Two-thirds of the way through his narrative, Waterland's history teacher and story teller Tom Crick launches into a dissertation on the enigmatic mating habits of the eel. In doing so he touches on the broader concepts of scientific inquiry.

Curiosity will never be content. Even today, when we know so much, curiosity has not unravelled the riddle of the birth and sex life of the eel. Perhaps these are things, like many others, destined never to be learnt before the world comes to its end. Or perhaps -- but here I speculate, here my own curiosity leads me by the nose -- the world is so arranged that when all things are learnt, when curiosity is exhausted (so, long live curiosity), that is when the world shall have come to its end.

Crick wonders if there will come a point in time when all the mysteries of science are solved. He wonders if the end of curiosity will mean the end of the world the way that the end of Mary's curiosity meant the end of something in her. The curious little word Why and the explanations, the stories, the answers it demands are integral parts of science, of history, of life, and of Waterland.