16

Douglas Adams's incredibly funny scifi series, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", is my favorite work of fiction. Rereading it for the first time in 14 years, I am struck by how uncommonly good it is.

I know he studied English literature at Cambridge or Oxford, so I'm sure some of the intergalactic humor in HHGG can be traced back to the likes of Tristram Shandy. But I have never read his biography in depth, so I don't know which giant's shoulders this giant was standing on.

Does anyone know which works of literature Adams was particularly fond of?

  • 2
    Ah, you said literature, so the Monty Python Flying Circus doesn't count ;) – jv42 Jun 20 '11 at 11:30
  • Plus, if the character of Richard MacDuff is at all as autobiographical as he seems, Adams didn't do very much actual studying of English while at Oxford. – Daniel Roseman Jun 20 '11 at 13:43
  • 2
    I do believe he was rather fond of the poems of Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings. – MrLemon Jun 24 '14 at 14:25
  • This question is currently a bit too broad, and borders on "opinion-based". Perhaps update to reference sources which Adams has himself mentioned. – Möoz Sep 26 '16 at 23:28
13

I am sure there were many, but the one that springs to mind first is PG Wodehouse. DNA often referred to him in interviews, and an essay on his writing appears in Adams' final book "The Salmon of Doubt"

15

He was also a fan of Kurt Vonnegut, so I assume he'd read Slaughterhouse-Five, which is perhaps where some of the insane time-travel scenarios come from; and almost certainly Sirens of Titan: that book also features a hapless Earthling being flung around from one planet to another, being involved in an attack on his home planet, meeting a depressed robot and discovering the true purpose of the planet Earth and its inhabitants.

And maybe this counts too:

One night in 1971 a 19-year-old English hitchhiker named Douglas Adams lay drunk in a field in Innsbruck, Austria. He had with him a borrowed copy of Hitchhiker's Guide to Europe by Ken Welsh.

... and when the stars came out it occurred to me that if only someone would write a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy as well, then I for one would be off like a shot.

  • 1
    I hitchhiked Europe in the early 90s with both the (then) current edition of Ken Welsh's guide and the "Trilogy in 4 parts" edition of DNA's guide. I didn't go to Dresden, so I missed the hat-trick for this answer :) – johnc Nov 3 '11 at 23:16
5

Some of his ideas I found quite hilarious, and that always reminded me of Monty Python. It wasn't until much later that I found out he'd actually worked with them. So that may well have been an influence of his. I can't comment on his literary influences though.

  • 1
    Adams said Python was a major influence in the interview at theguardian.com/books/2011/may/14/… -- "Python was a huge, huge influence on me. Python sketches would create a new world, with a new set of rules. That really was the line I was taking. Let's start out with a world that has certain rules and just see where that goes in the long run. Something that starts out as a silly idea actually has to have consequences in the real world." – Hypnosifl Jun 24 '14 at 20:17
2

I originally didn't notice the question was specifically about literary influences so I wrote the thing about Doctor Who below, which I'll leave for completeness, but I did find an interview where he was specifically asked about his literary influences, here was his response:

Other funny writers, of whom the chief is P.G. Wodehouse, who is, in my opinion, one of the greatest-ever users of the English language -- he's sort of the Mozart of the English language, I think. I particularly admire funny writers, because I know how incredibly difficult it is. Evelyn Waugh is very high up there, and Jane Austen. People have this idea that humor is in some way a sort of lesser emotion, which I don't accept at all. I think that good, funny writing is amongst the finest writing of any type, which is why I think that Wodehouse is one of the finest writers who ever lived.

Later in the interview he also talks about non-literary influences like Python, and he also disavows comparisons to Vonnegut:

Vonnegut is another favorite of mine. I deliberately put him low on the list, though, because I get embarrassed by people trying to draw comparisons between him and me -- on one very, very superficial level, it's an easy comparison: he writes stuff that is a) funny, and b) uses science fiction to make its points, and I write stuff that is funny and uses science fiction to make its points.

But that's the only level of comparison. Vonnegut is essentially a deeply serious writer. Obviously a major part of his world view, if you like, comes from the experience he describes in Slaughterhouse Five of being a Prisoner of War in Dresden during the fire-bombing. And I don't have any experience like that to draw on, you know, nothing remotely approaching that.

So Vonnegut is essentially a deeply serious writer who uses comedy to make his points, and I am essentially a comic writer who occasionally tries to slip a point about something or other "under the counter," so to speak, and so from that point of view, I find the comparison embarrassing because he's a great writer, and I think I'm essentially a frivolous one, I'm afraid.

older comment: The answers above are good, but I just wanted to add that he also was a writer and script editor for Doctor Who, so the style of outlandish sci-fi adventures on that show may have been an influence-as noted at http://tardis.wikia.com/wiki/Douglas_Adams the third novel Life, the Universe and Everything grew out of a Doctor Who story he came up with that was never made (and the plot of the first Dirk Gently novel also closely resembled another unproduced episode called Shada--that one was actually partly filmed so there's a reconstructed version available on DVD).

I should add that looking at the chronology of his career on his wiki page, it seems he didn't start working on Doctor Who until after the first Hitchhiker's radio series was completed, so the show probably had little or no influence on the first one (though he may have watched the show earlier, I don't know).

  • The first Dirk Gently novel also has overlapping plot points with the Doctor Who serial "City of Death," for which Adams was a co-writer. – Jim Conant Nov 22 '15 at 14:30
-1

Dimension of Miracles by Robert Sheckley is a hell of a lot like reading HHG and it was written 10 years before HHG. Just sayin'. I like it better in many ways. Funny, witty, sarcastic, pointed. It has it all. And it's more concise. The audiobook reading by John Hodgman is outstanding.

In an interview for Neil Gaiman's book Don't Panic: The Official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Companion, Gaiman said Adams had not read the Sheckley work until after writing the Guide, but found the two works to be "disturbingly close."

  • "Adams had not read the Sheckley work until after writing the Guide" — So it wasn't an influence, then. – jwodder Sep 26 '16 at 23:03

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