Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Anatomy and Physiology of the Wicked Witch of the West

It started to rain. My friend Alex said to me something along the lines of  “Don’t worry; you won’t melt.” With that allegory, I naturally immediately thought of the Wicked Witch of the West and her watery demise at the murderous hands of Dorothy Gale. Which brought to mind an entire series of questions regarding witches and water. To wit (or, to witch):

Has anyone ever heard of any other witches being sent to their doom by melting with water without irony? We wouldn’t count parodies or satires of the Wicked Witch of the West. In all the literature and visual examples I’ve encountered, I can’t think of a single other example of witches succumbing to water. This lead Alex and I to wonder: “Was the Wicked Witch of the West an exception to the rule of how to kill off witches?” Witches are clearly susceptible to fire, given the madness of the Salem witch trials and legends of them being burned at the stake. Additionally, the witch that would have devoured Hansel and Gretel succumbed to the fire of the oven after Gretel pushed her in. But I can’t think of any other examples of witches dying by water melting them. Which leads me to believe that the Western Witch was unique among her people.

Let’s, for a moment, assume that Gregory Maguire’s book (and resultant Broadway musical) “Wicked” is apocryphal and not to be considered in our analysis. However, for simplicity’s sake, I will adopt his western witch’s name “Elphaba” as the name of the Wicked Witch of the West, simply because it involves fewer keystrokes.

One of the foremost questions in such an inquiry is “How could Elphaba think it was a good idea to fly in the sky on her broom, filled as it is with clouds, water vapor, and precipitation?” Would not the water vapor of the clouds be, at the very least, painful for Elphaba to encounter? What if the clouds started to rain? It seems a reckless lifestyle, taunting fate with such abandon. And speaking of precipitation, would snow, sleet, hail or ice be as harmful to Elphaba as liquid water? At what percentage of atmospheric humidity would she experience discomfort? Would a particularly humid day cause tortuous pain, or perhaps even kill her?

How does such a being stay hydrated? Even if the more macabre among you, dear readers, suggest that she survived on the blood or flesh of human or flying-monkey victims, such bodies are at least 70% water, and clearly deadly to Elphaba. How would she pee? Surely she cannot have just “held it in” all those years (although that would go a long way in explaining her notorious irritability). Would she even possess kidneys and a bladder?

I came up with the notion that instead of eating and drinking as the rest of us do, perhaps her green skin was green because it was actually filled with chlorophyll, allowing her to photosynthesize nutrients the way green plants do. However, Alex was quite astute in quickly pointing out that her wide-brimmed hat protecting her face from light and long, dark gown and cape would render photosynthesis unlikely, given the continual shade she carried around with her. Such an observation left us perplexed at her dietary needs. It further led to the auxiliary question, “Can she get sunburn?” which, alas, yet goes unanswered.

Should the matter of love arise, even an act as simple as a kiss could be deadly, what with all the water comprising saliva. And of course, even if the above matters were obviated by some miraculously unlikely set of circumstances, and the romance were to mature to its full fruition, the act of giving birth and Elphaba’s “waters breaking” would surely send her to an early grave. Further, would her infant inherit her hydrophobic qualities? How would her fetus survive in a womb and placental sac surrounded by fluid comprised of mostly water?

Could she engage in strenuous activity? Would she perspire? Might a hot day trigger sweat glands? Would perspiration be a potential cause of death as she would be exposed to the large amounts of water in the perspiration covering her? What would happen if she physically encountered someone else wet with sweat by brushing up against them, or perhaps during an innocent hug?

Was the Wicked Witch of the West the archetype of other legendary witches? Or was she the lone exception to the usual biological rules involving witches? What ARE the biological rules involving witches? All these questions proved too fraught with confusion for Alex and I at the time. Any insight you might have would be greatly appreciated.