Thursday, September 01, 2011

The Alchemy of Harry Potter

As mentioned in my last blog post, the story behind J.K. Rowling’s first Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, (also known as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) was based, in part, on the life of a real person.

In the fictional world of the Harry Potter stories, Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, gained much of his wizardly knowledge through his association with his partner, Nicolas Flamel. Most of the official documents relating to the life of Nicolas Flamel have been found – His marriage license, his deeds of gift, and even his will. Flamel’s history rests solidly on substantial material proofs. Unlike his fictional counterparts in the Potter books, Flamel was a real person. What then, other than being Dumbledore’s buddy, does Flamel have to do with Harry Potter? Let me explain.

 Nicolas Flamel was born in France in, or around 1330, which would have made him about 665 years old at the time The Philosopher’s Stone was published.  Not much is known about Flamel’s early life, but during his adult life he was engaged in business, operating a small shop in Paris, where he sold books. He married a woman named Perenelle and together they led a quiet and modest life.

However, Flamel’s life changed when an unknown man walked into his shop, carrying a manuscript that he wanted to sell. Flamel might have dismissed the man, had he not recognized the manuscript as being identical to one given to him in a dream.

In the dream, an angel had stood before Flamel, holding a book with bindings of copper engraved with strange diagrams and symbols. The angel gave the book to Flamel and said, “At first you will understand nothing, but one day you will see and understand that which no other man will be able to.”

Not surprisingly, Flamel paid the man his asking price without bargaining. The first page of the manuscript declared the author to be: Abraham the Jew, prince, priest, Levite, astrologer, and philosopher, sprung from the root of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Flamel, being a scribe and seller of books, was well-read and had acquired knowledge of alchemy, an art which aims to discover a magical substance, sometimes referred to as the Philosopher’s Stone, which could turn ordinary metals into gold, but more importantly could perfect any situation.  The theory being that anyone, having reached such a high level of learning, would attain immortality through the victory of spirit over matter. However, Flamel’s extensive knowledge was not enough to help him understand the strange book he’d come into the possession of. He spent years trying to decipher the book without success. He did not give up. Since much of the text was written in ancient Hebrew, he realized that he needed the help of a well-read Jewish person. Unfortunately, the people of Jewish faith had been driven out of France. Flamel knew that some of these people had migrated to Spain. He decided to journey there in search of someone to help him with the book.

I’ll continue the story of Flamel in the next post.

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