Know where your towel is: The life and works of Douglas Adams

Know where your towel is: The life and works of Douglas Adams

It’s Towel Day, and what better way to wish all you hoopy froods a happy hitchhiking holiday then by celebrating some of the things towel aficionado Douglas Noel Adams accomplished before his unfortunate total existence failure?

Towel Day, of course, is a recognition of the author and his works, held every year on May 25. The animation here says 2011, of course, but it still holds up. If you’d like a more perennial animation, here you go.

A few months back I pointed out that Adams was quite deft at adapting The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for different mediums, but what about some of his other works and collaborations?

Bureaucracy and the Starship Titanic

Adams co-created the video game adaptation of the Hitchhiker’s Guide withSteve Meretzky, and that game, thankfully, is easy to find and play online. That was not his only video game, however.

Although the Hitchhiker game has a reputation as being nigh-impossible (without cheating), it pales in comparison to the mindbogglingly mindnumbing game, Bureaucracy. Rather than struggling with the illogical nature of alien societies, players must struggle with the inscrutable nature of the modern banking system. Good luck with that one.

Starship Titanic, on the other hand, was a Myst-style adventure game. Once again, a hapless human protagonist’s home is destroyed by aliens, and said protagonist is soon whisked off on nonsensical adventures. The story was novelized by Terry Jones, and amazingly enough, the whole book can be read online for free!

The story of the Starship Titanic, or a variation on it at least, appears in iterations of the Hitchhiker’s Guide as well. That’s where the phrase “total existence failure” comes from, by the by.

The Meaning of Liff

The Meaning of Liff (and not “life,” that’s a whole other thing) is an indespensible reference work put together by Adams and John Lloyd. It’s a dictionary with useful words sadly left out of other dictionaries, such as:

Fring – n. The noise made by a lightbulb that has just shone its last.

Gildersome – adj. Descriptive of a joke someone tells you which starts well, but which becomes so embellished in the telling that you start to weary of it after scarcely half an hour.

Oughterby – n. Someone you don’t want to invite to a party but whom you know you have to as a matter of duty.

Soller – vb. To break something in two while testing if you glued it together properly.

See, these are words you should be using every day!

Last Chance to See

Arguably the book closest to Adams’ heart, Last Chance to See was co-written with Mark Carwardine. This book was an attempt to not only document the disappearing wonders of nature, but to bring greater attention to the Earth’s plight. Adams spoke regularly on the subject from the start of that project until his passing.

It must have worked, as a TV series with Stephen Fry was recently made in the book’s honor.

Doctor Who and Shada

Douglas Adams was script editor for Doctor Who around the same time Hitchhiker’s was at its height of popularity, meaning he was a very busy man when he snuck in references to characters like Oolon Colluphid, but some of his work there never got finished for reasons other than his famous procrastination.

Most famously, the story of the prison-planet Shada was lost to the sands of time due to a labor strike, as happens from time to time.

Thankfully, what exists of Shada is available on DVD and in novelization. So if anyone wants to know what to get me for my birthday that has already passed, either of those would be fine. Thank you.

Dirk Gently

Dirk Gently is the other great series by Douglas Adams, though I must confess I’ve yet to read both books despite re-reading the Hitchhiker’s Guide series almost annually. This summer, I swear.

Dirk is something of an anti-Sherlock Holmes while still being very much like Sherlock Holmes although he is nothing like Sherlock Holmes. He does his detective work holistically, that is to say, he looks at the inherent – though often seemingly coincidental – interconnectedness of all things to solve, or perhaps a better phrase would be unbaffle, his cases.

BBC recently made a TV series out of this, that ‘BoroWark, LightningLouie and others assure me is available on Netflix through DVD and Amazon Prime.

Salmon of Doubt

The Salmon of Doubt is not, strictly speaking, a work by Douglas Adams. Although it might have been. Or could have been. Or maybe it never was, who’s to say?

Anyway, it is an indispensable book to any Adams fan. Not only does it include excerpts from his speeches and unfinished works, but also notes and anecdotes from those who knew him.

I’m sad to say, I wasn’t among them.

For the rest of today, please, remember where your towel is.

If you’re still wondering why towels are so important, here is an infographic to help you out.

This story was originally published on the Kinja blog of Kevin Garcia on May 25th, 2014.

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