Sunday, May 19, 2013

JK Rowling's Dabbling with 17th-Century Alchemy

Perhaps JK Rowling should credit her first book's success to her knowledge of 17th century alchemy. Her first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (called "The Philosopher's Stone in Britain) is rooted in what used to be considered fact, rather than fiction, for centuries. Nicholas Flamel was an 14th-century alchemist (one who searches for the process of transforming base metals into gold), and he was widely credited for producing "the philosopher's stone": the stone that could transmute metals to turn to gold, as well as produce the "elixir" of eternal life.

Flamel's reputation was greatly revived in the 17th century with a recrudescent fascination of the alchemical process. Almost a century earlier, Paracelsus had ushered in the idea of chemical mixtures restoring physical health, giving way to a new search for a mixture that could produce immortality.

I was so giddy when I found this out. At the time, I had been slaving away in the Boston College library trying to understand the alchemical references in Donne's "Devotion 11," probably mirroring Hermione's experience of combing through page after page in Hogwart's restricted library section. I think I may have been just as excited as her when I found out for myself just who Nicolas Flamel really was.


  1. That's so cool!! I didn't know that

  2. Have you heard of the Hogwarts Professor, John Granger? He has written and lectured fairly extensively on the Alchemy in and of Harry Potter, among other subjects. You should look him up and read of few of his texts, such as How Harry Cast His Spell, which is introductory in scope, or The Deathly Hallows Lectures, which is more academic in nature. Prepare to get a little more giddy. ;-)