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Alchemical fiction

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Date: Wed, 20 Sep 1995 01:28:35 -0700
From: Josh

Can there be such a thing as "alchemical fiction"?
Naturally, I'm less interested in fiction which uses alchemical imagery in some attempt to create a "supernatural" effect. (Meyrink's potboiler 'The Golem' might fit among that category.) I'm more interested in literature, either old or new, which actually tries to re-present the effects and transformations of alchemy in a literary form -- maybe 'The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreuz' is a good example.
I've read some literature which strikes me as pure alchemy, in brief passages - parts of Goethe's Faust plays, a few flashes from Lautreamont, sections of more modern works like Bruno Schulz's 'Street of Crocodiles', Primo Levi's 'The Periodic Table'.
So, have you ever read fiction that qualifies as "alchemical"? Can such a thing be?


Date: Wed, 20 Sep 1995 10:06:10 -0400
From: Oliver Timken Perrin

I admit my fascination to be the product of many childhood nights reading till dawn, but I recommend "The City in the Autumn Stars" by Michael Moorcock most highly. Hot-air balloons, duels, planetary conjunctions, a cross-dressing alchemical adept, a great talking fox who dresses as a dandy and fancies himself a philosopher and thief, scams, counter-scams, battles, sleeping cities, Lucifer, the Paracelsian sword, the grail and the inimitable Von Bek all make it a fantasy tale without peer in my estimation.
I am a fool for Moorcock though, have been for quite some time...



Date: Wed, 20 Sep 1995 09:38:56 -0500
From: George Randall Leake III

How about alchemy which seems like fiction? But to your point, I'd have to suggest the later works of William Shakespeare...even some of the film adaptations of his work such as Peter Brooks' King Lear, Greenaway's Prospero's Books
The best piece of fiction I've read which deals with the topic is either Foucault's Pendulum or John Crowley's Ægypt

Date: Wed, 20 Sep 1995 18:32:38 -0400 (EDT)
From: Brigitte

Well. I've read several years ago "The Red Lion - The Elixir of Eternal Life" by Maria Orsi (written in 1946) and available in English from Computer Composition Inc. (Francis Hollo) 3525 Trimble Road, Nashville, TN 37215.
A really great novel about a guy who wants to aquire the secret of eternal life and studies with an alchemist who has the elixir. He is too eager and impatient to get it and the master refuses to give him the secret before he is ready. Eventually the guy kills the master and drinks the elixir with the result that he has acquired total consciousness for better or for worse. He is forced to remain conscious throughout all his reincarnations and spends all his lives around alchemists. Really fascinating.


From: Corey Brand
Date: Wed, 20 Sep 1995 18:02:45 +0000

You could try "The Alchemist", by Paulo Coehlo (recently mentioned), ISBN 0 06 250217 4; or "The Chymical Wedding" by Lindsay Clarke, ISBN 0 8041 0702 5. Both of these novels seem to me an invocation of alchemical forces...

Date: Thu, 21 Sep 95 11:53:58 CDT
From: Dan Hill

I have read Zanoni by Sir Bulwer Lytton. It is a great book for alchemical undertones. Rather long, but is good reading sitting beside the fire with a seasoned scotch.


From: Corey Brand
Date: Thu, 21 Sep 1995 16:36:57 +0000

And let us not forget the short story by Nathaniel Hawthorn...

Date: Fri, 22 Sep 1995 09:21:59 -0800 (PST)
From: LeGrand Cinq-Mars

Here is a fiction involving alchemy (if not an alchemical fiction precisely):

Author: Kelly, Eric Philbrook, 1884-1960.
Title:The trumpeter of Krakow, a tale of the fifteenth century, by Eric P. Kelly; illustrations made by Angela Pruszynska in Krakow.
Pub. Info.:New York, The Macmillan Company, 1928.
Phy Descript: ix, 218 p. incl. plates. col. front., col. plates. 23 cm.
Notes: Summary: A Polish family in the Middle Ages guards a great secret treasure and a boy's memory of an earlier trumpeter of Krakow makes it possible for him to save his father.
Children's Literature Archive.
Other Sub.: Middle-Ages -- Fiction. Poland -- History -- Casimir-IV-1447-1492 -- Fiction.

Much of the plot moves around the activities of an alchemist who is using a scrying stone in his work.

LeGrand Cinq-Mars

From: Jon Marshall
Date: Sun, 24 Sep 1995 14:39:15 -0700

Much as I hate to blow my own trumpet, there is already a list of 20th century novels which are either alchemical or have interesting things to say about alchemy on Adam's web site. (`lighter reading').
I can see a few more titles have to be added.
I deliberately avoided Zanoni, and Balzac's Quest for the absolute, and Godwin's St.Leon, and Ainsworth's Elixir of Life, and Conan Doyle's Doings of Raffles Haw. For the same reason I avoided Chaucer, Jonson (Not only the Alchemist, but 'Mercury Vindicated', Lodge (Fig for Momus epistle 7 'Anatomy of Alchymie'), Lylly (`Galathea') and so on, because I was hoping for a more complete list of early fictions/entertainments.
As my ambitions as usual exceed the time available perhaps the list as a whole can add to the lighter reading section and stretch it beyond the confines of one century.
So with a quick look about i add to the above as possible (for I haven't read them and thus yield to those who have):
Dumas The Queen's Necklace, Memoirs of a Physician
William Dunbar, Ballet of the fenyeit frier of Tungland
Lytton, A strange Story
Browning, Paracelsus
Erasmus, Colloquies ('Beggar talk', 'Alchemy')
Yeats, Rosa Alchemica
Lylly, Pappe with a Hatchet

Even perhaps single poems

Donne 'Love's Alchemy'
Herbert 'the elixir'

Ok more please.


From: Jon Marshall
Date: Wed, 27 Sep 1995 11:06:15 -0700

Hmm I not really trying to send my posts out twice to people. But yesterday I bought Timothy D'Arch Smith's Alembic which claims to be about alchemy, and I believe that one of Charles Williams novels is about the Philosopher's stone- any idea which?
And embarrasment: I forgot Goethe: Fairy Tale (Magnum opus series), also some stuff in a US paperback called Tales for Transformation, and shall we say Faust? to the maybe list
Shelley's early novel about Rosicrucians (I forget the name).
Oh and there is a `historical romance' which I've looked at because of its title 'the Green Lion', but backed off due to snobbery.. Anyone admitting to having read it and know whether its any good?
Another question mark Storm Constantine: Hermetech?


Date: Wed, 27 Sep 1995 06:44:13 -0700
From: Joshua

Check out almost anything by John Crowley, but especially 'Aegypt' and 'Love and sleep'.


Date: Wed, 27 Sep 1995 08:12:18 -0700 (MST)

Jon Marshall asks:

>>I believe that one of Charles Williams novel's is about the Philosopher's stone- any idea which?<<

'Many Dimensions'

>>Shelley's early novel about Rosicrucians (I forget the name)<<

'St. Irvyne, or the Rosicrucian'

>>`the Green Lion', but backed off due to snobbery.<<

If we're thinking about the same novel, it's an historical fiction (Margaret Atwood would call it a "costume Gothic") with an alchemist in the background. Written (if I'm recalling the right dust jacket blurb) by a woman on a graduate management school faculty in California.


From: Adam McLean

I have not seen this book, but it appears to be a novel based on the life of Denis Zachaire.

Percy Ross. A Professor of Alchemy. George Redway, London, 1887.

Adam McLean