All the winner's letters can be found on the 2007 Letters about Literature PDF and Carolyn's letter is re-printed on Another Chance To See by kind permission of The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, the West Virginia Center for the Book, and Carolyn herself. Thanks to everyone.
Very many congratulations to you Carolyn. You write very well, and I wish you every success on your chosen career path in journalism.
This letter is the property of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress and the West Virginia Center for the Book. All rights reserved.
Level 3 - Top HonorsThanks (as always) to Dave Haddock for the tip-off on Carolyn's winning letter. You'll be able to see Dave's mention of it in the next edition of Mostly Harmless, the newsletter of ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha, the Official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Appreciation Society.
Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams
Dear Douglas Adams,
Sometimes our most precious possessions are taken away from us even before we knew we had them.
I’ll never forget the time I first read your work. It was an excerpt from your book Last Chance to See in a magazine I subscribe to. When I read an article, I usually only afford the author’s name a passing glance before I move on, if that. However, while reading about your venture with Mark Carwardine to see the kakapo, I became curious. I not only felt myself warming up to the adorable and pathetically maladaptive parrot that you and Mark had trekked all the way to New Zealand to see before it became extinct, I also felt myself warming up to you. Hmm, I thought. This man is funny. Hilarious, actually. Brilliant, too. I flipped back to the title page of the article and made a mental note to check out the rest of the book you wrote, and maybe see if you had written anything else. I read the rest of the article, still wanting more, and then turned to the miniature author bio at the end. It read, “Renowned for his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams died in 2002...” I was shocked. Reading that excerpt, I had gotten a brief glimpse into the mind of a darkly witty, intelligent, and utterly fascinating person—I had been captivated. Now I had just been introduced to you and already you had been taken away from me.
I devoured your work, beginning with the Guide and continuing through the entire series, not stopping until I had read almost everything you had ever written. You blew my mind as you dragged me through all different aspects of space-time; from Africa to Alpha Centauri, from the 1800’s to the 60’s to centuries into the future. The more I read, the more I laughed, the more I wondered, and the more I missed you, although I never knew you.
Even with your wonderful British humor, drier than Melba toast, so icy it could freeze a blowtorch, your books often leave me with a lingering sad feeling. Perhaps, Mr. Adams, it is because of your bleak outlook. Although much of your work places emphasis on the amazing complexity of our wondrous universe, there is an undertone of melancholy. You seem to see the universe as a cruel, harsh place, whose hapless inhabitants are constantly battered about by malevolent forces. You don’t believe in God. You believe that the cosmos and the fates and most of all, humans and other life forms, are all pitted against the innocent, the good, the unsuspecting.
In Last Chance to See, you wrote that the kakapo, bumbling and incompetent at the game of evolution, the victim of a quickly changing environment, danger rushing at it from all sides, is impossible not to love. “If you look one in its large, round, greenybrown face,” you wrote, “it has a look if serenely innocent incomprehension that makes you want to hug it and tell it everything will be all right, even though you know that it will probably not be.” Reading this sentence now, I am filled with a sudden urge to embrace both you and the bird, to hold on to you and keep you here with us, to reassure you both that although the world seems unutterably cruel sometimes, this isn’t all there is, and it will get better in the end, I am sure of it.
The kakapo, the Bajii River Dolphin, the Rodrigues fruit bat, all disappearing before our very eyes, and you yourself taken from us so prematurely, before my generation even had a chance to know you, remind me of a poem by Carl Sandburg:Buffalo Dusk
The buffaloes are gone.
And those who saw the buffaloes are gone.
Those who saw the buffaloes by thousands and how they pawed
sod into the dust with their hoofs, their great heads down, pawing
on the great
pageant of dusk,
Those who saw the buffaloes are gone.
And the buffaloes are gone.
Mr. Adams, all of your writing has amazed me, but Last Chance to See has truly inspired me. The world is full of fantastic, wonderful things, many of which are departing before most people are aware they ever existed. Life is a breathless race to discover more and more of these divine gifts, intricate and stunning, strange and fascinating, before all-consuming time or our own indifference wipes them off the face of the earth forever. This is why I want to be a reporter. To do what you did, to travel the globe in search of places, cultures, and species so awesome and so beautiful, to gather all possible knowledge about these amazing things, and fling it far and wide to every corner of every country, so that people can know what I know and become amazed along with me, treasuring the marvels our world possesses and protecting those in danger—it seems to me that there could hardly be a more satisfying job.
My overall opinion about life, the universe, and everything differs from yours only in that I believe in a loving and benevolent force, watching over us and making sure that everything turns our right ultimately. Perhaps last chances don’t have to be last chances after all. It is my strong hope that someday many eons in the future, long past our own time and the time of our planet, you and I and all the many wonders of our crazy spinning galaxies will finally be united, somewhere at the end of the universe.