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Literature / The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

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" was the Sunday afternoons he couldn't cope with, and that terrible listlessness which starts to set in ... as you stare at the clock the hands will move relentlessly on to four o'clock, and you will enter the long dark teatime of the soul..."

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul is Douglas Adams's 1988 sequel to Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. It deals with multiple dimensions, Norse Gods, murder, record company contracts, and an incredibly dirty refrigerator.

It can be seen as a comedy/mystery/science fiction.

It was adapted into a radio serial for BBC 4 in 2008. The radio series takes a few liberties, but stays mainly close to the source material and clears up a few of the more confusing plot points.

Followed by The Salmon of Doubt (unfinished).


  • The Alleged Car: Kate's Citroën 2CV is the Trope Namer – she was once in court for a traffic mishap after her car threw a wheel and nearly caused an accident, and a police officer referred to it as "the alleged car" and the name stuck.
  • Almighty Janitor: Thor suspects Toe Rag of having some kind of evil hold over Odin. Toe Rag replies that he is a loyal servant of Odin who does exactly what he's ordered to. The narrator notes that Thor isn't sufficiently proficient in human (or divine or goblin) nature to realise that this is a pretty powerful hold to have over anyone.
  • Arch-Enemy: Dirk regards his cleaning lady Elena as this when it comes to his refrigerator; each keeps trying to trick the other into opening it. At one point, Dirk buys some food that needs to be refrigerated and leaves it on the kitchen counter, hoping Elena will take the hint and open the fridge. When he comes home at the end of the day, he finds that she's instead thrown the food away.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: In the context of a Listing the Forms of Degenerates line about King's Cross Station.
    [T]hings you could have removed while you waited were your wallet, your stomach lining, your mind and your will to live. The muggers and pushers and pimps and hamburger salesmen, in no particular order, could arrange all these things for you. [...] If you wanted quick sex or a quick fix or, God help you, a hamburger, that was where you went to get it.note 
  • Astrologer: The Great Zaganza is a newspaper astrologer who happens to be an old friend of Dirk's who knows his birthday. As a result, his predictions for Dirk's sign tend to be along the lines of, "Virtually everything you decide today will be wrong." Unsurprisingly, the paper's circulation has declined by nearly a twelfth since he took the job.
  • Audio Adaptation: Harry Enfield returns to voice Dirk in another radio series written and directed by Dirk Maggs.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Dirk's favorite way of getting places he shouldn't be.
  • Brick Joke: The policemen at the Anstey house taunt Dirk with warnings that "Big Bob the Finder" had been sent to haul him there — possibly in less-than-fit condition — if he hadn't shown up on his own. As Dirk is leaving, a large burly policeman who's welcomed by the name "Bob" arrives to deal with the Anstey boy upstairs ... and gets his arse kicked just as thoroughly as the first copper who'd tried to separate the teen from his telly.
    • One of Kate's major complaints about London is its scarcity of pizza delivery services. At the end of the novel, while Dirk is laid up in the same hospital that she was in at the start, he is presented with a pizza that she ordered for delivery there before checking herself out.
  • Character Overlap: Thor had already appeared in two of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy novels, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe and Life, the Universe and Everything.
  • The Chew Toy: Dirk, who gets his nose broken and his body pummeled by an enraged boy, has his broken nose yanked straight by a nurse without anesthesia, is nearly run over by a bus and a cyclist and then actually run over by a motorcycle, rear-ends other vehicles twice after himself being run off the road, bangs his head on the steps, tears his coat jumping out a window, had his hand stabbed and his nose (again) slashed by a huge eagle, was attacked and nearly mauled by a second eagle, and gets whammed at least fifty-seven times by his own conscience. And that's not even mentioning the destruction of his house.
  • Chekhov's Armoury: The Dirk Gently books embody this trope really because they are all about the interconnectedness of everything. Chekov's Armoury isn't just a device Adams used, it's what he based the whole book on. Norse Gods and a somewhat popular song are involved in the apparent suicide by beheading of some dude. Also, Dirk's non-working fridge? That has something to do with it as well: By way of providing a very literal Deus ex Machina.
  • The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: One of the most contrived explanations for a "suicide" that has ever been committed to print. Admittedly this was to satisfy the police, who were pointedly not interested in the idea that the victim had been killed by a goblin as part of a demonic contract. It's a case of Take Our Word for It, as it's never explained in detail to the reader, but it involves a lot of Noodle Implements.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The Draycotts buy Odin's power, then start selling bits of it to other buyers in order to cover the cost. Dirk's client is one of those buyers, and Toe Rag has him killed when he can't pay up.
  • Deal with the Devil: Long Dark Tea-Time centers around this. The kicker: the devil is trying to help Odin get out of an even nastier advertising deal.
  • Deity of Mortal Creation: A new God spawns as a critical mass of guilt builds up throughout the book.
  • Deus ex Machina: The ending of the book, while appropriate, neatly finishes all the plot threads in about five pages. Also slightly subverted: In the process of solving all the plot problems, the Deus Ex Machina also puts a massive hole in Dirk's house. In The Salmon of Doubt, it's still a problem.
  • Expert in Underwater Basket Weaving: A girl in a sanitarium spends all day reciting letters and numbers. Her doctors have figured out that she's accurately reciting the New York Stock Exchange daily trades in chronological order. However, she does it 24 hours after it happens, so the doctors there think it's useless — unlike if she were doing it 24 hours in advance. Thus, they don't really care why she's doing it. They even suspect that she's really faking it by somehow getting her hands on the numbers and memorizing them to repeat the next day.
  • Forced Transformation: Thor transforms objects and people around him by accident when he's angry, thus setting off the events of the novel. His many unfortunate victims include a lamp, an airline ticket clerk, and a fighter jet.
  • Gods Need Prayer Badly: The Norse Gods have not been doing well since the world decided it didn't need them.
  • A Good Name for a Rock Band: "Pugilism and the Third Autistic Cuckoo".
    "It can mean whatever you want it to mean."
  • Hot Potato: Is the title of "Pugilism"'s new hit, which has a prophetic significance. Toe Rag gives the Draycotts a bill for his time, which apparently stipulates that they will die at the end of a set period of time. The bill gets passed from one client to another, and Geoff Anstey loses his head when time runs out.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Dirk gets frustrated that Anstey's son won't acknowledge his presence. He unplugs the telly that's got the boy captivated, which gets his nose broken in retaliation. When he returns from tending his injury, the boy has lost interest because the news is on and is ready to talk, only for Dirk to get distracted by Janice's photo on the news report and tell the teenager to shut up: he's trying to watch this.
  • Impossibly Mundane Explanation: When Dirk hears about a girl who repeatedly recites the previous day's stock quotes, he rejects the assumption that she's just memorizing them somehow (after all, the information is out there!) in favor of some more mystical explanation, because nobody would ever go to that much trouble. It's a little different since he's arguing on the basis of general human nature, not specific character, but the principle is the same. Dirk sums this up by reversing Sherlock Holmes' usual maxim: Eliminate the improbable (in this case, that this girl is masterminding an elaborate complex plot with no obvious benefit to herself), and whatever remains, however impossible (that she's getting the stock prices out of nothing through some unknown and unidentified source), must be the truth.
  • It Came from the Fridge: Dirk and his cleaning lady have a long-running feud over his refrigerator, which has become so filthy inside that each one keeps trying to get the other to open it. He eventually has to call a fence to take his fridge away and replace it with a brand new, stolen one, which he vows never to use. The old one has a god of Guilt burst from it to resolve the plot, in a Deus ex Machina.
  • It Can Think: Dirk has quite a shock when he peeks through the keyhole at the eagle and sees it looking back at him.
  • Kill the Lights: Thor uses his powers to completely black out Kate's entire neighborhood in order to get her attention, inadvertently terrifying her in the process.
  • Laser-Guided Broadcast: The horoscope writer on the local paper is an old friend of Dirk's who targets his horoscopes specifically at him, with very specific comments such as "You are very fat and stupid and persistently wear a ridiculous hat which you should be ashamed of."
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Whatever Dirk claims to believe in order to extract cash from gullible people invariably turns out to really be true, but always in such a way that he looks bad, sometimes in such a way that he suffers physical or emotional trauma, and never in such a way that he gets the money.
    • The Draycotts, who had passed Toe Rag's bill demanding their lives on to their clients, do in fact die when a fighter jet that had once been an eagle crashes into their car.
  • Listing the Forms of Degenerates: See Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking.
  • Magical Homeless Person: The poor people who congregate at King's Cross Station are all but stated to be ancient Norse gods, living on the margins of a world that no longer has any need for them.
  • Morphic Resonance: At one point, it's mentioned that the eagle has a circular area of darker feathers on each wing. It's later revealed to be a transmogrified RAF fighter jet; RAF aircraft have a circular RAF emblem on each wing.
  • Necktie Leash: Kate uses this one on Dirk, who subverts a repeated use by taking off his tie and handing it to her.
  • Never Heard That One Before:
    "I'm a private detective."
    "Oh?" said Kate in surprise, and then looked puzzled.
    "Does that bother you?"
    "It's just that I have a friend who plays the double bass."
    "I see," said Dirk.
    "Whenever people meet him and he's struggling around with it, they all say the same thing, and it drives him crazy. They all say, 'I bet you wished you played the piccolo.' Nobody ever works out that that's what everybody else says. I was just trying to work out if there was something that everybody would always say to a private detective so that I could avoid saying it."
    "No. What happens is that everybody looks very shifty for a moment, and you got that very well."
    • Also, everyone and their dog keeps asking Dirk if he knows his nose is broken.
  • 90% of Your Brain: Kate, shortly before awakening from a coma in a hospital, has a dream in which her mind is represented by an infinite collection of cabin trunks, of which ten percent contain past memories, and the remaining ninety percent contain penguins. She assumes this trope is in effect.
  • No Sense of Humor: Mr. Standish, who evidently had never even listened to an actual joke before.
  • Not-So-Phony Psychic: Dirk's attempt to make some easy money as a gypsy fortune teller (in drag) goes wrong when the random mystical nonsense he spouts turns out to be uncomfortably accurate.
  • Occult Detective: Not exclusively, but Gently is definitely this when he has to be.
  • Overcomplicated Menu Order: When Kate wants to discharge herself from the hospital and isn't allowed, she convinces the hospital they want her to leave by attempting to get a pizza delivered, something she knows is impossible in London. At one point she tries to get a motorbike courier firm to order and collect "an American Hot with a list of additional peppers and mushrooms and cheeses which the controller of the courier service refused even to attempt to remember".
  • Power Incontinence: Odin arranges for this to befall Thor in order to prevent Thor from interfering with Odin's plans. Thor finally gets a handle on it once he's able to blow off some steam.
  • Really Fond of Sleeping: Odin really likes sleeping in the old folks home he's in. When he's not sleeping he's thinking about sleeping, or his bed, or fresh linens.
  • Self-Deprecation: A minor character is a writer named Howard Bell. It is stated that his writing is absolutely horrible, but he remains wildly popular and successful for two reasons: he deliberately cultivates an air of freakish mystery, and his name is perfect for a book cover because the first name is long and the last name is short. On his books, his first name is written in a medium-sized blocky font followed by his last name in a larger font, so that his name fills out the cover and upstages the title. Bell is probably a No Celebrities Were Harmed version of Stephen King, but still, it's funny to see that character created by someone named Douglas Adams, whose name appears on the original cover in precisely this fashion.
  • Sexophone: Discussed. The narration refers to Kate's legs as being the sort which make sound-track editors feel a need to add a saxophone solo, "for reasons which no one besides sound-track editors has ever been able to understand." Then it adds that the saxophone would've been drowned out by the kazoo which the same editor would've been playing over Kate's car.
  • Spice Rack Panacea: Thor refuses to let Kate use disinfectant on his wound after the eagle attacks him, since he prefers natural remedies. So instead she draws a bath for him to wash with and adds all the herbal hand creams, conditioners and so on that she's been impulse-buying over the years.
  • Stalker without a Crush: Dirk explains that he will pick a random car that seems to know where it's going to follow if he gets lost while he's driving, a process he refers to as 'Zen Navigation'. He finds that while he seldom gets where he intended, he always ends up where he needed to be, or at least someplace interesting.
  • Sticky Situation: Thor finds himself in a particularly humiliating one after being removed from the hospital: stripped naked, lying on his back, and glued to the floor. At first he reads into it, interpreting it to mean "stick to the ground." Once he confronts Toe Rag, he finds out it was just the first thing that came to Odin's mind.
  • Strangely Specific Horoscope: The horoscope writer for the local paper knew Dirk at university, and aims his horoscopes specifically at Dirk. Since he strongly dislikes him, this resulted in the newspaper losing 1/12 of its readership.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: The elderly lady who witnesses Thor's battle with the eagle on Primrose Hill simply resumes walking her dog as soon as the combatants move out of the way.