Friday, 23 March 2012

Leave Douglas Adams Alone: A Plea

Have you ever thought how much better it would be if Jane Austen had written more than six novels? What a shame it is that more writers aren't writing books with her characters? No, me neither. So why must we endure this Douglas Adams industry, with lesser writers producing novelisations of his tv scripts and sequels to his novels, clumsy radio adaptations of his more problematic books using the cast of his brilliant radio series, and dreadful film and tv adaptations of his unique work?

The beauty of Douglas Adams' oeuvre is its deceptive size: seven novels, 3 of which are flawed, one magnificent radio series, two Doctor Who stories, one of which is the greatest in the show's history, another of which is a mixed bag, one non-fiction book and other delightful bits and pieces. It seems small, and yet its rereadable wisdom puts many prolific writers to shame. Back off, Eoin Colfer, Gareth Roberts, Dirk Maggs. You know not what you do. Don't give me "Douglas would have loved it" or "I tried to do justice to Dougie's genius" or "of course no-one can write like Douglas"... If you're that self-deprecative, how about putting down the fucking pen? Good intentions don't make books better, nor do they make up for adding book-length graffiti to such a beautiful mural. This miasma of fond remembrance, affection and goodwill is blinding us to the considerable value of Adams's work. Affection for an author is nice, but not as important as respect.

Here are some dire predictions for the next ten years.

1) some bastard will finish off Salmon of Doubt. It's happened before (Chandler's Poodle Springs, Austen's Sandition, Edwin Drood), only here the words "tried to write something Douglas would had enjoyed" will be deployed.

2) A City of Death novelisation: oh God: There is actually one writer other than Adams who could have done justice to the tv masterpiece: unfortunately PG Wodehouse isn't available either. [This is happening. Gareth "not Douglas Adams" Roberts has pulled out, and James "not PG Wodehouse" Goss is doing it instead.]

3) Pirate Planet novelisation: I can see the afterword already: "Douglas never thought it was as good but I think he was too harsh...tried to do something Douglas would have liked...I'd never presume to be able to write like Douglas Adams but..."

4)Doctor Who and the Krikketmen book or audio play: Wouldn't they just love to get Tom Baker for the latter? Probably lot of supporting actors from Adams-related productions too. The fact that Adams previously used this for his (underrated) third Hitch-Hiker novel Life, the Universe and Everything won't deter them (Shada had already been used in his first Dirk Gently novel, but that didn't deter Roberts. Maggs's Life, The Universe and Everything adaptation featured an excruciating moment when a gag had Adams had adapted - the "imagine I have a blaster In my hand" / "You do have a blaster in your hand" exchange - from radio to book was adapted straight back).

5) If Colfer and Roberts don't want to do any more, other writers will join the party: Charlie Higson? Anthony Horowitz? James Moran? Neil Gaiman? Jenny Colgan? (Look at Higson's introduction for the Doctor Who Target novelisations for a textbook example of jumping in on a bandwagon he's openly not a fan of)

6) Some variation on Out of the Trees. Adams's broadcast-and-then-lost one-off collaboration with Graham Chapman - [which has now been rediscovered] -  didn't result in a further series. Imagine the behind-the-scenes feature: "Douglas never thought it was that good but I think he's being too harsh on himself. So I called up Steven Mangan..."

If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go now and reread some Douglas Adams. I don't mean the stuff coming out that's got his name on the cover: I mean the words of one of my favourite writers, whose work throws up new delights on each rereading, but which some seem to think needs adding to.


  1. Replies
    1. Still, at least they found Out of the Trees, so we'll be spared number 6!