[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.]
Before delving into this week’s extraordinary Graybosch & Higby Reading, I would like to mention something that has been on my mind of late: reviews of the book. Fortunately, most of the reviews have been positive. I extend my sincere gratitude to everyone who has taken the time not only to read The Alchemists’ Council but to post a review. Of course, like any writer with a newly published book, I am thrilled with the positive reviews, but I find the less-than-positive ones can sting (bee pun intended). Notably, however, the stinging variety appear to be variations on a theme: the book is dense and difficult.
Yes, I agree.
The book is indeed dense given the philosophy and vocabulary of its subject matter and the background material upon which it is based. Alchemy is one of the most complex subjects ever presented to readers. Take a look through the material at Adam McLean’s The Alchemy Website to gain a sense of its vastness and complexity. Alternatively or additionally, take some time to watch Adam McLean’s YouTube videos in the 3-part series How to Explore Alchemical Symbolism. Mr. McLean is a preeminent scholar of alchemy whose body of work and dedication to the field are extraordinary and, often, utterly breathtaking.
If you indeed are “worthy to turn the page” (xiv), once you embark on reading The Alchemists’ Council, you need thereafter to consider yourself an Initiate willing to immerse yourself into a complex and challenging world. By the end of your journey, you might just find yourself–whether literally or figuratively–in possession of the philosopher’s stone.
I will end this opening segment by highlighting two recent reviews. One dubs the book “A Lacanian Fable.” In doing so, Rhonda Wilcox offered me (and other readers) not only extensive commentary but also a new way to approach the book! Thank you!
The other review, from Goodreads, I post here in its entirety:
Thank you, Mr. Parker! And in case you or others are wondering, I am indeed working on Book 2 at the moment.
Onward now to The Rebel Branch Initiate’s Guide to the Alchemists’ Council: Chapter 3, this week’s contribution to the Graybosch & Higby Readings. (If you have not yet read it, click on the link and take a look before continuing here.) As regular readers of this guidebook series will note, Matthew has made recent revisions to the layout. I admire the new format; for me it’s aesthetically pleasing and thus easy to read. This week’s bee image at the top of the page is also quite stunning. I certainly appreciate these bee shots as the visual link among the posts.
When Matthew told me that he would be dividing his Chapter 3 analysis into two parts because of the extensive length, I sent him an email expressing my concern–not about his plan to divide the chapter, but about the time he must be spending dedicated to this project! He wrote me a reassuring message in return saying, among other things, “It’s a good, meaty book that deserves support.” Honestly, Mr. Graybosch, if I were to live as long as Azoth Magen Ailanthus, I would remain forever grateful for your work and support.
As with my previous response posts to Graybosch & Higby, I will not discuss every aspect of the latest edition but instead will highlight a few items that particularly resonated with me this week. To start, I must say I found Eric Higby’s story of his childhood chemistry pursuits quite endearing. Many of us can trace the hobbies of our youth to our current interests or careers. My favourite books as a child were fantasy driven: The Witch Family; A Wrinkle in Time; Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth (to name a few). It’s no wonder I pursued graduate work in mysticism and alchemy. It’s no wonder I became a fan and scholar of the fantasy worlds of Joss Whedon. If only every adult who ever dabbled in magic, mysticism, alchemy, or chemistry as a child would pick up a copy of The Alchemists’ Council, all would be well (to paraphrase medieval mystic and author Julian of Norwich).
This week, both Eric and Matthew focus in part on the conflict between the Alchemists’ Council and the Rebel Branch. Eric contextualizes the conflict using Yin vs. Yang and Order vs. Chaos, concluding, “I personally believe that a balance between chaos and order is the answer.” Note, however, that Eric also admits to being swayed toward joining the rebels! (Matthew seems to have joined the rebels a while ago if the title for this reader’s guide is any indication!) Matthew discusses similar concepts in the section entitled “The Rebel Branch: Walking the Left-Hand Path.” He contextualizes the conflict using Michael Moorcock‘s model of Law vs. Chaos. Each of these comparative systems has at least one aspect in common: they, like The Alchemists’ Council, emphasize the idea that both sides must exist together. Matthew’s explanation of the Kabbalistic tree, accompanied by a glorious illustration thereof, indeed depicts almost precisely the way I visualized the dimensions when writing the book. I literally gasped when I saw it.
I also appreciated Matthew’s comparison of Jaden’s first alchemy lesson with “the ‘hello world’ program many first-year computer science and software development students are taught to write.” Yes, all adepts–whether alchemists or computer programmers–must begin at the beginning. Jaden’s transmutation of lead into gold was in fact a late addition to the book; I added it during the substantive edits stage when my editor suggested I include a few more scenes of characters actually doing alchemy. In retrospect, I see this scene as important for the very reasons mentioned by Eric and Matthew. As Eric puts it in relation to his childhood memories, “Jaden’s adventure takes us through a mix of the immersion of those feelings”; and as Matthew puts it, “transmuting lead into gold is child’s play for the Alchemists’ Council.” Overall, the scene simultaneously allows folks to relate to the meta-narrative of the alchemist in the laboratory and suggests that the alchemy of Council dimension extends far beyond this age-old stereotype.
I must also give props to Matthew for one particular comment made in the section “Jaden’s Distrust and the SNAFU Principle”: “No doubt Cynthea Masson’s drawing on experience from her day job as a VIU English professor as she describes Sadira’s supervisory duties.” Ha! I laughed aloud when I read that sentence! Though Magistrate Sadira has some unique challenges as an Initiate teacher, I imagine that teachers from all dimensions–including right here in Nanaimo–can relate to certain aspects of this scene.
On a final note, I would like to remind readers that both Matthew Graybosch and Eric Higby have their own blogs, which have been up and running for years. I encourage all of you to click on their names here and check out their other posts, information, and news.
See you next time for a response to Chapter 3, Part 2. In the meantime… “Long live the Quintessence! Long live the Alchemists’ Council!” Or as the rebels say (in Book 2), “I am the Blood of the Dragon! I live as the Flaw in the Stone!”
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