Douglas Adams, Animals

Douglas Adams died of a heart attack on this day in 2001, aged forty-nine. He had moved to California to be more involved in negotiations with Hollywood producers on the movie version of his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a frustrating process Adams likened to “trying to grill a steak by having a succession of people coming into the room and breathing on it.” The 1979 book and its handful of sequels became international bestsellers, and the Dirk Gently books have also done well, but Adams said that he was proudest of Last Chance to See, a documentary account of his expeditions with zoologist Mark Carwardine to observe a handful of near-extinct animal species. Although the message is dire, the writing is entertaining, as in this account of animal life at one Tourist-Trap-at-the-End-of-the-Universe in Bali, encountered while stalking the Komodo dragon:

The kamikaze motorcyclists tried to pick off the tourists and small dogs, while the tiny minibus, which spent most of the evening in shuttling our bags from one full hotel to another, hurtled through the motorcyclists and counterfeit-watch sellers at video-game speeds. Somewhere not too far from here, toward the middle of the island, there may have been heaven on earth, but hell had certainly set up business on its porch.

After an aside on convergent evolution — in which Adams links, on the basis of their elongated middle finger, Madagascar’s aye-aye lemur, a possum special to New Guinea, and rude gift shop owners everywhere — we listen in on expeditionary plans to find the Komodo by way of a treacherous, twenty-two-mile ocean crossing with a dead goat. Adams’s role in this skit is best read with the knowledge that he grew up wanting to be John Cleese:

…This is where the South China Sea meets the Indian Ocean, and it’s riddled with crosscurrents, riptides, and whirlpools. It’s very dangerous and could take anything up to twenty hours.”

“With a goat?” I asked.

“A dead goat.”

I toyed with my food.

“It’s best,” continued Mark, “if the goat has been dead for about three days, so it’s got a good smell going. That’s more likely to attract dragons.”

“You’re proposing twenty hours on a boat — “

“A small boat,” added Mark. “On violently heaving seas….”

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at