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Book Review: Don’t Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Neil Gaiman

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Tying in with the release of Eoin Colfer's And Another Thing…, the sixth book in the ever-expanding and prematurely designated The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy and the first not written by Douglas Adams, as well as the 30th anniversary of the first The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy novel, which was written by Adams, comes the newly updated Don't Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Neil Gaiman. Originally published in 1988, Don't Panic has been updated over the years by David K. Dickson (chapters 24-26 in 1993), M. J. Simpson (chapters 27-30 and an edit of the entire text in 2002), and Guy Adams (chapters 31-37 and a revision of chapter 30 and appendix ii in 2009). Gaiman et al. have created a very informative book detailing the life of Douglas Adams and his work, particularly the many incarnations of H2G2.

Mainly through interviews with a number of the participants, Gaiman charts Adams' life and his writing career. Adams followed in the footsteps of British comedians like John Cleese by attending Cambridge and joining its theatrical club Footlights. This time would prove to be fruitful because even though he clashed with many in the group, he was befriended by Simon Jones (Arthur Dent in the radio and television series) and John Lloyd, who co-wrote the last two episodes of the first radio series, was an associate producer on the television series, and went on to produce of popular British comedy series Not the Nine O'Clock News and Black Adder. It was also through Footlights that Adams met and got a job writing with alum Graham Chapman for about 18 months.

Adams had a little success creating sketches for radio programs and then became busier than he could imagine as the first H2G2 radio series was commissioned, quickly followed by a four-part Doctor Who episode and soon after an offer to be a script editor, which he accepted.

H2G2 was a great success everyone wanted a piece of it. While unable to lay claim to Howard Stern's self-anointed "King of All Media," Adams oversaw H2G2's transition into a multitude of formats with varying levels of involvement and success: stage, record, books, TV, computer game, comic book, and a movie from a screenplay he begun that came out four years after his death. Adams' perspective in hindsight on what worked and what didn't is very interesting.

One consistency that runs through the different versions of H2G2 is inconsistency in the story, and Gaiman takes the readers behind the scenes to show Adams tweaking things to improve them or to fit the format because what works in radio doesn't always work on television and what works on television doesn’t always work in a book. Passages of completed scripts and deleted scenes from early drafts are scattered throughout the book.

Adams continued the H2G2 adventures in a second radio series as well as in books, the third of which (Life, the Universe and Everything) took a plotline from a potential Doctor Who film with Tom Baker that never materialized. An excerpt of the treatment appears as an appendix and is a rare treat for fans of either persuasion. Don't Panic also details the other material Adams worked on over the years, such as the Dirk Gently books and the radio documentary Last Chance to See.

Gaiman told the story up to 1987 but it didn’t end there. The new additions to Don't Panic cover Adams' work up until his death of a heart attack in 2001 and beyond as others stepped in to pick up the reigns and continue the H2G2 legacy.

For those interested in the story behind the stories, Don't Panic is a great resource. Gaiman has a similar sense of humor to Adams, and it comes through in his writing, which adds to the pleasure of reading the book. After a towel, Don't Panic "is the most massively useful thing" an H2G2 fan can have.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS