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Interview: Neil Gaiman Talks the Timeless Appeal of Douglas Adams

Gaiman celebrates the March 11th birthday of his late mentor, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams.

Neil Gaiman Douglas Adams
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March 2020 is a significant month for Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy devotees. Not only does March 11th mark the birthday of late author and conservationist Douglas Adams, but this March marks the 42nd anniversary of the seminal sci-fi series. To celebrate, The Portalist spoke with Douglas Adams' friend and biographer Neil Gaiman.

Gaiman is the author of Don’t Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, an exuberant and revealing exploration of Adams’ life and work. Gaiman has even credited Adams for inspiring his own career. 

As Gaiman chronicles in Don't Panic, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy universe launched with a BBC Radio 4 episode on March 8th, 1978. The radio comedy show became a cult success, eventually evolving into a multimedia universe spanning books, video games, movies, and even stage productions, with a TV series adaptation currently in development

As of March 2020, Adams’ sci-fi series has been part of our pop culture fabric for 42 years. 42 is a particularly significant number in the sci-fi humor series, referred to as the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything." As Gaiman shares in the interview below, in the 42 revolutions around the sun since Hitchhiker's Guide first captured fans, Adams' storytelling has only become more relevant.

The Portalist: How did your relationship with Adams shape you as a writer?

Neil Gaiman: Douglas was both an inspiration and a dreadful warning. His brilliance, affability and general niceness were inspiring. His ability to Not Write was just as inspiring in its own way. I knew that I was not as brilliant as Douglas, so I had better actually write, and if possible actually make the deadlines.

Is there anything you would encourage Adams fans to do to honor his memory?

Read his work and reread it. And especially, now, to remember to reread Last Chance to See...

100 years from now, what aspects of Hitchhiker’s Guide do you expect will resonate most with readers of the future?

Anything that tells us about people and how they behave will always resonate. We may not know what digital watches were, or even what watches were, but Douglas will be funny in the same way that Victorian writers Jerome K. Jerome or George and Weedon Grossmith can be funny to us now. We recognise ourselves in their people and their foibles and their tragedies. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy came into existence 42 years ago. (Hell, Don't Panic came into existence 33 years ago.) If anything it feels more apt and about the madness of new than it did back then.

Want more Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman? Download Don't Panic today!

Although Adams passed away in 2001 at age 49, his work continues to find new devotees. To celebrate the 2020 anniversary, his British publisher, Pan Macmillan, re-released paperback, audiobook, and ebook versions of the Hitchhiker's Guide novels. The Dirk Gently books, which follow the titular prophetic detective, were adapted for a BBC America series in 2016. And the celebration of animal life in Adams' nonfiction novel Last Chance to See has only become more important as species continue to disappear in the face of climate change. 

In honor of Adams' enduring impact, today is the ideal time to grab a towel and reflect on the legacy of Hitchhiker's Guide, and the inherent eccentricity of human existence. 

This post is sponsored by Open Road Media. Thank you for supporting our partners, who make it possible for The Portalist to celebrate the sci-fi and fantasy stories you love.