May 25, 2015

It Happened on May 25th

Towel Day

Don't Panic.
©Beny Shlevich/Wikimedia Commons 
Today is Towel Day. Fans of Douglas Adams's fantastic "trilogy" (of five books), The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, will understand the reference. For the rest of you, a word of explanation may be in order.

Hitchhiker follows the adventures of the hapless Englishman, Arthur Dent, and his alien companion, Ford Prefect, as they stumble through the universe. Ford is in a possession of a copy of a travel guide, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which, to Arthur's dismay, has only a two-word entry for the planet earth: "Mostly Harmless." (On the other hand, it does have the words "DON'T PANIC" written on the cover in "large, friendly letters.")

One of the most valuable pieces of advice that Arthur picks up is that, when traveling through known and unknown worlds, the most essential piece of equipment you can have on your person is a towel. There are two reasons for this. First, the towel has almost unlimited practical value -- it can be used for warmth, as a sail, as a weapon, as a distress signal, and even, occasionally, to dry oneself off. It can also be used for defense against 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."

RIP Douglas Adams.
©Hughes Photography/Wikimedia Commons 
The other, and more important, reason is that if you have a towel on hand, you can acquire practically anything else you may need. In Adams's own words:

"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, 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."

Towel Day was first observed on May 25, 2000, two weeks after Douglas Adams's death. It is celebrated all over the world. Those wishing to donate to a charity in honor of the event are encouraged to contribute to two of Adams's favorite causes, Save the Rhino and/or The Gorilla Organization.

Glorious Revolution, Ankh-Morpork

Terry Pratchett.
©Luigi Novi/Wikimedia Commons 
Meanwhile, for Terry Pratchett fans, today is also the anniversary of the Glorious Revolution. The story is told in Night Watch, the 29th novel in Pratchett's Discworld series. Night Watch takes place 30 years after the events, and also concurrently, since the story involves time travel.

The Glorious Revolution ended the reign of the Homicidal Lord Winder, replacing him with the merely Mad (or Psychoneurotic) Lord Snapcase. The Revolution is conducted by members of the Treacle Mine Watch House (with the help of a few enthusiastic young civilians) and led by Sergeant John Keel. Killed in the struggle (or subsequently by treachery, in the alternate time-line) were Ankh-Morpork heroes John Keel, Cecil Clapman, Horace Nancyball, Billy Wiglet, Dai Dickins, Ned Coates, and -- temporarily -- Reg Shoe.

Actually, it might be more correct to state that the reign of Lord Winder ended concurrently with the Revolution. The nobility had already arranged for the succession of Lord Snapcase behind the scenes, making the Revolution superfluous.

Every year the date was commemorated by the wearing of the lilac among the surviving heroes of the Revolution: Sam Vimes, Fred Colon, Nobby Nobs, Cut-Me-Own-Throat-Dibbler, and Havelock Veterinari, the current Patrician of Ankh-Morpork. The date is not observed in the general population, since it is one of those events that everyone would rather pretend had never happened.

Pratchett died from Alzheimer's on March 12, 2015. The following account was posted on Pratchett's Twitter account by his assistant, Rob Wilkins:


Terry took Death's arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night. 

The End.


Universal Day of the Jedi

Today also celebrates the release of the first of the series, Star Wars: Episode IV -- A New Hope, on May 25, 1977. May 25th is not actually "Star Wars Day," however. That honor is claimed by May 4th -- as in "May the Fourth be with you."

Of course, in 1977, it wasn't called by the full title. It was just Star Wars. And it wasn't expected to be much of a success. It had originally been scheduled for release the preceding December, but the special effects had taken longer than expected. The studio execs were very worried about the May release date. They were concerned because Star Wars was going to have to compete with Smokey and the Bandit.

When it came time to distribute the movie, there were fewer than 40 theaters that wanted to book it. 20th Century Fox told them that if they didn't screen Star Wars, they wouldn't be allowed to show The Other Side of Midnight, which was expected to be a blockbuster. As I'm sure you realize, Star Wars ended up being one of the all-time greatest box office hits. It was the first film to gross over $300 million, and it's one of the 30 highest-grossing movies ever, without adjusting for inflation.

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