There are words and phrases from what one reads that stick with you throughout your entire life. From the moment you read them they inspired or changed you. As a teen, the now clichéd “Carpe Diem, Seize the Day” from the film Dead Poet’s Society was life changing, but it was reading that always struck to the core of my heart when it came to shaping who I was as both a person and as a writer of the fantastical.
No one was as pivotal to who I became in both respects than Douglas Adams. My first exposure was to the PBS import of the BBC television series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Immediately I HAD TO HAVE the books and made my mother take me to buy what was then just the Hitchhiker’s Trilogy. I still have the broken spined, falling apart hardcover, coated in dried green slime from a toy accident years ago. Then I consumed the radio plays on cassette, and bought the annotated transcripts to read along with.
There are a million turns of phrase that the late Mr. Adams wrote over the years that stick with me:
- “Don’t Panic.”—the words inscribed on the guide itself, and an obvious choice as a life motto.
- “Life. Don’t talk to me about life.”—Marvin the Paranoid Android, moping about in his usual depressed state
From the planet builder Slartibartfast, best known for winning an award for designing Earth’s Norwegian fjords:
Slartibartfast: I’d far rather be happy than right any day.
Arthur: And are you?
Slartibartfast: No. That’s where it all falls down of course.
But the one that has always stuck with me is:
This planet 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 movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.
To a 12-yer old kid, it just seemed funny, but it also made me think. Adults were weird, anyway. Why would they obsess over these little green pieces of paper? The idea was absurd—later causing me to strive in my own fiction to capture even just a fracture of Mr. Adam’s genius/humor—but his words were also spot on about the human condition. These were IMPORTANT WORDS, important thoughts! As I grew up and became an adult myself (a debatable point, I know), I found the words stuck with me.
I’ve been financially stable as well as pathetically poor, but rarely have I suffered at the hand of that ebb and flow. Money is always welcome and nice to have and all, but I’ve never let a lack of it determine my happiness. It’s been a pretty healthy attitude, focusing me instead on what truly makes me happy—family, writing, rampantly consuming all manners of nerdery…
Such a complexly written yet simply logical line transformed my entire attitude about the true answer to life, the universe, and well, everything. Words… powerful stuff indeed.
Anton Strout is the author of the Simon Canderous urban fantasy series and the Spellmason Chronicles, both for Ace Books, as well as many short tales published in anthologies by DAW Books. The third Spellmason book, Incarnate, is available September 30th. He also curates The Once & Future Podcast, where he endeavors to bring authors and readers together through a weekly news show format.