Happy Towel Day! Today, May 25th, marks the annual celebration of the life and work of Douglas Adams, and especially his wholly remarkable book, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Whether your are a new fan or an old frood who has sassed H2G2 for years, I wanted to share with you a few ways you can celebrate Towel Day and enjoy The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
1. Carry your towel!
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has a few things to say on the subject of towels.
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 vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft 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 to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindbogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you—daft as a bush, but very ravenous); 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-hitchhiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, washcloth, 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 hitchhiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitchhiker might have accidentally “lost.” What the strag will think is that any man that can hitch the length and breadth of the Galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through and still know where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.
Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in “Hey, you sass that hoopy TJ Webb? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.”
2. Read, or listen to, the trilogy!
“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. Perhaps the most remarkable, certainly the most successful book ever to come out of the great publishing corporations of Ursa Minor. More popular than The Celestial Home Care Omnibus, better selling than Fifty-three More Things to do in Zero Gravity, and more controversial than Oolon Colluphid’s trilogy of philosophical blockbusters Where God Went Wrong, Some More of God’s Greatest Mistakes and Who is this God Person Anyway? It’s already supplanted the Encyclopedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom, for two important reasons. First, it’s slightly cheaper; and secondly it has the words DON’T PANIC printed in large friendly letters on its cover.”
If you haven’t read the 5 part trilogy, this is obviously the place to start! My cousin gave me a copy of the anthology when I was 17 years old and it took me until my 20’s to actually pick it up. I thought it was going to be a bunch of charts and graphs about stars and constellations. Instead, it was an imagination expanding series of adventures that I’ve picked up again nearly every year since.
I haven’t had as much time to read recently, so I’ve been listening to it on audiobook; in my opinion, the edition read by Martin Freeman after the movie was released in 2005 is the very best way to enjoy the novels, aside from curling up with an actual book. Freeman does a superb job.
3. Drink a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster!
“The Guide says that the best drink in existence is the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster. It says that the effect of a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster is like having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick.”
The original recipe for Zaphod Beeblebrox’s Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster is as follows:
Take the juice from one bottle of that Ol’ Janx Spirit.
- Pour into it one measure of water from the seas of Santraginus V (Oh, that Santragian seawater! Oh, those Santragian fish!)
- Allow three cubes of Arcturan Mega-gin to melt into the mixture (it must be properly iced or the benzine is lost).
- Allow four litres of Fallian marsh gas to bubble through it, in honor of all those happy hikers who have died of pleasure in the Marshes of Fallia.
- Over the back of a silver spoon float a measure of Qalactin Hypermint extract, redolent of all the heavy odors of the dark Qalactin Zones, subtle, sweet, and mystic.
- Drop in the tooth of an Algolian Suntiger. Watch it dissolve, spreading the fires of the Algolian Suns deep into the heart of the drink.
- Sprinkle Zamphuor.
- Add an olive.
- Drink . . . but . . . very carefully . . .
If you can’t make it to the market to pick up the one or two of these ingredients you don’t already have in your cabinet, there are a number of variations, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. A quick google search for local Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster recipes should point you in the right direction.
If you aren’t feeling quite so adventurous, you may wish to sit back and enjoy reading, watching, or listening to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy with a nice cup of tea, or a refreshing Gin and Tonic.
“It is a curious fact, and one to which no-one knows quite how much importance to attach, that something like 85 percent of all known worlds in the Galaxy, be they primitive or highly advanced, have invented a drink called jynnan tonyx, or gee-N’N-T’N-ix, or jinond-o-nicks, or any one of a thousand variations on this phonetic theme. The drinks themselves are not the same, and vary between the Sivolvian ‘chinanto/mnigs’ which is ordinary water served just above room temperature, and the Gagrakackan ‘tzjin-anthony-ks’ which kills cows at a hundred paces; and in fact the only one common factor between all of them, beyond the fact that their names sound the same, is that they were all invented and named before the worlds concerned made contact with any other worlds.”
4. Explore an alternative universe.
Most people don’t realize this, but the Earth, far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy, is part of Galactic Sector ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha. Being part of a plural zone means that pretty much every thing that happens here is happening the same way, albeit differently, in an untold number of alternative realities. I especially like this because it means I get to choose whichever of the many plots and endings of H2G2 I happen to feel like on any given day, as the real one. Here are some of the alternate realities of H2G2 for you to enjoy:
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Original BBC Radio Broadcasts
Back in the earliest days of The Guide, when men were real men, women were real women, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri, before the story of Arthur Dent and company had ever been printed on paper, there was a radio show. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy originally aired in 1978 as a live radio broadcast, and featured some of the greatest British comedians and voice talents of the day. The radio trilogy is in five parts (the Primary, Secondary, Tertiary, Quandary, and Quintessential phases), and altogether is about 15 hours long.
Fans of the H2G2 who have never heard the radio broadcasts will be intrigued by the variant plot points and delighted by new jokes and stories. Moreover, those who felt the books ended a little too despondently (this was well before George R. R. Martin set new standards for literary sadism) will enjoy the radio adaption of Mostly Harmless.
You can find the first 12 episodes here or here. The rest can be found at various places online, or purchased with remastered quality from Amazon.com or Audible.com (which are now, apparently, the same thing).
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy BBC Television Series
Based not on the novels but on the original BBC Radio Broadcasts, the series follows Arthur (played by Simon Jones), Ford and company through the events of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. It features a number of appearances by Douglas Adams himself and some now-iconic artwork and animations that make the Guide come to life for the first time on film.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Movie
Maybe my least favorite version of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy features, IMHO, the best versions of Arthur (Martin Freeman), Trillian (Zooey Deschanel), Ford (Mos Def), and a beautifully built Marvin voiced by Alan Rickman. Their interpretation of Zaphod I’d rather forget about. It’s a very odd film that still retains some amazing moments, thanks in part to Douglas Adams direct involvement, and original contributions just for the movie. The scenery and cinematography just leaves the TV series standing (1981 vs. 2005). Though the story is the most divergent, it does do a pretty good job covering a version of events from the first novels of the trilogy, and has a special place in my heart as being one of the first movies I took my wife (and then not-even-girlfriend) to see in the theatre.
And Another Thing…
The 6th book of the 5 part trilogy, And Another Thing… was written by Eoin Colfer (author of Artemis Fowl) in 2009, based on Douglas Adams’ intention of adding another book to the series. Adams had stated, “People have said, quite rightly, that Mostly Harmless is a very bleak book. I would love to finish Hitchhiker on a slightly more upbeat note, so five seems to be a wrong kind of number; six is a better kind of number.” The final book in the trilogy consists, perhaps appropriately, less of original invention and more of returning to characters and ideas from the original anthology. It accomplishes the stated goal of giving H2G2 a sunnier ending, but the ending to the radio series is as satisfying and a whole lot quicker. Still, writing even a passable homage work to this amazing series is a great feat, and Eoin Colfer deserves the credit for such an undertaking.
5. Play The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy contains an entry on Recreational Impossibilities, the first of which is learning to fly. It states, “There is an art to flying, or rather a knack. The knack lies in learning to throw yourself at the ground and miss… Clearly, it is this second part, the missing, that presents the difficulties.”
Pick a nice day and try it. The first part is easy. All it requires is the ability to throw yourself forward with all your weight and the willingness not to mind that it’s going to hurt. That is, it’s going to hurt if you fail to miss the ground. If you are really trying properly, the likelihood is that you will fail to miss the ground fairly hard.
One problem is that you have to miss the ground accidentally. It’s no good deliberately intending to miss the ground because you won’t. You have to have your attention suddenly distracted by something else when you’re halfway there, so that you are no longer thinking about falling, or about the ground, or about how much it’s going to hurt if you fail to miss it.
It is notoriously difficult to prise your attention away from these three things during the split second you have at your disposal. Hence most people’s failure, and their eventual disillusionment with this exhilarating and spectacular sport.
It goes on, but since I’ve never been able to accomplish the second part successfully, I don’t much feel like talking about it. The section on Recreational Impossibilities also includes walking through mountains, and trying to get the Brantisvogan Civil Service to acknowledge a change-of-address card. If it were to include one more, it might consider the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Computer Game.
Released in 1984, the game was the #2 best selling Infocom game ever after Zork I. The text based adventure game might have been designed by Vogons, based on how much pleasure it seems to derive from killing you in the most frustrating and increasingly perplexing ways. In one notorious bit, if you don’t take a certain action very early in the game, you will die right at the end, once you finally get there hundreds of tries later (if, indeed, at all). I can’t recommend it enough. If this sounds exactly like the way you’d like to spend your evening (or week, or month, or whatever length of time you can safely set aside before your friends and loved ones take steps to get you into some sort of rehab program), you can play the game right here, courtesy of the BBC..
Please leave thoughts, corrections, questions, and especially THE question (it always bothered me that we never found out), in the comments section.