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Stephen King’s Carrie and the problem of genetics in an horror story

20 Jul

carrieIn the novel, Carrie, Stephen king attempts to explain telekinetic ability in terms of a real genetically inherited trait. OK, this is fiction, I have no problem with Carrie’s telekinetic ability … when would this story be without it after all?
Explaining this ability in terms of science was a mistake for two reasons. For one thing, it undermines the very idea of ‘supernatural’ that the reader has already bought into. This was exactly the problem that fans of Star Wars had with the prequel trilogy’s explanation of ‘The Force’ in terms of sub-cellular microorganisms. The second reason he shouldn’t have done this is because he didn’t understand it well himself.

Characters:
Carrie White – The protagonist, who possesses telekinetic (TK) ability
Margaret Brigham – Carrie’s mother
Ralph White – Carrie’s father

From Stephen King’s Carrie (please don’t sue me Mr. King)

It is now generally agreed that the TK phenomenon is a genetic-
recessive occurrence-but the opposite of a disease like hemophilia,
which becomes overt only in males. In that disease, once called “King’s
Evil,” the gene is recessive in the female and is carried harmlessly.
Male offspring, however, are “bleeders.” This disease is generated only
if an afflicted male marries a woman carrying the recessive gene. If the
offspring of such union is male, the result will be a hemophiliac son. If
the offspring is female, the result will he a daughter who is a carrier. It
should be emphasized that the hemophilia gene may be carried
recessively in the male as a part of his genetic make-up. But if he
marries a woman with the same outlaw gene, the result will be
hemophilia if the offspring is male.

In the case of royal families, where intermarriage was common, the
chance of the gene reproducing once it entered the family tree were
high-thus the name King’s Evil. Hemophilia also showed up in
significant quantities in Appalachia during the earlier part of this
century, and is commonly noticed in those cultures where incest and
the marriage of first cousins is common.

With the TK phenomenon, the male appears to be the carrier; the
TK gene may be recessive in the female, but dominates only in the
female. It appears that Ralph White carried the gene. Margaret
Brigham, by purest chance, also carried the outlaw gene sign, but we
may be fairly confident that it was recessive, as no information has ever
been found to indicate that she had telekinetic powers resembling her
daughter’s. Investigations are now being conducted into the life of
Margaret Brigham’s grandmother, Sadie Cochran-for, if the dominant/recessive
pattern obtains with TK as it does with hemophilia,
Mrs. Cochran may have been TK dominant.

If the issue of the White marriage had been male, the result would
have been another carrier. Chances that the mutation would have died
with him would have been excellent, as neither side of the Ralph
White-Margaret Brigham alliance had cousins of a comparable age for
the theoretical male ottspring to marry. And the chances of meeting and
marrying another woman with the TK gene at random would be small.
None of the teams working on the problem have yet isolated the gene.

Surely no one can doubt, in light of the Maine holocaust, that
isolating this gene must become one of medicine’s number-one
priorities. The hemophiliac, or H gene, produces male issue with a lack
of blood platelets. The telekinetic, or TK gene, produces female
Typhoid Marys capable of destroying almost at will….

Questions

Stephen King’s explanation of the genetics of hemophilia is not quite right.

1. How is hemophilia actually inherited? Explain in terms of dominant / recessive inheritance.
2. King suggests that hemophilia is inherited from two carrier parents. Is this correct? Describe, in genetic terms, how a boy can be born with disease.
3. Is it possible for a female child to inherit the disease?

Queen_Victoria

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Posted by on July 20, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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