Professor Mmaa's Lecture

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A 1943 novel by Stefan Themerson (first published 1953), Professor Mmaa's Lecture is a satirical novel, set within a termite colony.

It follows two plots: one, that of termite academics, studying the physiology and social organization of a particularly fascinating mammal—a bipedal, bald primate known as homo.

But while the insectoid scientists are busy conducting research on living homo specimens and spinning it into university lectures, the termite colony's society—eerily similar to that of humans—is being shaken by social dissent and political games. Mound-shaking events are coming...

A quite amusing and interesting novel, satirizing numerous absurdities of human society while also providing some nice Xenofiction. Apparently, the bilingual author wrote both the English and Polish versions, which do seem to differ a bit. (Note that this trope list is based on the Polish version, and thus might be inaccurate for the English one.)


Tropes used in Professor Mmaa's Lecture include:
  • Ant War: Wars between termites and ants are talked about frequently. And one indeed erupts at the end.
  • Bilingual Bonus: There are some quotes in French and Latin.
  • Brain Food / Cannibalism Superpower: Eating other termites' "associative substance" is a way of transferring memories and knowledge. Of course, it's done after the donor's natural death.
  • Disability Superpower: While the termites are all blind (not that there's a whole lotta light deep inside the mound...), they 'see' with their acute sense of smell. Their language even reflects this ("unforesmelled"), and their "disguises" and "masks" involve solely altering one's smell.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Dr. Arsene's Private Detective; Professor Soul's two Assistants.
  • Expospeak Gag: A lot of times with the termite scientists.
  • Foreshadowing: The student Nonobody wonders if an earthquake or some other cataclysm could happen before prof. Mmaa asks him for his homework. Guess what happens near the end.
  • Gag Nose: The termite Queen is very sensitive about her nose.
  • Hold Your Hippogriffs: Several of termite sayings and expressions are variants of our own.
  • Humanity Is Young
  • Humans Through Termite Eyes: What the book is most remembered for.
  • Ingesting Knowledge: Termites can eat human documents and writing, mentally noting the layout of ink and thus "reading" them.
  • Innocent Inaccurate: The termites thoroughly research a house which has been the site of a murder, then, in their report, off-handedly mention finding a horizontal homo in the ground and a piece of metal within its heart.
  • In Which a Trope Is Described: Some of the chapter titles.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The termites unwittingly deliver the karmic punishment to the wicked monsieur D'la G'and Ch'pelle, first causing his mansion to crumble and then turning him into their mind-controlled war machine.
  • Loose Lips: Professor Soul's Second Assistant, a born snitch. He's got auditory organs all over his body and registers so many input at all times that he feels a physical need to dump this baggage out of his memory onto a number of VIPs.
  • Narrator: An "impartial chronicler" who supposedly has witnessed all events first-hand, though it doesn't explain how could he know the characters' private thoughts, or what happened in places where the characters were explicitly alone.
  • Organic Technology: Pretty much all of termiate "technology" is made up of genetically engineered termites that function like machines.
  • Photographic Memory: The termites' "associative substance" (their brain equivalent) gives them a near-perfect memory. Termite libraries consist of termites reciting entire volumes recorded in their memory.
  • Promoted to Scapegoat: Dr. Sigismund Kraft-Durchfreud receives the honor of providing therapy for the Queen herself. He stops being happy when he learns that the higher-ups have done so in order to put the blame on him (and shift the termite society's attentions away from valid concerns) in case the Queen goes ill or infertile.
  • Puppeteer Parasite: Several termites acts as this in the ending, directly controlling a human's brain to turn him into a mindless Weapon of Mass Destruction. Though really, the guy deserved it.
  • The Rashomon: The ending depicts the events of the novel from the perspective of humans living near the termite mound.
  • Rule of Symbolism: A lot of it, none of it very subtle.
  • Satire
  • Shout-Out/To Shakespeare: The termites Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern.
  • The Shrink: Dr. Sigismund Kraft-Durchfreud.[1]
  • Stutter Stop: Dr. Brillat-Beetonin, afflicted with a stutter, suddenly loses it apparently by sheer force of will and becomes a charismatic rebellious leader.
  • Tactful Translation: The interpreter present at the talks between the termite Prime Minister and the ant delegate does wonders in translating the ant's suave Trouble Entendre to the Minister's blunt plain talk, and vice versa.
  • Xenofiction