The 25th of May celebrates the lives and works of two innovative and inspirational writers, Douglas Noel Adams and Sir Terry Pratchett.
Towel Day came about two weeks after Douglas Adams died unexpectedly of a heart attack on May 11, 2001. He was only 49. The ‘Towel’ in Towel Day, of course, refers to the iconic towel that all intergalactic travelers are advised to carry in his book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.*
In 2007, Terry Pratchett was diagnosed with are rare form of early onset Alzheimer’s disease known as Posterior Cortical Atrophy. Wear the Lilac Day began in 2008 with ‘Match It For Pratchett’, an unofficial fan initiative that called on Discworld readers to donate money for Alzheimer’s research and to wear lilacs on May 25th to promote awareness of the disease. The symbol and the date derive from a fictional event in Pratchett’s book Night Watch, which was published in 2002. Sadly, Terry Pratchett died on 12 March 2015 at the age of 66. Wear the Lilac Day now appears to be evolving into a general commemoration of Sir Terry.
Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett have often been compared. Both were British, both wrote humorously meaningful speculative fiction, and both might be described as cynical optimists with strong humanistic outlooks that came through in their fiction. The style and content of their writing, however is quite different. Adams’ has more of an absurdist, laugh out loud, quality. Although Pratchett’s books may also provoke laughs, they tend more toward quite, contemplative smiles and richly constructed settings and characters. Both, however, provide insights into what it means to be human. What humans are. How they behave. How they think.
In Adams’ books, the world happens to people, and they deal with it. His widely acclaimed Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy begins with a normal fellow going about his normal life, concerned about normal things, when, to the surprise of all, Earth is destroyed by aliens creating a hyperspace bypass. What he’s telling us is that, in the cosmic scope of things, our normal concerns are not all that important. This is good to remember. When you find yourself wallowing in personal troubles, step back and get some perspective. At least there isn’t a Vogon constructor fleet in orbit above you threatening the extinction of all life on Earth.
Pratchett does much the same with Discworld, but rather than the world happening to people, people happen to the world. In the cosmic scope of things, we may not be all that important, but what we do matters, at least for a while. Many of his tales are like morality lessons in which the human characters take a stand against sexism (e.g. Equal Rites), prejudice (e.g. Unseen Academicals), dogmatism (e.g. Pyramids and Small Gods), jingoism (e.g. Jingo), slavery and oppression (e.g. Snuff)…. Well, you get the point. He wrote over 40 Discworld stories (and about 30 others), and most of them point to some human foible worthy of examination.
Both writers also clearly maintain a distinction between fantasy and reality. Adams demonstrates this with absurd aliens (e.g. Vogons) and such things as the Infinite Improbability Drive. Pratchett does it by having a flat world that rides on the back of four elephants atop a spacefaring turtle. The settings aren’t intended to be taken as even remotely possible. Their fiction is, well, clearly fiction. You’re not supposed to take story on the surface seriously, although the stuff behind it is a different matter entirely. Don’t be confused by the humor. There is some serious literature going on here, and the obvious lies these authors tell us reveal subtle truths about human nature.**
Both writers have a large and devoted following, with considerable overlap between them. Chances are good that if you like one, you will like the other, which is why I think 25 May is a good day to celebrate both. I admire both of them. Much of who I am and who I am becoming is due to the influence of their writing. Words have power.***
So, for all you hoopy froods out there, Happy Towel Day, and to all Discworld visitors, Happy Wear the Lilac Day. If things are getting you down, don’t panic. Read (or reread) one of their books. They can help make your journeys through life, the universe, and everything more enjoyable.
* See my 2012 post In Recognition of Towel Day (link below)
** Personal note: I have a pet peeve with fiction that attempts to portray fantasy settings as ‘realistic’. They’re not. I have a rather incredulous and highly skeptical nature, and, consequently, an aversion to suspend disbelief. In fact, I dislike stories that seem to take themselves too seriously because it feels like intentional deception. Fantasy can, however, highlight and magnify things that are true. Both Adams and Pratchett do this extremely well.
*** “…words can be even more powerful than magic.” Quoted from Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters, a parody of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/169437985
• Discworld – The Final Sunrise (A Fan-Fic Tribute Mar. 2015) https://dlmorrese.wordpress.com/2015/03/15/discworld-the-final-sunrise/
• A Tribute to Terry Pratchett (Mar. 2015) https://dlmorrese.wordpress.com/2015/03/13/a-tribute-to-terry-pratchett/
• Marvin’s Towel Day Present (A Poem for Towel Day 2014) https://dlmorrese.wordpress.com/2014/04/25/marvins-towel-day-present/
• ‘Twas The Night Before Towel Day (A Poem for Towel Day 2013) https://dlmorrese.wordpress.com/2013/05/12/twas-the-night-before-towel-day/
• In Recognition of Towel Day (2012) https://dlmorrese.wordpress.com/2012/05/17/in-recognition-of-towel-day/
May 25th is Towel Day, the annual commemoration of the life and work of the late great Douglas Adams and especially his enduring highlight of comic science fiction, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It is a unique book, both absurd and insightful, that has endured as something of a cult classic since its original publication in 1979.
Few authors can compare their works for originality and intelligent humor to the Hitchhiker’s Guide series, and I am certainly not one of them, but for reasons I cannot explain, some ardent fans of these books also seem to enjoy mine. So, in celebration of Towel Day, I’m making digital editions of all five of my currently published novels free on Smashwords.
The Free Promotion will run through Friday, 30 May 2014.
Two of these books are currently free on Smashwords by naming your own price, which can be $0.00. The other three each have their own unique coupon code, which you can enter when checking out to take advantage of the free promotion.
NO COUPON CODE REQUIRED – SET YOUR OWN PRICE AT $0.00 WHEN CHECKING OUT.
MO-126 is a dog, or a reasonable facsimile thereof. He is a construct and an employee of the Galactic Organic Development Corporation, which searches the galaxy for primitive sentient species to save from extinction and then creates colonies of them on Corporation agricultural planets where they can live happily and safely. The transplanted species survives, and its members produce some of the most expensive and sought-after food in the galaxy, which the Corporation profitably sells to developed worlds with this guarantee:
Caringly grown, cultivated and harvested by simple sentient life forms.
No artificial ingredients, pesticides, herbicides, or mechanized equipment used in processing.
Guaranteed 100% organic.
Of course, keeping the primitives primitive enough to ensure the Corporation’s promise of natural purity can be a challenge, especially when they’re like those it found twenty thousand years ago huddling in caves and scraping a meager and precarious existence on a pale blue planet in the Milky Way’s Orion–Cygnus spiral arm. The humans keep trying to change things.
An Android Dog’s Tale is the 15,000-year episodic story of one canine mobile observer android who must make choices about what he wants to accomplish in his artificial life. Does he accept the wisdom of his makers or does he dare to question?
NO COUPON CODE REQUIRED – SET YOUR OWN PRICE AT $0.00 WHEN CHECKING OUT.
Prince Donald, the idealistic third son of the king of Westgrove, believes he may be the only one able to protect his country from an invasion spearheaded by an ancient and massive magical stone warrior known as the Warden of Mystic Defiance. Donald, unfortunately, is woefully unprepared. His only real understanding of such things comes from his reading of adventure stories. When he finds an ancient scroll he believes may allow him to take control of the mysterious Warden, he eagerly takes on the task. He dreams of saving the kingdom and becoming a hero like those in his epic adventure stories. To his dismay, his quest turns out to be nothing like he imagined. He finds the stories in his library seriously understate the complexities and hardships involved. He also soon realizes that the real world can be much more confusing than fictional ones, and the hero is not necessarily predestined to save the day.
COUPON CODE SM22N
The Warden War continues the quest begun by Prince Donald in The Warden Threat. His father, King Leonard of Westgrove, has been told that the neighboring kingdom of Gotrox has discovered a magical means to animate a mysterious and gigantic ancient stone warrior, the Warden of Mystic Defiance, which it plans to use it to spearhead an invasion of his country. Donald is convinced this is a hoax carefully crafted by his father’s chief adviser to bring about a war to gain control of Gotroxian resources. Donald is determined to thwart him. It will not be easy. Chief Adviser Horace Barter has resources, connections, influence, and the almost unquestioned trust of the king. Donald, sadly, has none of these. What the young prince does have is a nominal position with the diplomatic team being sent to Gotrox and the companionship of a few rather unique friends including a pair of 15,000-year-old androids, one of which is a dog — or a reasonable facsimile thereof.
COUPON CODE NW39Y
Amy, the only child of a poor family living in the bustling city of Dolphin Point, is given an amazing and potentially dangerous pendant as a present for her fourteenth birthday. She does not know how amazing or how potentially dangerous it is. If she did, she would cherish it even more. She is that kind of girl.
Through her investigations of the mysterious pendant, she uncovers an ancient mystery—the remnants of a vast alien commercial enterprise buried beneath surface of the planet. Unfortunately, the central computer for the complex is aware of her intrusion and it cannot let her escape with knowledge of its existence.
COUPON CODE AQ22V
On a small island called Bob off the southern shore of the great Kingdom of Westgrove, Benkin, a brilliant if somewhat quirky scientist, discovers something extraordinary — clockwork automatons that can obey commands. For Benkin, this is an amazing scientific discovery, one he wants to explore; one he believes may revolutionize mankind’s understanding of the world. For Snyde, a fugitive from the king’s justice, it is something he can use…
This humorous, exciting, and charming story sees the return of several characters from the three previous novels set in this world, plus a few endearing additions. If you were wondering what happened to the thoroughly evil Snyde, or if Trixie and Prince Donald ever got together, this book provides the answers.
As an added bonus, Defying Fate, the exclusive Kindle edition that combines The Warden Threat and The Warden War in one easy download will also be available free from Amazon between Towel Day and the following Thursday, May 29th 2014.
He did not need to, for Zaphod then said,
“I got you a present. Put this on your head.”
He handed an object to Marvin and smiled
Like a bugblatter beast at a feast but with style.
“It’s Towel Day, Marvin. Don’t say you forgot,”
Zaphod admonished. But Marvin had not.
He knew about Towel Day. Everyone did,
But parties and hats were both stuff for kids.
He didn’t go in much for wild celebrations.
He favored instead more sedate cogitations.
Planet-size brains are not made for joy.
They’re not made for frivolous games or for toys.
A planet-size brain is for thinking of thoughts,
And bemoaning terrible fates life has brought.
A planet-size brain knows just what to expect,
Including, in this case, no signs of respect.
Zaphod’s next comment thus proved no exception.
Confirming the android’s most dire expectation.
“We’re having a party, and all are invited.
That includes you. I’m sure you’re excited.”
Marvin was not. So what else is new?
But worse still awaited. No doubt this was true.
And soon it arrived as a listing of ‘guests’
None of whom made his list of ‘Worlds’ Best’.
“Ford Prefect will be here and so will his pet,
“Monkey-man what’s his name, I quite forget.
“Arthur,” said Marvin, and then quickly noted,
“He came from that planet the Vogons exploded.”
“Whatever,” said Zaphod, his hand waved the air.
“It hardly matters to our great affair.
“Hotblack will be here along with his band,
“And play us some music. Now won’t that be grand?
The Milliways’ head chef is coming to cook,
And I can tell you he was though to book.
The food will be wonderful, and then there’ll be drinks.
Gargle Blasters for all, or so I should think.
“Trillian said she’d come. Won’t that be nice?
“And Frankie and Benjy, but they eat like mice.
“Deep Thought will log in; it’s given its word.
“And Slartibartfast, for a break from his fiords.
The Three-Breasted Whore of Eroticon Six
May pop in later. Perhaps she’ll turn tricks.
Zarquon is coming, but probably late.
He tends to do that. Perhaps it’s his fate.
“So what is my role in this party to be?”
Marvin the android then asked sullenly.
“Why that’s the best part, and it will be great!
“Your role’s essential! Your job is to wait!”
“To wait?” said the android, now feeling abused.
“To wait for what? I am somewhat confused.”
Zaphod turned ’round and an apron appeared.
Marvin retreated. ‘Twas bad as he feared.
“To wait on our guests, you silly machine.
“It is you who will serve them. You see what I mean?
“You’ll hand out munchies and drinks when they ask.
“I’m sure you can handle this important task.”
A sad dip of Marvin’s head proved he had heard,
But he turned and he left without saying a word.
And he with his planet-size brain should have guessed,
But all he could say now was, “I’m so depressed.”
’Twas the night before Towel Day. I gazed at the sky.
The Vogons were coming. I started to cry.
I knew why they’d come here ’cause I’d read the Guide.
I reached for my towel. There was nowhere to hide.
Huge yellow ships hovered high in the air
In the way that bricks don’t. ‘This just isn’t fair!’
I raced through stop signs and lights that glowed red.
My goal was only two minutes ahead.
I got to my office block, went to the top,
And there on the roof, I came to a stop.
Above me the largest ship stood quietly poised
Demolition beams ready, and then, there was noise.
Now everyone knows that Vogons are dim.
They’re tasteless and vulgar and really quite grim,
Officious and mean, bureaucratically driven,
But they do follow orders in triplicate given.
I waved my towel for all I was worth.
“Constructor Fleet Leader, I speak for the Earth.”
“So speak, little man. Grovel and plead,
But resistance is useless, I will not pay heed.”
“We do not resist,” I said in reply.
“Your orders say kill us. We’re eager to die.
But wasting of effort to us is abhorrent,
As it is to you, or so I should warrant.
Now, to a Vogon, this just might make sense.
Authority rules them. They’re otherwise dense.
They think everything that exists needs a leader.
If the leader is gone, there’s nothing else either.
They’re brighter, I knew, than the beasties of Traal
But not much, I hoped. I could no longer stall.
I pulled forth my towel, and grandly I said,
“Now, I am gone!” It went over my head.
I dared not peek from under my towel
Hung over my head as a concealing cowl.
Forty-two seconds passed. I drew a breath,
Proving my fate was not instant death.
The Vogon Commander spoke not a word,
But the whine of ship engines was clearly heard.
Then I heard him complain as his ships disappeared,
“I suppose that makes sense, but it all seems quite weird.”
(Towel day is observed every year on May 25th to celebrate the life and work of Douglas Adams, and especially his book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Fans around the world are encouraged to carry a towel with them on this day in his honor. The first Towel Day was held in 2001, two weeks after Adams’ death on May 11. )
- In Recognition of Towel Day (2012)
- Book Review – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
- Book Review – The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
- Book Review – Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
- Some Thoughts on The Salmon of Doubt by Douglas Adams
Other Things You May Enjoy:
- Towel Day on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/Douglas42towels
- The Warden Threat by D.L. Morrese You can get the digital edition of this novel FREE from Barnes and Noble, Apple, Sony, Smashwords, Kobo, and Diesel.
- Fuzzy Android Recommends (Other humorous fiction by Indie writers)
- Book Review – Shada
- Discworld (My take on Terry Pratchett’s Humorous Fantasy Series)
- Rereading Pratchett – Gaspode
- Book Review – Mort by Terry Pratchett
- Book Review – Snuff by Terry Pratchett
There are other holidays and commemorations, but none is as important, significant, popular, meaningful…
Let’s start again.
Towel Day 2012 will be widely celebrated, observed, recognized…
Fans of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will recognize this book’s immense contribution, significance, importance…
Okay. Towel Day is fairly obscure, if you are judging it based on reality, but, as Douglas Adams reminds us in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, “reality is frequently inaccurate.” (I’ll get back to that.) The point is that Friday, May 25, 2012 is Towel Day, a commemoration of the life and work of Douglas Adams, and especially of his book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The first Towel Day was held in 2001, two weeks after Adams’ death on May 11. Fans around the world are encouraged to carry a towel with them on May 25th of each year in his honor.
Why a towel? Well, if you are acquainted with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you know. If not, here is what it says (in Chapter 3) about 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 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 hitchhiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitchhiker 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.
Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in “Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.” (Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)”
Now you know what the Guide says about towels. You can ignore the rest of this because I’m about to get philosophical and impart symbolic meaning to things Adams may not have intended. Yeah, the symbol is the towel and it relates a bit to the quote about reality being inaccurate. I think he’s right — sort of — in a way. It’s not because there is no objective reality. I’m fairly certain there is, it’s just that I don’t think many people actually live there. People wrap a towel of subjectivity around themselves and interpret reality through it. They see things that are not really there (like I’m seeing the symbolism of the towel) and ignore things that are, sure that if they don’t see them, they can’t cause any harm, rather like the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal. Adams may be pointing out how people filter their perceptions to create personal subjective realities, and I think one of the themes of the book is that we can take these subjective realities far too seriously. Using humor and absurdity, he helps us realize that our beliefs are choices, our perceptions are subjective, and our fears and problems are often simply a matter of how we look at things. Sometimes, our subjective interpretation makes problems of things that don’t need to be, or at least make them seem larger. Shifting perspective may be all that is needed to eliminate a problem, or at least make us feel better about it.
On the other hand, I’m probably taking all of this far too seriously, and one thing I think Adams would caution against is taking anything too seriously, especially his books. So, with that in mind, let me just wish a Happy Towel Day to all you hoopy froods. I hope you remember where your towel is, and, whatever you do, Don’t Panic!