May 25 is Towel Day, a celebration of the life and work of
Douglas Adams, creator of The
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy universe. It is observed by carrying a
towel all day, everywhere you go (a towel being the most useful item an
intergalactic hitchhiker can possess). And it helps to believe in the
redemptive powers of 42, Vogon poetry, and Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters. Most
importantly: DON'T PANIC.
There's a good chance you're an acolyte or at least have
heard some of the tales. In case you haven't, I'm talking about the story of Arthur
Dent, who survives the demolition of Earth, is rescued by a spaceship that is
powered by an Infinite Improbability Drive (stolen by the two-headed President
of the Universe who also happens to be second cousins with Arthur's buddy Ford
Prefect, who's a reporter for the Guide)
and has sundry adventures with a manic depressive robot, superintelligent mice,
Slartibartfast (the guy who designed Earth), and so on, until things start
getting weird. To use a word I learned in college, the entire "corpus," or body
of work, is the ultimate chronicle of life, the universe, and everything.
There's a radio series, a "trilogy" of six novels, multiple video games, a TV
series, a big budget movie, and a restaurant called Milliways where the chief
attraction is watching the universe ending as you eat. Don't worry: it's all
handled by time travel, so you'll be unharmed. And after you watch the universe
end, there's dessert.
That's a lot, but it's only just the first book and one
anecdote from another. Douglas Adams created a vast and wonderful universe, and
his life's work was just as multifaceted. Aside from creating legendary radio,
writing genre-breaking science fiction and detective novels (Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency
deserves an article to itself), and thinking up triple-breasted whores before Total Recall, Adams was an avid
technologist, environmental activist, left-handed guitarist (he guested with
Pink Floyd), and perhaps the only radical atheist who wasn't bloody annoying.
If he were still alive, he would point out that he had the decency to die at
age 49, well before he recanted a lifetime of blasphemous
hilarity (see Oolon Colluphid).
The Guide has influenced every aspect of the self-aware
hypertext that forms the dialogue of our times-from South Park's Towelie
character, to the writings of British humorist Michael Kelly, to avant-gardist
Jarett Kobek. To justify that pompous sentence, I asked Jarett to contribute a
quote for this article. He said, "Douglas Adams was brilliant! I love his
work!" I then reminded him that he had a book coming out in London, where
Douglas Adams lived, and told him that I had described him as an avant-gardist.
So he said: "Douglas Adams was sui
generis. Working in the tradition of Jerome K. Jerome, he crafted amusing
baubles that somehow, almost indirectly, approach profundity."
This profundity is Adams's greatest gift. His throwaway
jokes could power thought-provoking black comedies. Consider the saga of
Agrajag, a constantly reincarnating creature who is unknowingly killed by
Arthur Dent in every one of his lives. Or Wowbagger, the Infinitely Prolonged,
who accidentally gains immortality, but being gauche, doesn't know what to do
with it. Eventually he decides to spend eternity insulting every living creature
in the universe. Or Hotblack Desiato, a rock star from the universe's loudest
band, who spends a year dead for tax purposes. Or Somebody Else's Problem
fields, or Perfectly Normal Beasts, or how the Guide's management finds it cheaper to create infinite universes
and sell the same copy of the Guide
in each of these universes instead of printing multiple copies.
There are many reasons to celebrate Towel Day.
If you don't want to carry around a towel, have the cultural decency, at least,
to reference some of the Guide
universe's many wonders. Talk about mattress hunting. Say that your favorite
number is 42. (If you don't know what it means, look it up. It's important.)
Among the oddest, but most heartfelt tributes to this genius
is the song "Douglas Bhai" by Bangladeshi metal band Cryptic Fate, which goes:
"Douglas bhai, apni shob cheye priyo amar!
Apnar shamne Asimov-o chamar!"
According to Chowdhury "Pitolheart" Shakib, it translates
"Brother Douglas, you are my favorite;
In your presence even Asimov is a lout."
Arafat Kazi is an
advertising gent who likes to dabble in tales of derring-do and the movies of
Monowar Hossain Dipjol.
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