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So Long

Entry 361 posted in: 2. DNA

I am rereading Douglas Adams' So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish for the umpteenth time now. I know volume four in the trilogy of five isn't considered his best by many fans. It is a rather thin novel and was written at gunpoint. Douglas Adams was a master in procrastination (and making a load of money out of that) and after a while Pan Books were so desperate that they released a promotion kit without actually having a book. Inside the promotion kit a prayer could be found: "Please God grant to Douglas Adams the gift of inspiration (...) so that he can deliver the manuscript in time."

As god (all of them) and Douglas were never on speaking terms the prayer didn't help a lot. In the end there was nothing else left to do to isolate Douglas in a posh hotel suite with a guard before the door and force him to write a book in 2 weeks time. Two whole weeks. Nobody really knew what the story was going to be about but artists at both sides of the Atlantic had already been summoned months before to create the cover image: the English cover (by Gary Day Ellison) showed a dinosaur morphing into a walrus, the American jacket had some jumping dolphins. To quote biographer Neil Gaiman in his Don't Panic book: "There are no dolphins in So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish but there are more dolphins than there are walruses or dinosaurs."

Douglas Adams wasn't really keen in writing yet another hitchhiker novel. At one point in the novel he even tells the "regular followers of the doings of Arthur Dent' to mind their own business (and stop harassing the author). To those readers who are expecting more goofiness and less love story he has the message to "skip on to the last chapter which is a good bit and has Marvin in it'. But Marvin, the paranoid android, only has an appointment with death, as if Douglas Adams wanted to say: see what happens if you keep on asking for my regular characters?

After the tin man has died the novel ends, leaving the reader in quiet desperation. Douglas Adams makes it fairly clear that he is fed up with hitchhiker as well: "There was a point to this story, but it has temporarily escaped the chronicler's mind." It makes me think of Ian Fleming whose James Bond character (in the original novels) matures from a one-sided government killing machine to a person of flesh and blood, questioning the politics of the British Empire concerning Cuba and refusing to kill a spy in The Living Daylights.


So long is in many ways a tender love story, and its construction - which is very episodic - is full of little scenes that are almost self-contained and that show off Douglas' talent as a sketch writer. (Nick Webb in Wish You Were Here, p. 199-200.)

Quite right. Nearly every page contains some near-to-perfection sentences, thoughts or ideas. Take page one for instance:

This planet (Earth, note by FA) has - or rather had - a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.

You can't get more perfect than that, if you ask me. The first 150 pages of the novel are a treat and contain the cookie incident, then Douglas (still trapped in his hotel room, remember) and his vicious gatekeeper from hell suddenly realised that they needed to end the book because it was Friday, five minutes before five.

In the last 15 pages of the book, obviously written in a hurry, the following happens:

  • a giant flying saucer lands
  • Ford Prefect visits Arthur Dent (and Fenchurch, the girl, not the railway station)
  • they board the flying saucer
  • they arrive at the land of Sevorbeupstry (a little tired from the journey)
  • they meet Marvin who is now 37 times older than the Universe
  • they read God's Final Message
  • Marvin dies
  • They rent a scooter from a guy with green wings

The book ends with an epilogue (making that the 42nd chapter) in which Blart Versenwald III designs a "remarkable new breed of super-fly that could (...) figure out how to fly through the open half of a half-open window'.

Basically this post started as an introduction to tetradecahedrons but it grew rapidly into a monster. I also wanted to add something else about Ian Fleming and his James Bond character but I have forgotten what.

You'll have to tune in next year, I guess, to read the next part...;

The Cookie Incident (back to text)

For a description of this urban myth please consult: Snopes.

For Douglas Adams' comment on this subject, please consult: The Cookie Incident.

And a short movie on the same theme: The Cookie Thief.