Seventeen years after Adams' untimely death, we're still eager to discover more about the man behind Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. From his time with Monty Python to his creative frustrations with books and writing, these are surprising facts about Douglas Adams that even the most avowed fans might not already know. Keep reading to learn more about Douglas Adams, then pre-order Don't Panic to uncover even more fascinating facts about the beloved writer and the extraordinary galaxy he created.
1. Adams learned to talk at age 5.
Adams started out behind in every way but his height. By the age of 12, he had already reached six feet tall. However, he was slow to talk, and didn’t start speaking in full sentences until the age of five. He felt misunderstood, even stating that “They could never work out at school if I was terribly clever or terribly stupid.”
Adams grew up feeling like an outcast, partially because people underestimated him due to his silence, and partially because they overestimated him due to his unusual stature. Although he was slow to speak, Adams had a natural knack for writing. Even later in his life when he had writer’s block, he always remembered getting the top grade in his writing class while he was in school.
2. The idea for Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy came about while Adams was actually hitchhiking.
After many years of telling the story, even Adams couldn’t remember how he came up with the idea for Hitchhiker’s, but legend goes that he thought of it one night in Austria while he was hitchhiking himself. He had a copy of the Hitch-hiker’s Guide to Europe, and while drunkenly watching the stars in a field, he thought about what a great idea it would be for someone to write a guide to the galaxy.
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This anecdote was told many times throughout Adam’s life, and eventually he said that he couldn’t remember coming up with the idea, but only remembered telling the story. The field in Austria was near Innsbruck, and the town started celebrating Towel Day in honor of Adams every May 25th after he passed away in 2001.
3. If he hadn’t been a writer, he might have been a …
Software engineer! When Adams was growing up in the 1950s and 60s, there was no such occupation, but Adams was always interested in computers and technology. He later remarked that if it had existed, he might have gone that route.
As computers and the internet became more common, Adams grew to love Macintosh, and it’s thought that he had the very first Mac in Europe, right before Stephen Fry. He often referenced his Macintosh computer in his forewords to books, and is known as an “Apple Master,” or a celebrity spokesperson for the products. So while Adams never made it to software engineer, he certainly explored technology as much as one could in the late 90s and early 2000s.
4. He was scared of Alice in Wonderland.
While many people assume that Adams must have been influenced by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, the reality was that the book frightened him when he read it as a child. He stated: “If it wasn’t for that nightmarish quality that I remember as a kid I’d’ve enjoyed it, but I couldn’t shake that feeling."
According to Adams, the main reason many readers assume he was inspired by Lewis Carroll is total nonsense. Lewis Carroll used the number 42 often in Alice in Wonderland, but Adams decided that it was the answer to the universe all on his own. Apparently, it was a small enough number that it wouldn’t scare anyone, at least not in the same way Alice in Wonderland scared young Adams.
5. Adams was a great writer, but he didn’t really like writing.
Throughout his three years of undergraduate studies at Cambridge, Adams only managed to produce three completed essays. This trend continued in his professional career as a writer, and he was often forced by his friends to meet deadlines. Adams hated deadlines, and joked about how he loved the sound of them whooshing by.
When he tried to write a consistent script for the Hitchhiker’s radio show, he was often writing the script as the show was being taped. Last minute, indeed. But procrastinators, take note: Even though Adams hated the process of writing, it was the thing he was best at. He wrote himself notes around the house that said “If you ever get a chance to do a proper, regular job … take it. This is not an occupation for a healthy, growing lad.”
6. Adams was not a member of Monty Python, but he was a great friend of the group.
Adams was one of only two people besides the original members of Monty Python to get writing credit on the show, the other being Neil Innes. When the first Hitchhiker’s book came out, Adams asked the cast to write blurbs, and they definitely delivered.
“Really entertaining and fun.” -John Cleese
“Much funnier than anything John Cleese has ever written.” -Terry Jones
“I know for a fact that John Cleese hasn’t read it.” -Graham Chapman
“Who is John Cleese?” -Eric Idle
“Really entertaining and fun.” -Michael Palin
Because of these quotes, many Americans assumed that Adams was a part of the group. Although he wasn't, he did collaborate with several members, and continued to be friends with them until his death.
7. Even after the radio show’s success, the first Hitchhiker book had a small advance.
Today, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has sold over 16 million copies and been translated into 35 different languages, but it had humble beginnings. Adams was given a £1,500 advance for the book. Later, his fifth book’s advance was about 500 times that number.
8. Adams chose the name for Pink Floyd’s 1994 album, The Division Bell.
Along with his other creative talents, Adams also played the guitar. At the time of his death he owned 24 left-handed guitars. His friendship with David Gilmour of Pink Floyd gave him the opportunity for other creative outlets.
At dinner one night with the Pink Floyd crew, Adams and the band were discussing ideas for the title of Pink Floyd’s new album. After nixing Pow Wow and Down to Earth, Adams suggested Division Bell, a mixture of lyrics from one of the songs on the album. The name stuck, and Adams is still credited with coming up with the name. Adams loved Pink Floyd and even played the guitar with them onstage in 1994.
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9. He once wore a rhino costume while he climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro.
As a charity event for the environment, Adams donned a rhino costume as he climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. A charity for endangered rhinos, Save the Rhino International, was thankful for Adams’s enthusiasm as he hiked to the mountain in the outfit. He helped raise about €100,00 for the group.
Besides his rhino activism, Adams was a huge environmentalist and was an active supporter of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. He and naturalist Mark Carwardine produced a radio show called Last Chance to See, where they visited rare species to raise awareness.
10. The church service for his funeral was the first service to be live broadcast over the web by the BBC.
Even posthumously, Adams made technological history. When he died suddenly from a heart attack in 2001, the world grieved. At his memorial service in London, speakers included Professor Richard Dawkins, Simon Jones, and Ed Victor.
Though Adams has passed, his work continues to ignite a spark in readers, listeners, and watchers all over the galaxy. His life, though it ended abruptly, was more meaningful to others than he could have imagined.
For more fascinating facts like these, download Neil Gaiman’s Don’t Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
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Featured photo: Wikimedia Commons