Don’t Panic: Celebrating Douglas Adams on His Birthday

In honor of Douglas Adams' birthday on March 11, we're taking a look at the many (many) versions of his greatest creation.
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Do you know where your towel is? Fans of Douglas Adams, who would have been 69-years-old on March 11, 2021, all have a favorite version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. From the original radio play to the modern movie (plus a video game that you can play right now for free), there are a lot of ways to celebrate the author’s great work.

Grab a towel, pour a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster, and hold on tight! Just remember:

via Giphy

Hitchhiker’s Guide Started as a Radio Series

On March 8, 1978, the first radio episode of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams, was broadcasted. That radio series became the basis for Arthur Dent’s sprawling, hilarious jaunt through the universe.

Adams claimed that he had the idea for the series after having a few too many while on holiday in Austria. He found himself in a remote field in Innsbruck, holding a copy of a European backpacker’s guide and gazing up at the night sky. He later approached BBC Radio producer Simon Brett with the script for a pilot episode.

TV Miniseries, Movie… and Video Game?

Adams never stopped adapting and expanding the world of Hitchhiker’s Guide during his career. After the success of the first radio series, he went on to develop comic book adaptations, additional radio series, and even a text-based video game way back in 1984! Amazingly, you can still play that game online for free, thanks to the BBC.

The BBC also worked with Adams to create a miniseries based on the first book. The six-part sci-fi series, which aired in 1981, suffered from cheesy special effects but featured the talents of several of the original voice actors from the radio series — and a handful of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameos by Adams himself.

Adams wouldn’t get the chance to see his long-hoped-for film adaptation make it to the big screen. That wouldn’t happen until 2005, when director Spike Jonze took on the task of bringing the vast, silly, and sometimes surprisingly profound world of the series to theaters.

The Trilogy Is Actually 5 Books

Never shy of making a tongue-in-cheek joke when he found an opportunity, Adams wrote five books in the Hitchhiker’s Guide series but insisted on calling it a trilogy.

In order, the books are:

  1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  2. The Restaurant at the End of the World
  3. Life, the Universe and Everything
  4. So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
  5. Mostly Harmless

Adams also wrote Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and its sequel, The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul, in addition to a handful of other books. However, Hitchhiker’s Guide remains his best-known and most-beloved creation.

The Sixth Book: Read It or Skip It?

Douglas Adams always meant to write a sixth book in the “trilogy,” admitting that Mostly Harmless was a bit of a downer. In a 1998 interview with Matt Newsome, Adams said, “People have said, quite rightly, that Mostly Harmless is a very bleak book. I would love to finish Hitchhiker on a slightly more upbeat note, so five seems to be a wrong kind of number; six is a better kind of number.”

Unfortunately, he’d never get the chance to write it. Adams famously struggled with deadlines, to the extent that his editors once had to isolate him in a hotel for three weeks to force him to finish a manuscript. After he passed away tragically young at the age of 49 in 2001, his widow gave publishers the green light to hire someone to write one more adventure about Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect, Zaphod Beeblebrox, and Trillian.

Douglas Adams' grave in London, with pens left as tribute
“Douglas Adams’s grave, Highgate Cemetery East, Camden, London, UK” by gruntzooki is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Irish author Eoin Colfer, best known for his Artemis Fowl books, took on the daunting task. And Another Thing was published in 2009, but it ended up falling flat. The book ultimately received mixed to negative reviews–especially from some of Adams’ most dedicated fans. Perhaps ironically, And Another Thing… was adapted into a short, promotional radio play by the BBC, reuniting many of the voice actors from the original series.