Thursday, December 29, 2011

Thoughts on And Another Thing...

When Harry Potter exploded a global literary phenomenon, American writers started coming out of the woodwork to have their piece of the pie, from Daniel Handler (a.k.a Lemony Snicket) to Rick Riordan (the Percy Jackson series). One of the international voices that joined the overwhelming flood of fantasy series catering to young readers was Eoin Colfer, who created Artemis Fowl, a rare antihero of the sub-genre. Because there were so many different series to choose from, the intended audience pretty much stuck with Harry, and most of them came very close to being entirely forgotten. Artemis Fowl was among them.

Thankfully, the quality of Colfer's writing wasn't overlooked, and he became the official successor to the late Douglas Adams as the chronicler of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which had begun as a radio program and eventually became a "trilogy" of five books, including Hitchhiker's Guide...; Restaurant at the End of the Universe; Life, the Universe and Everything; So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish; and Mostly Harmless. The books were a huge deal in my community growing up, though I confess that I didn't read them until later, so that I was confused at the locker at my high school that had a representation of "Milliways" painted on it, thinking some idiot surely must have misspelled "Milky Way." I don't remember when exactly I corrected my errors, except that I read an excerpt from the first book in full dramatic interpretation for an acting class during this period, maybe being a little too literal in how I pictured an apparently pathetic Arthur Dent facing down to the Viking-descendant whose bulldozer Arthur lay in front of.

Anyway, long story short, I became a fan, maybe not an obsessive fan, who couldn't bring himself to join the proto-wikipedia community dedicated to creating a real H2G2 on the Internet, but one who at least bought a copy of the BBC version and became an ardent supporter of the 2005 movie when seemingly no one else did. I became a bigger fan of Adams when I discovered Dirk Gently, and dedicated a part of my reading life to an obsessive quest for the Starship Titanic, which had been developed into a book by Terry Jones, which I finally read earlier this year.

I bought And Another Thing... on release, but because of that pesky Reading List, didn't read it right away. Most fans seemed to dismiss it as unworthy of the legacy, but I suppose I have a deep dark secret, in that I hardly remember the specific events of the original "trilogy" so much as having enjoyed them at the time, and I think that's much the point, that Adams didn't particularly care to create something memorable so much as enjoyable, since the stories are more cyclical than anything, repeating the same basic adventures while featuring the same cast of characters, who never really grow from episode to episode. L. Frank Baum discovered much the same conundrum in his series of Oz books (and yes there is a series), and I think Terry Pratchett, too, in that you can create a clever premise that people will readily devour entry to entry, and keep the flame alive, except that over time it becomes harder to sustain a living interest in the whole franchise. The one advantage that Adams has to Baum and Pratchett is that he wrote a small number of books that even in his lifetime were collected into a single omnibus edition.

That Colfer has now added to that collection is either a challenge for existing readers to embrace a new author to their beloved canon or a chance for the whole thing to start over again, since you can very easily read just the one book, And Another Thing..., without having read or lacking a clear memory of what you did, and experience just as much fun in the process as if you were trying to complete the saga, which as such doesn't necessarily exist as it might in any other writer's imagination. The Hitchhiker's Guide phenomenon has always been a farce, given that it centers on the rather overlooked fact that Earth gets destroyed and shouldn't that be a tragedy? but rather becomes the impetus to explore a comedy of manners, or rather lackthereof, and Colfer maybe even makes the sociopolitical overtones more blatant (though without spoiling the fun). In the end, the sixth book in this particular series ought to prove that all this nonsense wasn't a waste of your time after all, because isn't it all about a bunch of characters who somehow find deep meaning in the most absurd circumstances?

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