History of Towel Day: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
May 25 celebrates Towel Day as a day to honor Douglas Adams, the author of the five (or six) book trilogy Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Created in May of 2001 to mark the passing of English science fiction humor author Douglas Adams, the day is set aside for fans of his writings to carry a towel throughout the day in honor of the author.
Why a towel? Stay tuned
Although it occurs on the same day as the anniversary of the premier of the first Star Wars movie, and the original radio version of tHGttG came out the year after Star Wars, Star Wars did not inspire The Hitchhiker’s Gude to the Galaxy.
I had the pleasure of meeting Douglas Adams about twenty-five years ago when he spoke at a special Sun Microsystems event. I recall noting that he talked at 19,200 baud (fast in those days), meaning he spoke the English language more quickly than any other person I had heard before. Erudite, clever, and mind-stretching — his talk was much like his writings, at times laugh-out-loud funny. He has appeared on Monty Python’s Flying Circus TV show and wrote a skit for the album of the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail. He had also written for the TV show Doctor Who.
Though the books may not be as well known outside the world of Science Fiction, the phrase “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” has become a well-known literary concept due in large part to the other media it has appeared in. It gained immense popularity as a:
- Radio show
- British TV series
- Computer game
- Stage show
- Comic book adaption
- 2005 film
Back to why a towel?
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy story starts with the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it (I hope I haven’t spoiled anything), which kicks off a tour of the Milky Way Galaxy using a guide to it found in an electronic book. Think iPad.
This guidebook often quotes the Encyclopedia Galactica — a tribute to Isaac Asimov‘s seminal sci-fi trilogy Foundation — though it contrasts itself with it by saying: “…it is slightly cheaper; and second, it has the words ‘DON’T PANIC’ inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover.”
We learn from the Hitchhiker’s Guide that:
A towel… is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value… more importantly, a towel has immense psychological value …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.
This idea of a towel is perfectly consistent with and in harmony with Linus’ comments in A Charlie Brown Christmas.
I leave you with this thought regarding Life, the Universe, and Everything…
If the Answer is 42
What is the Question?
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
What is the ultimate answer to life, the universe and everything?
good catch Bill
Exactly Maurizio. But they need an even larger computer to figure out what the question was, for which the answer is 42.
Did you see Adams funeral on the web? Fascinating, incredible fun writer, athiest, but his funeral was in a church and included hymns. made you wonder what happened as death approached.
While living in New Mexico in 1993 he set up another e-mail address and began posting to his own USENET newsgroup, alt.fan.douglas-adams, and occasionally, when his computer was acting up, to the comp.sys.mac hierarchy.
I was not aware of that. I was on USENET from 1985 to around 1995 when browsers and the World Wide Web became widely available. I used to post my history articles there.