Happy Towel Day a little early!
Towel Day (May 25th) is a tongue-in-cheek celebration of Douglas Adams, his life, and his writing. The event has been held annually since his death in 2001, though in keeping with his off-kilter style, the date is not the actual date of his death, birth, or in fact, any other date of significance to Adams or his career.
Adams is probably the single greatest influence on my writing style. He had a relaxed, casual approach that made the reader feel like he was kicked back in a comfortable chair at a party chatting with the lunatic sprawled on the couch. I don’t aspire to match his absurdist British humor – I agree with John Scalzi that one almost has to be British to really handle that style well – but I would love to handle the “conversation with the reader” approach with something close to Adams’ skill.
His best-known work, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy“, began as a radio show. Given its popularity in the UK, Adams did a novelization of the show, which also proved very popular. Unlike many of his American fans, I stumbled over the book before the radio show made it to the US – the book came out in 1979, but the radio show didn’t arrive on this side of the Atlantic until it was broadcast by NPR in 1981. Getting it backward that way didn’t appreciably degrade my appreciation for Adams’ style or sense of humor; while it left me with the feeling that some lines in the radio version are “wrong”, I would be hard-pressed to decide which format I prefer.
Later books in the series served as the basis for further seasons of the radio show, and the trilogy reached five volumes*. H2G2, as the Guide is fondly known, has also made it to TV and to the silver screen, albeit with less success than the original incarnations.
* Not a typo. There was a long gap between the third and fourth books, so fans became very used to referring to “the trilogy”. Rather than disturb that habit, the trilogy was just extended to four and then five books. Copy editors complained, but marketers loved it.
Comparisons to Monty Python’s Flying Circus are inevitable and warranted (and in fact, Adams was a writer for Monty Python).
As noted by Fraser McAlpine for Towel Day 2012, Adams’ best known quote is probably “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” But many other Adams lines have spread through science fiction fandom and beyond into popular culture. Perhaps you’ve heard some of my favorites:
“This must be Thursday. I never could get the hang of Thursdays,”
“Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job,”
“Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so,”
“How do you feel?” “Like a military academy: bits of me keep passing out.”
As I write this, a couple of days before Towel Day, the Internet is abuzz with the word that Google has submitted some kind of media player, perhaps a successor to last year’s ill-fated Nexus Q to the FCC for certification. The relevance is that the device’s model number is H2G2-42. H2G2 is, as noted above, the standard abbreviation for “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy” and 42 is, according to canon, “the answer to the ultimate question of Life, the Universe, and Everything”. In any case, if Google chooses to make a product announcement tomorrow, I’ll certainly pass that information along.
But why towels? A towel, according to Adams, “is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have.” Essentially, any non-hitchhiker will figure that someone who can keep track of their towel while traveling the length of the universe must have something on the ball.
Adams himself knew where his towel was, in his writing as well as in his support for environmental causes. I may still be looking for my professional towel, but I intend to carry it well and follow in his footsteps.
Please join me tomorrow in proudly carrying your towel in Douglas Adams’ memory.