Chemistry in fantaseo

I just happened across this delightful science article, which discusses some of the advanced physics that would allow fairy tale things like people climbing each other’s hair and stealing each other’s voices to be true, or potentially true.

I always like a good science-is-stranger-than-fiction story, but what I found amusing about the article is that the ‘not-true-to-life’ aspect that the author chose to focus on, for example in the case of the little mermaid, is not that:

a) there is a mermaid living under the sea who

b) gets her body magically transformed (her fins turned to legs, but also her lungs changed to breathe air, and her head changed to a dino size in relation to her body (you know what I mean if you’ve seen the movie))

c) by a witch who

d) communicates with eels.

Rather, the author suggests only that it’s weird that this witch would also be able to somehow capture the girl’s voice (and, it’s not clear to me why the winds of the Caspian Sea need to be involved if this witch has indeed just developed some advanced technology).

However, I don’t mean to disparage the article – baby steps, right? And anyway, I’m excited about the prospect of my own flying carpet.

On a related note, there are many chemical mysteries to be solved in fairy tales: For example, what kind of poison did the Queen give to Snow White that put her into a sleep/coma but immediately reverses when she was kissed by a prince? What kind of pigmentation would make the Wicked Witch of the East’s skin green (and, for a biological mystery, how did she get it?)? What was in the mushroom that made Alice shrink or grow? Any and all explanations (or additional mysteries) welcome!

Catherine (Associate Editor, Nature Chemical Biology)