On the Biology of the Wicked Witch

If your high school chemistry teacher was anything like mine, he or she likely raved about the inaccuracy of the famous last words of the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz.

In the famed scene, the Witch, in her probably somewhat justified quest to retrieve the prized possessions of her late sister, is accidentally splashed with water, and cries out “I’m melting! I’m melting!”

As many a chemistry nerd has said, she was not, in fact, melting. Melting describes a reaction whereby a solid material becomes liquid due to a rise in temperature. A reaction in which a solid material becomes liquid when exposed to water is called dissolving. Therefore, that is what the witch was actually doing. Case closed. Moving on––

Wait. No. Hold on. Last time I checked, when you stir sugar into your coffee, it doesn’t produce that much smoke. The witch isn’t just becoming liquid, she’s oxidizing. She’s actually burning. Due to exposure to water. What ever could do that? The layperson might think “Magic!” but the chemist retorts with “Alkali metals, you moron!” because that particular chemist is kind of a dick.

I use this image periodically. Eh? Eh?
I use this image periodically. Eh? Eh?

That’s right ladies and gentlemen of the court, if you’d all be so kind as to look to the periodic table of elements poster tacked onto your bedroom wall (I’m not the only one, right?…Right?) you’ll see the farthest column to the left is composed of such elements as lithium, sodium, and potassium. Each of these reacts exothermically (read: burny) in contact with water, the lower elements being progressively more reactive. Thus, given what we know about the witch’s death, it can be surmised that her cell membranes contained contained traces of alkali metals. Thus, when she was exposed to water, the barriers between her very cells were burned away, reducing her to a stew of protoplasm and exposed organelles, in what may be the most horrific death ever imagined and filmed for a children’s movie.

“But wait, why would she have that much of the stuff in her body at all?” you ask, suddenly concerned with why a witch would undergo a bodily chemical reaction with water in the first place while before you were fine living your life in blissful ignorance. Well, to that I say, obviously, it’s for that lovely complexion.

Maybe she's born with it. Maybe it's Maybelline.
Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe it’s Maybelline.

Lets say the alkali metal in question was sodium. To get that much sodium in your body, you’d have to be extracting from some common source. The most obvious source of sodium is salt, sodium chloride. So if you extract sodium from salt and put that in your cell membranes, what you’re left with is chlorine, an element best known for killing people in World War II, keeping your clothes white and your pools urine-free, and being part of the chemical that makes plants…

Chlorophyll: prettier in plants than in women.
Chlorophyll: prettier in plants than in women.

…Green.

The reason the Wicked Witch is so afraid of water is the same damn reason she looks evil in the first place. Why this is is anyone’s guess. I don’t see how it could have any evolutionary value, unless it’s important for her skin to be photosynthetic or it’s a means of storing salt, either of which could be evolutionarily valuable in a desert setting. Or maybe it’s just an effect of using witchcraft and being evil for her whole life or whatever. Who knows? Who cares? You probably don’t. Is anybody still reading at this point or have I bored you all? Hello?

Oh well. Sorry I’ve been quiet all month, some things have come up. New Live Prey comes out next week and should keep arriving the first Saturday of the month. Bye.

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