[UPDATE May 2019: The link to Matthew Graybosch’s commentary on the first three Chapters of The Alchemists’ Council is currently unavailable. Nonetheless, I’ve opted to retain my responses to his commentary in my “Reading The Alchemists’ Council” posts.]
This week Council dimension has been quite busy. I’ll start with a few news items before moving on to my response to Matthew Graybosch & Eric Higby’s reading of Chapter One.
First, I direct you over to Urban Fantasy Investigations for my first online interview.
Second, if you’d like to win a copy of The Alchemists’ Council, head on over to the Giveaways page at 49th Shelf. The Giveaway period runs from today until June 3, 2016.
Third, I’ve received a fun and intriguing review from “Alexa” on Goodreads. The full review may be accessed here. For now, let me give you a sample by quoting a few of my favourite lines therein: In the first paragraph, she declares The Alchemists’ Council to be “strange and complicated and incredibly odd, but lovely.” Even better is this gem from her “Reading Progress”: “This book is so insane, but in a great way.” I may actually quote that sentence at my upcoming reading here in Nanaimo.
That said, Alexa also notes a few “quibbles” including this one: “the plot and the world is so complex that I still don’t understand some of it….” Not to worry! Let’s remember that the world of The Alchemists’ Council is built upon concepts of medieval alchemy, one of the most complex subject matters imaginable. When reading any alchemical text, we should take heed of this warning by Andrea DePascalis: “enigmas, contradictions, allegories, symbols, interruptions, veiled meanings and apparent absurdities are enough to make even the most indefatigable neophyte wonder if he is not the victim of some bizarre joke” (Alchemy the Golden Art, p. 77). Fortunately for us, Matthew Graybosch and Eric Higby are on the case once again to decipher some of these apparent absurdities.
Like the book itself, this week’s Graybosch & Higby contribution is “insane, but in a great way.” These two have gone to unfathomable work to offer us their extensive insights into Chapter One. So please be sure to click the link and take a look! Though I cannot by any means respond to everything our outside world scribes touched upon this week, I will note a few elements that stood out to me. First, I admire the graphics throughout the post beginning with the bee being erased by a pencil eraser. Ha! If only the alchemists had it so easy!
At the end of his section, Higby offers an observation about numerology. Although I admittedly had no say over the actual pagination of the final printed text, I do appreciate this sort of analysis, and I can assure you that any alchemist worth his salt (and sulphur and mercury) would too. Indeed, in one of my academic essays, I contend that certain medieval alchemical texts were constructed by their writers to represent the Philosopher’s Stone. All alchemical texts are meant to be interpreted, and I encourage the reader to do the same, especially when it comes to esoteric possibilities.
What I enjoy most about the Graybosch & Higby Readings so far is the opportunity to see literary interpretation from the other side. That is, as an English professor, I have spent my career analyzing other people’s texts. Now I am being given the opportunity to read detailed analysis of my own book. Moreover, each week I find viewpoints and insights that offer me new meanings for my book’s concepts. As an author, this process is fascinating. Graybosch’s comparison of Jaden’s experience to lyrics found in “Swedish melodic metal act Evergrey’s 2004 album, The Inner Circle” offers one such moment for me. Similarly, I admire the discussion of Arjan’s namesake, the Terminalia arjuna. Though I did indeed look at the characteristics of the trees when I named each character, I did not realize that “Arjuna is the protagonist of the Mahabharata, one of ancient India’s major epics.” Of course, Graybosch also offers a perceptive analysis of key problems with the Council, such as those outlined in his sections “Sephrim: the Alchemist’s Little Helper” and “Playing Telephone with the Lapis.” Overall, he does an exquisite job of summarizing and analyzing the key concepts required for understanding the remainder of the book’s plot.
On a final note, I see that Graybosch claims to be representing the Rebel Branch in his interpretation. I suppose that makes Higby the Council representative by default. Of course, by next week, allegiances may have shifted!
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7 thoughts on “Reading The Alchemists’ Council: Chapter 1”
What a fascinating post, Cynthea — I’m so interested in the developing nexus of readers, the engagement with, and interpretation of, the text — and thus, inevitably, the changing of its meaning and purpose (and, perhaps, the effect of this change on the two volumes yet to come). So many analogies to be drawn between this nexus developing around your text and the Alchemists’ Council dimension . . .
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Thanks, Frances! I too am fascinated by the nexus. As you know, the Epilogue posits that The Alchemists’ Council IS the forbidden book, that it has been written by alchemists and sent out into the world for interpretation. By analogy, that would make all these readers/respondents (including you) potential Initiates into the world of alchemy and Council dimension. On that note, I love Matthew’s lead-in: “THE ALCHEMISTS’ COUNCIL FORBIDS YOU TO READ ANY FURTHER.
THE REBEL BRANCH ENCOURAGES YOU TO CONTINUE, BUT THE CHOICE IS YOURS…” Maybe a rebel wrote this book. 😉
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I just wanted something a little more fitting than “Here be spoilers”. However, I think you’re at least a little sympathetic toward the Rebel cause, and somewhat skeptical about the Council’s motives and methods.
I think it might be useful to view the conflict through a Moorcockian lens, with the Council representing the forces of Law and the Rebels standing for Chaos; should Law reign unchallenged, free will (at least, volition bound by causality) goes out the window. But should Chaos rule unchallenged, I suspect elemental forces would go haywire.
Though that raises the question of whether characters not created by Michael Moorcock can be considered aspects of the Eternal Champion.
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Glad to see you enjoy being on the other side for once, Cynthea, even if one of the people doing it is really just a long-haired metalhead with delusions of erudition. 🙂
As for the rebel connection; I was just looking for a snappier title for my contribution, especially if I continue this project with the subsequent books and come up with sufficient material for a companion volume to the trilogy. I imagine the Rebel Branch also works in manuscripts and codices, and that a Rebel scribe might indeed had prepared a precis on the history of the Alchemists’ Council and its conflicts with the Rebel Branch for the benefit of newcomers.
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Matthew, I’ve not read Moorcock, but I agree completely with your ideas regarding the Law (Order) vs. Chaos binary. This is part of why I have Sadira mention Chaos at one point to the Initiates. And, yes, I most certainly have some sympathy for the rebels!
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If you decide to read Moorcock sometime in the future, I recommend The City in the Autumn Stars, which you can find in one of the Von Bek reissues. It makes heavy use of alchemical themes, particularly conjunction, albeit with a pulpier treatment than your own work.