Welcome to the weird, wacky world of Douglas Adams. While his words from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series might be the most famous, his personal essays and reflections on life, the universe, and tropical fish are just as funny. To celebrate the 18th annual Towel Day—the May 25th celebration of Adams' life—we're remembering the humor and genius of Douglas Adams.
Grab your towel and enjoy these 10 hilarious, insightful Douglas Adams quotes this Towel Day. Then download Don't Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Neil Gaiman.
1. “Space [...] is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly hugely mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space.”
If you’ve ever wondered about the mystery of space, look no further. Douglas Adams knew all about the vastness of the universe. He hilariously poked fun at humanity's inability to truly conceive of the vastness of space, and our tendency to complain about things like a short walk to the chemist down the road. In this quote from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he tries to make sense of the huge space between Earth and the unknown.
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The universe is about 46 billion light-years wide, which is possibly a few miles longer than your commute every morning, though it might not always seem like it. Don’t worry, now we have Google Earth to really freak us out about how small we are.
2. “I’d take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day. My favorite piece of information is that Branwell Brontë, brother of Emily and Charlotte, died standing up leaning against a mantelpiece, in order to prove it could be done. This is not quite true, in fact. My absolute favorite piece of information is the fact that young sloths are so inept that they frequently grab their own arms and legs instead of tree limbs, and fall out of trees.”
Leave it to Douglas Adams to evoke thoughts of the slowest furry creatures in nature while also making us think about our own ignorance. Poor Branwell was also brought into the mix, and we really hope for his sake that he didn’t die trying to prove a point.
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In this quote from Salmon of Doubt, a posthumous collection of previously published and unpublished materials, Adams reflects on understanding and ignorance. Throughout Adams’ life, he attempted to understand the world beyond the one he lived in. From Doctor Who to Monty Python, Adams explored all kinds of different people and situations. Hopefully he never fell out of a tree trying to gain understanding. Be right back, going to search for pictures of baby sloths getting baths for a few hours.
3. “Hey! What's this thing coming towards me very fast? Very very fast. So big and flat and round, it needs a big wide sounding word like ... ow ... ound... round... ground! That's it! That's a good name—ground! I wonder if it will be friends with me?”
When a spaceship is being attacked in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Arthur turns on the Improbability Drive, which passes through every conceivable point in every conceivable universe almost simultaneously, and the ship turns into a sperm whale falling into free space. The quote above is meant to be the sperm whale’s thoughts as it comes into being, and the effect is innocent, funny, and smart.
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The whale’s inner monologue has a sense of purity that many jaded characters in the Hitchhiker’s world do not. Instead of complaining and fearing death, the whale is excited at the prospect of meeting the ground, and even hopes that the ground and the whale can spark up a friendship. Also, we just love to imagine a spaceship-to-whale transformation.
4. “He's spending a year dead for tax reasons.”
Death as a response to taxes? Sometimes it seems totally understandable. So when we read about Hotblack Desiato, a longtime acquaintance of Arthur Dent’s who chooses to die for a year due to taxes, we get it. We meet Hotblack Desiato in The Restaurant at the End of Universe and also in the television series of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and it’s hard not to admire the tenacity of someone willing to die to avoid spending money.
5. “There is a feeling which persists in England that making a sandwich interesting, attractive, or in any way pleasant to eat is something sinful that only foreigners do.``Make 'em dry,'' is the instruction buried somewhere in the collective national consciousness."
Perhaps if the people of England had made better looking sandwiches, Adams wouldn’t have moved to the United States. Adams moved back and forth from England to California often, but he ultimately made his home in Santa Barbara from 1999 to the time of his death. Perhaps the California avocado sandwiches kept Adams from going back to his homeland. In the third installment of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, we’re brought to the attention of the atrocity of British sandwiches.
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Hold the mayo, they must be saying, because Adams describes British pub sandwiches as terrible and dry as a bone. Apparently the British are seeking atonement for their prior sins with these dry sandwiches, and we love that they’re called out so blatantly in So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish.
6. “If I were not an atheist, I think I would have to be a Catholic because if it wasn't the forces of natural selection that designed fish, It must have been an Italian.”
On a trip to the reefs in Australia with his wife, Adams explored the tropical fish in the water and mused on their unreal appearances in his 1992 essay, “Riding the Rays.” After he saw the fish, he was lucky enough to look upon a giant manta ray, which he called the “single most beautiful and unearthly thing I had ever seen in my life.”
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Besides the holy experience with the fish in Australia, Adams was a staunch atheist. He even referred to himself as a radical atheist instead of a normal atheist because he didn’t want people to think he was agnostic.
The Salmon of Doubt
7. “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
Perhaps one of the most famous of Adams’ quotes from The Salmon of Doubt, we can’t help but chuckle thinking about the times we've watched a deadline sadly pass us by. Adams was an infamous procrastinator, and he was even caught writing the script for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio show as the show was airing. Yikes.
Though we hope to stay on top of our deadlines, at least we know if we fall behind that we’re in the great company of Douglas Adams, Procrastinating King.
8. “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”
This quote isn’t funny, but it hits us right where we need it when things aren’t going our way. Adams always knew he wanted to be a writer, and he even motivated himself by thinking of his good writing grades in school, but he hit a lot of bumps along the way.
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From procrastinating to the point of absurdity, to getting a relatively small advance on his first book, Adams’ journey as a writer might not have gone according to plan initially. But ultimately, he still wound up one of the best, most unique sci-fi writers ever. All we’re saying is that he’s right: Sometimes we end up where we need to be, not where we want to be.
9. “In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”
Adams’ radical atheism combined with a sense of humor about the random happenings of the Universe gave us this great quote in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Discussed like the creation of a bad invention, the Universe is regarded here as a mild nuisance. Ugh, the Universe again? We’re sick of talking about it. Send it away!
Perhaps the Universe was a bad move, but we appreciate the universe Adams created with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. With television shows, a movie, a radio show, and, of course, books, the Douglas Adams universe is one we are quite glad was created.
10. “I don't want to die now! I've still got a headache! I don't want to go to heaven with a headache, I'd be all cross and wouldn't enjoy it!”
What’s worse than dying? Dying with an eternal headache, that’s what. When Arthur Dent decides this would be a terrible way to go in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, we can relate. Drink your water, Arthur!
From shocking news about the size of the universe to fish, Adams had a funny opinion on almost everything. Cheers to you, Douglas Adams. We’re forever grateful for your hilarious wisdom.
Want more Douglas Adams? Read Neil Gaiman’s Don’t Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy!
Featured photo: Alchetron
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