Happy Towel Day, My Froods: Douglas Adams and the Awesome Power of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

May 25 is Towel Day, a celebration of the life and work of Douglas Adams, creator of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy universe. It is observed by carrying a towel all day, everywhere you go (a towel being the most useful item an intergalactic hitchhiker can possess). And it helps to believe in the redemptive powers of 42, Vogon poetry, and Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters. Most importantly: DON'T PANIC.

There's a good chance you're an acolyte or at least have heard some of the tales. In case you haven't, I'm talking about the story of Arthur Dent, who survives the demolition of Earth, is rescued by a spaceship that is powered by an Infinite Improbability Drive (stolen by the two-headed President of the Universe who also happens to be second cousins with Arthur's buddy Ford Prefect, who's a reporter for the Guide) and has sundry adventures with a manic depressive robot, superintelligent mice, Slartibartfast (the guy who designed Earth), and so on, until things start getting weird. To use a word I learned in college, the entire "corpus," or body of work, is the ultimate chronicle of life, the universe, and everything. There's a radio series, a "trilogy" of six novels, multiple video games, a TV series, a big budget movie, and a restaurant called Milliways where the chief attraction is watching the universe ending as you eat. Don't worry: it's all handled by time travel, so you'll be unharmed. And after you watch the universe end, there's dessert.

That's a lot, but it's only just the first book and one anecdote from another. Douglas Adams created a vast and wonderful universe, and his life's work was just as multifaceted. Aside from creating legendary radio, writing genre-breaking science fiction and detective novels (Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency deserves an article to itself), and thinking up triple-breasted whores before Total Recall, Adams was an avid technologist, environmental activist, left-handed guitarist (he guested with Pink Floyd), and perhaps the only radical atheist who wasn't bloody annoying. If he were still alive, he would point out that he had the decency to die at age 49, well before he recanted a lifetime of blasphemous hilarity (see Oolon Colluphid).

The Guide has influenced every aspect of the self-aware hypertext that forms the dialogue of our times-from South Park's Towelie character, to the writings of British humorist Michael Kelly, to avant-gardist Jarett Kobek. To justify that pompous sentence, I asked Jarett to contribute a quote for this article. He said, "Douglas Adams was brilliant! I love his work!" I then reminded him that he had a book coming out in London, where Douglas Adams lived, and told him that I had described him as an avant-gardist. So he said: "Douglas Adams was sui generis. Working in the tradition of Jerome K. Jerome, he crafted amusing baubles that somehow, almost indirectly, approach profundity."

This profundity is Adams's greatest gift. His throwaway jokes could power thought-provoking black comedies. Consider the saga of Agrajag, a constantly reincarnating creature who is unknowingly killed by Arthur Dent in every one of his lives. Or Wowbagger, the Infinitely Prolonged, who accidentally gains immortality, but being gauche, doesn't know what to do with it. Eventually he decides to spend eternity insulting every living creature in the universe. Or Hotblack Desiato, a rock star from the universe's loudest band, who spends a year dead for tax purposes. Or Somebody Else's Problem fields, or Perfectly Normal Beasts, or how the Guide's management finds it cheaper to create infinite universes and sell the same copy of the Guide in each of these universes instead of printing multiple copies.

There are many reasons to celebrate Towel Day. If you don't want to carry around a towel, have the cultural decency, at least, to reference some of the Guide universe's many wonders. Talk about mattress hunting. Say that your favorite number is 42. (If you don't know what it means, look it up. It's important.)

Among the oddest, but most heartfelt tributes to this genius is the song "Douglas Bhai" by Bangladeshi metal band Cryptic Fate, which goes:

"Douglas bhai, apni shob cheye priyo amar!
Apnar shamne Asimov-o chamar!"

According to Chowdhury "Pitolheart" Shakib, it translates to:

"Brother Douglas, you are my favorite;
In your presence even Asimov is a lout."


Arafat Kazi is an advertising gent who likes to dabble in tales of derring-do and the movies of Monowar Hossain Dipjol.

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