9th September 2014 - Marie Phillips
Marie Phillips, the author of The Table of Less Valued Knights (a epic tale of Arthur's less distinguished followers) and Gods Behaving Badly (the gods of ancient Greece are alive and well and living in Islington), has long acknowledged how Douglas Adams has been a huge influence on her writing.
Here Marie reveals how books borrowed from her elder brother were to prove vastly more entertaining than the Celestial Home Care Omnibus and confirms that she does indeed know where her towel is.
Until today I didn't know when I first read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I guessed that I was eleven or twelve. I can't actually remember reading it for the first time, but I do know that when So Long And Thanks For All The Fish came out I made my parents buy it immediately in hardback, because I was so excited that there was a new Douglas Adams book. I'd been reading the other three books on rotation while I waited. Anyway, I just looked it up and, to my astonishment, So Long And Thanks For All The Fish came out when I was eight. Which means that I must have read the first three Hitchhiker books around the time that I was seven.
I'd borrowed them (with or without permission) from my older brother who loved them too, and we watched the TV programme together, and played the text adventure game (all that I remember is that you had to get the computer to make tea.) To my regret I have never heard the radio series. I'm not surprised that I enjoyed the books at that age - the very words Eccentrica Gallumbits, the Triple-Breasted Whore of Eroticon Six were enough to crease me up, even if (thank goodness) I only understood 'the' and 'of' and 'six'; what amazes me is that 30 years later I love them just as much, and for exactly the same reasons. I can't think of any other book for which that is true.
As soon as I read them, I recognised that the novels were extraordinarily, uniquely funny, and took me to amazing places that I wanted to go. They were crazy and mindboggling and completely different from anything I had ever read before. Of course they were: at age six I was reading Sam Pig Goes To Market on a family holiday, so this was a pretty steep learning curve.
Sure, I didn't understand who the man was who had been nailed to a tree two thousand years ago for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, or what the small pieces of green paper were whose movements were so crucial to human happiness. I didn't know why anyone would drink a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster if they were like having your brains knocked out by a slice of lemon wrapped around a gold brick. All this I would get later.
But the Hitchhikers books were where I learned about the life, the universe and everything: about the planet I lived on (insignificant, blue green, mostly harmless), about space (which is 'big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space'), about God (subject of Oolon Colluphid's trilogy of philosophical blockbusters Where God Went Wrong, Some More of God's Greatest Mistakes and Who is this God Person Anyway?), and, most importantly, that I should always know where my towel is. (I am literally writing this article in a chair with a towel thrown over the arm.)
The spaceships and planets the book took me to were fascinating and bizarre, the people who lived there loveably odd. Arthur Dent was funny but infuriating, Ford Prefect unsettlingly close to, but not quite, human. Zaphod was perhaps the hoopiest frood ever to have lived. I adored Marvin. Many of the characters I liked most were incidental: the whale, brought into being by the Infinite Improbability Drive, making friends with the ground as it rushed up to kill him; his companion, the bowl of petunias, who turned out to be the vengeful Agrajag with his Cathedral of Hate. Trillian, though, was disappointing. She was the only girl in the first three books, and she didn't do much. But I remembered the advice of the Guide, printed in large, friendly letters on the cover, and I didn't panic. I just decided to write my
own stories, with girls who did interesting things.
Looking back, I believe that the Hitchhiker novels, crash-landing so early into my reading like the B Ark onto prehistoric Earth, shaped my brain as surely as Zaphod shaped his. They are the lens through which I will forever see the world - as a place of endless wild possibility, strange and baffling as Vogon poetry, yet, in the end, as comforting and familiar as Arthur Dent's dressing gown. Mostly harmless, entirely hilarious. I wasn't only inspired by Douglas Adams's books, I was created by them. And it's true what they (almost) say: give me the reader at seven, and I will give you the writer. Without Douglas Adams, I struggle to imagine what my novels, or I, would be.