Today is international Towel Day, a day of tribute to the late Douglas Adams, the brilliant author of, among many works, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979). Despite passing away quite young, Douglas Adams has had an undeniable influence on popular culture. When I first read Hitchhiker’s Guide in my late teens, I felt as though I had finally been let in on a big universal joke. The sci-fi genre was one I was well-acquainted with, but this was something entirely different– it was the seriously funniest or the funniest serious work I’d ever read. I finished the rest of the series within the span of a few weeks that summer and keep going back to them to this very day for wisdom and insight that just can’t be found elsewhere.
A towel, it says, 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 vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft 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 avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you); 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-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker 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 hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker 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.-Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Chapt. 3)
While Douglas Adams was indeed onto something, if I were to travel across time and space carrying only a towel, I’d only be comfortable with one which had the following printed on it:
To Mr. Adams, faeries or not, I’d like to think you are enjoying the view of the garden from the restaurant.Permanent linkMarzieh Ghiasi