
"They could never work out at school whether I was terribly clever or terribly stupid. I always had to understand everything fully before I was prepared to say anything."
He was a tall and gawky child, self-conscious of his height: "My last year at prep school we had to wear short trousers, and I was so absurdly lanky, and looked so ridiculous, that my mother applied for special permission for me to wear long trousers. And they said no, pointing out I was just about to go into the main school. I went to the main school and was allowed to wear long trousers, at which point we discovered they didn't have any long enough for me. So for the first term I still had to go to school in short trousers."
His ambitions at that time had more to do with the sciences than the arts: "At the age when most kids wanted to be firemen, I wanted to be a nuclear physicist. I never made it because my arithmetic was too bad — I was good at maths conceptually, but lousy at arithmetic, so I didn't specialise in the sciences. If I had known what they were, I would have liked to be a software engineer ... but they didn't have them then."
His hobbies revolved around making model aeroplanes ("I had a big display on top of a chest of drawers at home. There was a large old mirror that stood behind them, and one day the mirror fell forward and crushed the lot of them. I never made a model plane after that, I was upset, distraught for days. It was this mindless blow that fate had dealt me ..."), playing the guitar, and reading.
"I didn't read as much as, looking back, I wish I had done. And not the right things, either. (When I have children I'll do as much to encourage them to read as possible. You know, like hit them if they don't.) I read Biggles, and Captain W. E. Johns's famous science fiction series — I particularly remember a book called Quest for the Perfect Planet, a major influence, that was. There was an author called Eric Leyland, who nobody else ever seems to have heard of. He had a hero called David Flame, who was the James Bond of the ten-year-olds. But when I should have been packing in the old Dickens, I was reading Eric Leyland instead. But there you go — you can't tell kids, can you?"
Douglas was also an avid reader of Eagle, at that time Britain's top children's comic, and home of Dan Dare. Dan Dare, drawn by artist Frank Hampson, was a science fiction strip detailing the battle between jut-jawed space pilot Dare, his comic sidekick Digby, and the evil green Mekon. It was in Eagle that Douglas first saw print. He had two letters published there at the age of eleven, and was paid the (then) enormous sum of ten shillings each for them. The short story shows a certain precocious talent (see here).
Of Alice in Wonderland, often cited as an influence, he said, "I read or rather, had read to me — Alice in Wonderland as a child and I hated it. It really frightened me. Some months ago, I tried to go back to it and read a few pages, and I thought, 'This is jolly good stuff, but still ...' If it wasn't for that slightly nightmarish quality that I remember as a kid I'd've enjoyed it, but I couldn't shake that feeling. So although people like to suggest that Carroll was a big influence — using the number 42 and all that — he really was not."
The first time that Douglas ever thought seriously about writing was at the age of ten: "There was a master at school called Halford. Every Thursday after break we had an hour's class called composition. We had to write a story. And I was the only person who ever got ten out of ten for a story. I've never forgotten that. And the odd thing is, I was talking to someone who was a kid in the same class, and apparently they were all grumbling about how Mr Halford never gave out decent marks for stories. And he told them, 'I did once. The only person I ever gave ten out of ten to was Douglas Adams.' He remembers as well.
"I was pleased by that. Whenever I'm stuck on a writer's block (which is most of the time) and I just sit there, and I can't think of anything, I think, 'Ah! But I once did get ten out of ten!' In a way it gives me more of a boost than having sold a million copies of this or a million of that. I think, 'I got ten out of ten once ...'"
His writing career was not always that successful.
"I don't know when the first thoughts of writing came, but it was actually quite early on. Rather silly thoughts, really, as there was nothing to suggest that I could actually do it. All of my life I've been attracted by the idea of being a writer, but like all writers I don't so much like writing as having written. I came across some old school literary magazines a couple of years ago, and I went through them to go back and find the stuff I was writing then. But I couldn't find anything I'd written, which puzzled me until I remembered that each time I meant to try to write something, I'd miss the deadline by two weeks."
He appeared in school plays, and discovered a love of performing ("I was a slightly strange actor. There tended to be things I could do well and other things I couldn't begin to do ... I couldn't do dwarves for example; I had a lot of trouble with dwarf parts."). Then, while watching The Frost Report one evening, his ambitions of a life well-spent as a nuclear physicist, eminent surgeon, or professor of English began to evaporate. Douglas's attention was caught by six foot five inch future Python John Cleese, performing in sketches that were mostly self-written. "I can do that!" thought Douglas, "I'm as tall as he is!"*
In order to become a writer-performer, he had to write. This caused problems: "I used to spend a lot of time in front of a typewriter wondering what to write, tearing up pieces of paper and never actually writing anything." This not-writing quality was to become a hallmark of Douglas's later work.
But the die had been cast. Adams abandoned all his daydreams, even those of being a rock star (he was, in fact, a creditable guitarist), and set out to be a writer-performer.
He left school in December 1970, and, on the strength of an essay on the revival of religious poetry (which brought together on one sheet of foolscap Christopher Smart, Gerard Manley Hopkins and John Lennon), he won an exhibition to study English at Cambridge.
And it was important to Douglas that it was Cambridge.
Not just because his father had been to Cambridge, or simply because he had been born there. He wanted to go to Cambridge because it was from a Cambridge University society that the writers and performers of such shows as Beyond the Fringe, That Was the Week That Was, I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again and, of course, many of the Monty Python's Flying Circus team had come.
Douglas Adams wanted to join Footlights.CHAPTER 3
CAMBRIDGE AND OTHER RECURRENT PHENOMENA
Before going up to Cambridge, Douglas Adams had begun the series of jobs that would serve him on book jackets ever after. He had decided to hitchhike to Istanbul, and in order to make the money to travel he worked first as a chicken-shed cleaner, then as a porter in the X-ray department of Yeovil General Hospital (while at school he had worked as a porter in a mental hospital).
The hitchhike itself was not spectacularly successful: although he reached Istanbul, he contracted food poisoning there, and was forced to return to England by train. He slept in the corridors, felt extremely sorry for himself, and was hospitalised on his return to England. Perhaps it was a combination of his illness with the hospital work he had been doing, but on his arrival home he began to feel guilty for not going on to study medicine.
"I come from a somewhat medical family. My mother was a nurse, my stepfather was a vet, and my father's father (whom I never actually met), was a very eminent ear, nose and throat specialist in Glasgow. I kept working in hospitals as well. And I had the feeling that, if there is Anyone Up There, He kept tapping me on the shoulder and saying, 'Oy! Oy! Get your stethoscope out! This is what you should be doing!' But I never did."
Douglas rejected medicine, in part because he wanted to be a writer-performer (although at least four top British writer-performers have been doctors — Jonathan Miller, Graham Chapman, Graeme Garden and Rob Buckman), and in part because it would have meant going off for another two years to get a new set of A-levels. Douglas went on to study English literature at St John's College, Cambridge.
Academically, Douglas's career was covered in less than glory, although he was always proud of the work he did on Christopher Smart, the eighteenth-century poet: "For years Smart stayed at Cambridge as the most drunken and lecherous student they'd ever had. He used to do drag revues, drank in the same pub that I did. He went from Cambridge to Grub Street, where he was the most debauched journalist they had ever had, when suddenly he underwent an extreme religious conversion and did things like falling on his knees in the middle of the street and praying to God aloud. It was for that that he was thrust into a loony bin, in which he wrote his only work, the Jubilate Agno, which was as long as Paradise Lost, and was an attempt to write the first Hebraic verse in English."
Even as an undergraduate, Douglas was perpetually missing deadlines: in three years he only managed to complete three essays. This however may have had less to do with his fabled lateness than with the fact that his studies came in a poor third to his other interests — performing and pubs.
Although Douglas had gone to Cambridge with the intention of joining Footlights, he was never happy with them, nor they with him. His first-term attempt to join Footlights was a failure — he found them "aloof and rather pleased with themselves", and, being made to feel rather a 'new boy', he wound up joining CULES (Cambridge University Light Entertainment Society) and doing jolly little shows in hospitals, prisons, and the like. These shows were not particularly popular (especially not in the prisons), and Douglas later regarded the whole thing with no little embarrassment.
In his second term, feeling slightly more confident, he auditioned with a friend called Keith Jeffrey at one of the Footlights 'smokers'— informal evenings at which anybody could get up and perform. "It was there that I discovered that there was one guy, totally unlike the rest of the Footlights Committee, who was actually friendly and helpful, all the things the others weren't, a completely nice guy named Simon Jones. He encouraged me, and from then on I got on increasingly well in Footlights.
"But Footlights had a very traditional role to fulfil: it had to produce a pantomime at Christmas, a late-night revue in the middle term, and a spectacular commercial show at the end of every year, as a result of which it couldn't afford to take any risks.
"I think it was Henry Porter, a history don who was treasurer of Footlights, who said that the shows that had gone on to become famous were not the Cambridge shows but subsequent reworkings. Beyond the Fringe wasn't a Footlights show, neither was Cambridge Circus (the show that launched John Cleese et al), it wasn't the Cambridge show but a reworking done after they'd all left Cambridge. Footlights shows themselves had to fight against the constraints of what Footlights had to produce every year."
Douglas rapidly earned a reputation for suggesting ideas that struck everyone else as hopelessly implausible. He felt straitjacketed by Footlights (and by the fact that nobody in Footlights seemed to feel his ideas were particularly funny) and, with two friends, he formed a 'guerilla' revue group called Adams-Smith-Adams (because two members of the group were called Adams, and the third, as you might already have guessed, was called Smith*).
As Douglas explained, "We invested all our money — £40, or whatever it was — in hiring a theatre for a week, and then we knew we had to do it. So we wrote it, performed it, and had a considerable hit with it. It was a great moment. I really loved that."
It was then that Douglas made an irrevocable decision to become a writer. This was to cause him no little anguish and aggravation in the years to come.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Don't Panic"
Copyright © 2009 Neil Gaiman.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
- 0 The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Europe
- 1 DNA
- 2 Cambridge and Other Recurrent Phenomena
- 3 The Wilderness Years
- 4 Gherkin-Swallowing, Walking Backwards and All That
- 5 When You Hitch Upon a Star
- 6 Radio, Radio
- 7 A Slightly Unreliable Producer
- 8 Have TARDIS, Will Travel
- 9 H2G2
- 10 All the Galaxy’s a Stage
- 11 “Childish, Pointless, Codswalloping Drivel …”
- 12 Level 42
- 13 Of Mice, and Men, and Tired TV Producers
- 14 The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
- 15 Invasion USA
- 16 Life, the Universe and Everything
- 17 Making Movies
- 18 Liff, and Other Places
- 19 SLATFAT Fish
- 20 Do You Know Where Your Towel Is?
- 21 Games with Computers
- 22 Letters to Douglas Adams
- 23 Dirk Gently and Time for Tea
- 24 Saving the World at No Extra Charge
- 25 Douglas and Other Animals
- 26 Anything That Happens, Happens
- 27 Guides to the Guide
- 28 The Movies That Don’t Move
- 29 The Dot.com That Cannot Possibly Go Wrong
- 30 A Sort of Après-Vie
- 31 A Hell of a Thing to Climb in a Rhino Costume
- 32 Shada Redux
- 33 So, That Would Seem to Have Been That as Far as the Radio Was Concerned
- 34 Postcards from Daveland
- 35 Starman
- 36 The Interconnectedness of All Things
- 37 Hitchhiking Towards the Future
- Appendix I: Hitchhiker’s—the Original Synopsis
- Appendix II: The Variant Texts of Hitchhiker’s: What Happens Where and Why
- Appendix III: Who’s Who in the Galaxy: Some Comments by Douglas Adams
- Appendix IV: The Definitive ‘How to Leave the Planet’
- Appendix V: Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen: An Excerpt from the Film Treatment by Douglas Adams
- About the Author
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
An account of Douglas Adams' professional life, with an emphasis (of course) on the Hitchhiker's Guide series in its many and varied iterations. I wouldn't call this absolutely essential reading for the Douglas Adams fan; it's not exactly chock full of juicy details and surprising anecdotes. But it is a decent overview of Adams' career, with lots of quotes from the man himself, as well as from various other relevant folks. And it's a pleasant read, breezily and amusingly written, often with a deliberately Adams-esque sense of humor. It's also got some interesting odds and ends, including snippets of deleted scenes from the radio plays and TV show (although it's often rather obvious why they were cut) and several appendices, featuring such things as a plot-point-by-plot-point summary of the different versions of the story and some commentary by Adams on each of the characters.
A fascinating look at Douglas Adams' life (a bit) and the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (a lot). It was most fascinating for revealing the tortured process that Adams underwent in writing his books, plays and radio programs. Perhaps not a book for anyone except Hitchhiker's fans, this is still well written and a fascinating look at the writer and his works.