Don’t panic! Today is Towel Day, in memory of Douglas Adams
Far as I can tell, no one knows the last words, if any, of sci-fi humorist Douglas Adams, felled by a heart attack on May 11, 2001, at the age of 49. But I like to think it was something like: “Don’t panic!” Or, more elegiacally: “So long, and thanks for all the fish.”
Today is Towel Day in honor of Adams, who, of course, is the author of the cult novel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and the other four books in “the increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhikers Trilogy,” as well as a number of other books, according to the Guardian.
Perhaps not coincidentally, May 25 is also Geek Pride Day, notes Wired magazine (which ought to know), a celebration that lays claim to everyone from Adams to Pythagoras, Isaac Newton, George Lucas, Benjamin Franklin–and their achievements. Gentlemen: Check your pocket protectors.
Towel Day honors Adams, who, by wedding Dr. Who-like sci-fi adventure with a Monty Pythonesque absurdist humor (not a quantum leap, once you’ve seen it done), revolutionized the use of comedy in what was previously a mostly glum genre, thereby making it easier for Neil Gaiman, Eion Colfer and others.
(Yes, yes: I’m aware there were spots of humor in sci-fi before Adams–Kurt Vonnegut, Philip Jose Farmer and Rudy Rucker come to mind– but Hitchhiker changed the genre forever.)
A towel, as anyone who’s read Hitchhiker knows, “is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have.”
Hitchhiker’s, which began as a BBC radio comedy before Adams turned it into a novel in 1979, is the story of Arthur Dent, a hapless young Englishman who barely escapes the destruction of the Earth (to make way for an intergalactic freeway) with his bathrobe and towel.
Listing the uses of a towel, Hitchhiker’s says: “For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitchhiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost”. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.”
Adams maintains that comic tone through numerous iterations of Hitchhiker’s, including a BBC series adaptation (far superior to the 2005 feature film; see Roger Ebert for a concise accounting of the movie’s flaws), and four sequels: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe; Life, the Universe and Everything; So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish; and Mostly Harmless.
Activities planned in Adams’ honor today, reports the Guardian, include a pub lunch in Brisbane, flashmobs in Brazil and Berlin, a picnic in Budapest, a Vogon poetry slam in Portland, Oregon, a beer party in Zagreb and a ‘nice cup of tea’ event outside the Pompidou Centre in Paris.”
A complete listing, arranged by country, can be fond at towelday.org. If, like me, you’re not quite ready to let your geek flag fly, the best way you can honor Adams is by reading one of the Hitchhiker’s books, or the equally charming Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, or the environmentalist’s travelogue, Last Chance to See.