Don’t panic! It’s Towel Day: Celebrating Douglas Adams

Who could explain the singular importance of a towel to the Galactic traveller better than Douglas Adams?:

“A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value - you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy river Moth; wet it for use in hand-to- hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindboggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you - daft as a bush, but very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough".

Actually perhaps the question should really be: ‘who would explain the importance of a towel to the Galactic traveller other than Douglas Adams? Pose this question and you have the answer to why towel day is a thing. Each year on 25 May fans salute the inspired lunacy of Adams, the creator of the brilliant and baffling The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Born on 11 March 1952, Douglas Adams was a multitalented writer who managed to try his hand at scripts, novels, essays, comedy and drama in the short 49 years of his lifetime. Deservedly, Adams has had a star named after him, and somewhere out there is also an asteroid named Arthur Dent.

Adams' beloved Hitchhiker series tells the story of Arthur and his friend, Ford Prefect's, journey through the galaxy post the demolition of earth, armed with nothing but their all important towels and a book displaying the words ‘don’t panic’. This ‘trilogy of 5’ started out life as a radio series rather than a novel. This may come as no surprise to some as it does have an almost Goon Show quality about it at times. Take the lines -

“You know," said Arthur, "it's at times like this, when I'm trapped in a Vogon airlock with a man from Betelgeuse, and about to die of asphyxiation in deep space that I really wish I'd listened to what my mother told me when I was young."
"Why, what did she tell you?"
"I don't know, I didn't listen.”

or:

“For a moment, nothing happened. Then, after a second or so, nothing continued to happen.”

The Goons neatly leads to the topic of Monty Python, with whom ("whom" more specifically being Graham Chapman) Adams enjoyed a working relationship of two sketches, and two cameos. This is just one of the many projects Adams was busy on. He also wrote for Doctor Who, and even delved into nonfiction with Last Chance to See...  and 'The Meaning of Liff'.
Adams also made other contributions to the novel aside from Hitchhiker, including the hilarious Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (a satire of the traditional detective novel); 'Starship Titanic' (with another Python, Terry Jones); and two volumes of short stories.

From the man who is purported to have said: ‘I love deadlines, I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by” this certainly isn’t a bad effort.

However the Hitchhiker series really is the jewel in the crown of Adams' work. The winner of the Golden Pan (an award presented to authors whose book has sold its 1,000,000th copy), it is a book which even NASA saw fit to acknowledge with a shout out on towel day.

If you really don’t get the appeal of carrying a towel with you on this day of observance, why not read up on Arthur Dent's adventures, hire the Hitchhiker movie, or listen to the radio series? There are also some great books available on Douglas Adams himself, including M. J. Simpson's biography Hitchhiker, and Jem Robert’s The Frood, a guide to both the man and his books.

As Ford Prefect observes: 

"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 clearly a man to be reckoned with.”

Douglas Adams was clearly such a man, admittedly in ways that didn’t exactly involve a towel, but still, the symbolism is there. Forty years since the publication of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and 20 years since the very first towel day, fans all over the world are, as we speak, proudly clutching their towels, trying not to panic, and simply paying tribute to a comedy and sci-fi genius.

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