Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

For the Love of Redheads

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For the Love of Redheads

In honour of Melanie Blaxley, the spunky ginger who strutted into my head one day, held her spike heel to my throat, and demanded to be the star of the novel I was thinking of writing (which eventually became Poison Shy), I thought I'd put together a brief list of facts, myths, and cultural curiosities about redheads.

• In medieval Europe, the Malleus Maleficarum, which was essentially a witch-hunting manual, instructed that red hair, green eyes, and freckles were all marks of a witch.

• It wasn't until the mid-1990s that Dr. Jonathan Rees discovered the genetic cause of red hair: a mutation in the melanocortin-1 receptor on chromosome 16.

• Red is the rarest naturally occurring hair colour in humans, appearing in approximately 1-2% of the global population.

• According to Mark Twain, redheads descended from cats.

• A study conducted in 2006 by Dr. Werner Habermehl, a sex researcher from Germany, suggested that people with red hair have more active and satisfying sex lives than those with other hair colours.

• Red hair is stereotypically associated with passion and lust, violence and villainy, disobedience and moral depravity. On the flip side, it is also associated with humour, nerdiness, good luck and optimism.

• According to Bruce Springsteen, it takes a red-headed woman to get a dirty job done.

• Red, along with its variants auburn, copper, and strawberry blonde, is the most-used hair dye in the world.

• In 2007, National Geographic cited a study that predicted the extinction of redheads by as early as 2060. It was later discovered that the study was funded by the Oxford Hair Foundation, which is owned by Proctor & Gamble, producers of numerous beauty products, one of their most popular being red hair dye. Coincidence? Doubt it.

• According to stately, plump Buck Mulligan in James Joyce's Ulysses, redheaded women buck like goats.

Roodharigendag, or Redhead Day, is a Dutch festival that takes place annually on the first weekend of September, in which gingers from all over the world gather in celebration of their beautiful mutation.

• Some famous literary redheads include the orphan Anne Shirley (L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables), the philandering Sebastian Dangerfield (J.P. Donleavy's The Ginger Man), the eyelash-lacking Uriah Heep (Charles Dickens' David Copperfield), the social-climbing Becky Sharp (William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair), vamp enthusiast Jesse Reeves (Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles), and the infamous hacker Lisbeth Salander (Stieg Larsson's Millenium trilogy), a natural redhead who dyes her hair black. Oh, and we can't forget the Weasleys.

• Numerous studies have been done to show that redheads have a higher threshold for pain, can handle spicier foods, require smaller amounts of anaesthetic prior to surgery, smell better, and are generally more intelligent than people with other hair colours. In other words, redheads are superhuman and badass. Of course, studies have been done to show the opposite of these findings, but those ones are probably wrong.

• According to Playboy magazine, redheads are like other women -- only more so. I think my character Melanie would agree.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Stacey Madden

Stacey Madden holds a BA from the University of Toronto and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Guelph. He lives in Toronto. Poison Shy (ECW Press) is his first novel.

Go to Stacey Madden’s Author Page