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Happy Towel Day

Do you know where your towel is?

douglasadams_douglasadams_comFor those in the U.S. it’s Memorial Day, true, but a holiday with a broader scope is upon us.  It’s Towel Day, an annual, global celebration of the life and works of the late author Douglas Adams. Why a towel? Because, in the Hitchhiker’s universe a towel is not only a versatile tool that proves handy in a variety of situations, it’s also a powerful psychological symbol and metaphor. To “know where one’s towel is” means to be in control of one’s own life.  It is the most important item a hitchhiker can have .  The author explains it far better.

From the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

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-tohand-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.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitchhiker) discovers that a hitchhiker 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 hitchhiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitchhiker 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.

Hence a phrase which has passed into hitch hiking slang, as in “Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.” (Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)

So please join in celebrating life of a man whose brilliance and beauty was all too brief by proudly displaying your towel, or possibly, 42 of them.


May 25, 2009 - Posted by | Daily Whims | , , ,


  1. I’m waving around my Terrible Towel very fast in honor of Towel Day.

    (because I am also a Steeler Fan. )

    Comment by queencrone | May 25, 2009 | Reply

  2. I forgot my towel at home. I guess this makes me a strag.

    Comment by TheHobo | May 26, 2009 | Reply

  3. Does anyone else see Robin Williams when they look at this guy?

    Comment by blah | May 26, 2009 | Reply

  4. @ blah: Hmmm, maybe a little.

    I’ve still yet to read the Hitchhiker books. I have read Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, and then I started on The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul and never finished it ’cause I got pregnant and had no attention span. I still don’t! Husband also wants me to read The Salmon of Doubt.

    Comment by Skaði | May 26, 2009 | Reply

  5. The Salmon was interesting, but I read it too soon after his death and it was really emotionally hard for me. It felt like I was rummaging through his personal papers. It’s not, but I was just weird to read things that I’d never known about D.A., like his rabid atheism, that made me a little sad. Such a brilliant, sharp, writer, and in many ways, apparently, a complete fuck-up. (I say that with love.) Afterward, I wished I hadn’t read it, and kept my unenlightened view of him as this charming genius.
    On a related note, I stumbled across a battered copy of “Last Chance to See” a few years ago, and read it with delight. I’d never even seen a copy before. I hear the BBC is working on updating the original trips with a “where are they now” sort of thing. (It’s about these endangered species all over the globe.)

    Comment by Roxydarling | May 26, 2009 | Reply

  6. Roxydarling: Mark Carwardine and Stephen Fry recently finished filming Last Chance to See, a documentary, with Adams contributing his voice via archive footage. It is supposed to be aired in the fall. I’m not sure which BBC channel will carry it, though.

    As for Salmon of Doubt, I didn’t come away with it with a similar feeling at all. I already knew he was an atheist,though. He was quite outspoken about it and was very good friends with Richard Dawkins. Many brilliant people have a variety of different beliefs, many of which I don’t agree with. It doesn’t make their work less brilliant. It just means they hold different views than you.

    I also don’t quite understand why it would make you feel he was a fuck up. It was humanizing, true, but also talked about Adams the philanthropist, animal lover, lecturure, technologist…If anything it made him seem more multi-faceted and accomplished, to me.

    It did, however, contribute to the sense of loss I felt knowing there wasn’t anything new to come.

    Comment by Lily the Pink | May 26, 2009 | Reply

  7. I want to read Salmon of Doubt! I didn’t even know it existed! Ah…but it will make me sad…

    Comment by TheHobo | May 26, 2009 | Reply

  8. Sorry, the atheism and fuckup comment weren’t really related. He was the worst with making deadlines, some sort of publishers nightmare, apparently. But when it came in, it was great.
    As for the atheism, I was just shocked that I’d never gotten that impression despite reading all his Hitchhikers and Dirk Gently novels repeatedly. I don’t know why. And because he’d died. I’m lukewarm at best when it comes to a lot of religion, but it was so sad knowing that he was gone and either, (if correct) simply gone forever, or (if wrong) possibly burning in Hell. That said, I don’t even know if I believe people really burn in Hell. I’m very close to atheistic myself on a lot of days. But, I generally keep it to myself. Hearing people rant about how it can only be stupid to believe in a religion (any religion) bothers me.

    Comment by Roxydarling | May 27, 2009 | Reply

  9. I’m not religious, but I’m also not an atheist. I believe that there is a force of creation, but we are too small and insignificant to understand the true nature of the universe. I also believe in reincarnation.

    I’m actually heathen – look up Asatru if you’re not sure what that is exactly. I just don’t think that the gods and goddesses have anything to offer us that we can’t provide for ourselves. If they exist on another plane, it is simply because the combined will of our ancestors caused them to exist, but that doesn’t mean that they are our superiors. They are teachers, archetypes, essences of life that have been named. We cannot appeal to them to improve our lives, we can only hope to gain some wisdom through a lifetime of study.

    Comment by Skaði | May 27, 2009 | Reply

  10. I actually thought he looked more like Phill Collins. I guess I can’t go to England because after reading this I still have no idea what the hell they are talkin about. I guess I have no idea where the towel of my life is? Wow, towel day makes me feel small and insignificant. I’m going to burn a towel right now.

    Comment by cookiebees | May 28, 2009 | Reply

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