Asexual Myths & Tales

Monday, 19 February 2018

Hairy Worms Revisited

On this blog, I have written a number of pieces about parthenogenesis and asexual reproduction. The first was this one: Giving Birth to Hairy Worms, which was inspired by a book called The Manly Masquerade. In it, I noted the Renaissance belief that reproduction could happen spontaneously, that things could be born of putrefaction, and that:

  • Women's wombs could spontaneously produce all sorts of things, from monsters and harpies, to wood, glass or combs, to serpents, toads and hairy worms.  (I particularly like the hairy worms.  Why hairy??)
 It seems this idea is less far-fetched than it seems, as today I was reading about homunculi. Rather than attempt to explain it myself, I direct you to this article: The Homunculus Inside. (Trigger warning: the photos are not for the squeamish!)

It seems this would also be a good time to tell you that my articles on parthenogenesis (as well as my own experience of both asexuality and gynaecological problems) have inspired a couple of short stories, both of which are currently submitted to magazines. One is called Pandora's Pithos, in which the protagonist finds herself the mother of:
Tiny winged people, russet-green as rose thorns.  A hare in a nun's habit.  A bird with cat's ears and the face of a woman.  Weasels with wings made of cogs and pistons.  A comb with eyes, running sideways on its many teeth.  A serpent with braided hair.  A glass toad.
And the other story A Wingless Wedding - which I read at the Brick Box Rooms' "Talking in Tongues" during LGBT history month - was directly influenced by the discoveries about gall wasps, noted in Amazing Asexuality:
Wingless don't reproduce sexually.  That's the task of their children, the Winged, who in turn have Wingless children.  We're the only planet in our star system where this happens, and it's the same in every country.  Customs and traditions vary, but one thing has stayed the same the world over.  There has never been a Wingless wedding.
I do hope you find all this as fascinating as I do!

Monday, 12 February 2018

Puzzles in the Alice Books

Recently, I listened to a radio documentary called Two Thousand Years of Puzzling, tracing the history of the puzzle, from mazes to crosswords and everything in between. It mentioned Charles Lutwidge Dodgson - aka Lewis Carroll - author of the Alice books. Dodgson was a lecturer in mathematics at Christ Church College, Oxford, and loved a good mathematical puzzle. In fact, he seemed to love puzzles of every kind. Just thinking about Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, I was struck by how many different types of puzzle feature in them. Here are some I noticed:

  • Chess and Playing Cards. The main settings of the two books. Obviously, these are games, but there can be a lot of mathematics involved, and plenty of chess and playing card puzzles have been set and solved over the centuries.
  • Riddles. The infamous, "Why is a raven like a writing desk?" Frustratingly, this one has no answer (although Jasper Fforde - that great Aliceophile - comes up with a few in his Thursday Next books).
  • Spacial puzzles. How can Alice fit through the little door? She has to experiment with making herself bigger and smaller until she finds the answer.
  • Word play. The Alice books are practically swimming in this. (See what I did there?) One example I like is towards the end of Looking Glass:
    • "You look a little shy; let me introduce you to that leg of mutton," said the Red Queen. "Alice - Mutton; Mutton - Alice."
    • "May I give you a slice?"
    • "Certainly not. It isn't etiquette to cut any one you've been introduced to."
    • (In this example, cut means both "to slice with a knife" and "to deliberately blank someone.")
  • Games with complicated rules. The Caucus Race. (Another pun). The Queen's croquet game, played with hedgehogs and flamingos. The Rules of Battle between the Red and White Knights.
  • The puzzle of Who Stole the Tarts?
  • Mathematical calculations. Often simple ones made ridiculously complicated, as when Alice has to write down 365-1=364 as a sum for Humpty Dumpty, and even then he isn't convinced of the answer.

Those are just some that I have spotted. Can you think of any more?