Don’t Panic, Carry a Towel

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© Andrey Larin

Towel Day is a global celebration held by fans of Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, to pay tribute to him every year on May 25. On this special day, people carry a towel with them wherever they go, as the towel is a very functional item and an important symbol in Adams’ fictional Universe.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, often abbreviated as HG2G, is a comedy science fiction series written by Douglas Adams. The book presents the story of an ape-descended life form, that is to say, Earthman Arthur Dent , who however would not be so ordinary later on. As the story tells, when the Earth was destroyed by Vogons (from the planet Vogsphere) to make way for a hyperspatial express route, Arthur was the only Earthman who had survived, due to his best but non-Earthman friend, Ford Prefect. Arthur started his life as a intergalactic hitchhiker who of course would need the remarkable Hitchhikers guide of the Galaxy, a book published in the Ursa Minor publishing house, about which no Earthman had ever heard.

As Adams describes in the third chapter of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a towel is the most important item that a hitchhiker can have. Putting it differently, “to know where one’s towel is” means to be in control of one’s own life. Here is the original quotation from the chapter.

“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 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 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.”

The celebration was first held two weeks after Adams’ death on May 11, 2001. Since then, all his fans, all around the world, carry a towel on this day. Towel Day has an official website and a hashtag as simple as #towelday.

Thus if you are a Douglas Adams fan, carry a towel with you on May 25 wherever you go. If you do not have a towel, sneak one from a neighbor you don’t like. If you have not read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, then dear Earthmen, as the guide has it inscribed on its cover, “Don’t Panic” and read. And afterwords carry a towel.

Anush Ter-Khachatryan

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