On the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series

Loop-Surface Security: The Image of the Towel in a Vagabond Universe

A Semiotic (Semi-Odd) Excursion

By Mark W. Tiedemann

Douglas Adams’ repeated inability to find his towel during a stay with friends led to an assumption of a standard of competence not commonly accepted by most humans on Earth. In milieus concerned with academic skill, physical prowess, cleverness, ruthlessness and appearance as standards of competence, it is often the ordinary, the mundane and the overlooked daily materials of life that may be the true tests of our ability to cope. Only by their absence do such things rise to general notice.

How does one convey the importance of such an object? First, it requires that we recognize something fundamental about the object. Then we must understand how its meaning, its importance, shifts with a change in context. Where we find a particular sign/object, and in relation to what other objects, in the landscape in which it resides, determines its meaning. Altering any one of these factors also alters the object’s meaning.

Adams demonstrated a superb grasp of these fluid concepts by constructing an elaborate fictive context, the entire purpose of which is to spotlight the importance of the object under examination. Perhaps, he must have reasoned, by displacing humans to an environment off Earth, the true relevance of the object–the towel (at least, the knowledge of where one’s is)–would become obvious.

After all, the towel is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series is all about.

(Many arguments have been put forward to suggest that it is about other things–interstellar travel, dictionaries, travel guides, Kensington parties, irony, or even the Ultimate Question–but  …

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