‘Alchemical Gardens & Fantastic Beasts’

Brady Pendelton has posted a hermetic interpretation of J. K. Rowling’s first two Fantastic Beasts screenplays,Alchemical Gardens and Fantastic Beasts.He spends most of the essay discussing traditional English literature’s alchemical stream with special attention on the meaning of Garden imagery and symbolism. Almost all of that was new to me and it proved a delightful challenge.

When he gets to the discussion of Fantastic Beasts, the text becomes challenging in a different way and I found it difficult to follow his argument or to see the connections he does between alchemy and the transformations taking place in the first two films. Even in my hurried reading, though, I couldn’t fail to be impressed by some of Mr Pendelton’s points, especially those about Jacob Kowalski, whose last name, it turns out, means ‘Smith.’ You don’t get much more metallurgical than that and even in the first movie the changes he goes through are remarkable.

Are there problems with the essay? Sure. I found one distracting mistake, for instance, the assertion that Newt “asks Jacob” to be obliviated at the end of Beasts. There may be more missteps I missed. I enjoyed his discussion of Marvell and the aside about ‘The Hanged Man.’ Your mileage may vary; it’s pretty esoteric stuff and the argument is not conventionally discursive. I wish, too, there had been a lot more on the screenplays and its alchemical content, especially Crimes of Grindelwald. He doesn’t mention the couples as representatives of the four elements, Dumbledore and Grindelwald as the Quarreling Couple of Mercury and Sulphur, or Nicolas Flamel.

Those problems aside, though, it’s a serious bit of writing about literary alchemy and Rowling’s latest Wizarding World writing adventure. GiveAlchemical Gardens and Fantastic Beasts the time it and the subject merits — and then let me know what you think of it in the comment boxes below!


  1. Evan Willis says

    A few quasi-quick thoughts:
    -The “Longbottom” name derivation is completely off. In one of Rowling’s absolutely clear references to Tolkien, it is borrowed from the Longbottom Leaf, pipeweed grown in the Shire. Its presence in Isengard was the sign of Saruman’s political interference in the Shire, as confronted by Merry and Pippin. Thus, while Frodo/Harry fight the spiritual battle, Merry/Pippin/Neville fight the political battle (Neville being at the back of the resistance of Book 7). Both children of the prophecy defeat Voldemort, in different aspects. This also explains Neville’s relationship with plants.
    -The importance of “tree” growth imagery, from above and below, gains its relevance from the animal/body side of man growing from below, while the spirit grows from above, as is standard in Hermetic/Platonic/Aristotelian/Thomist anthropology. However, this is an image only of direct Alchemical import if one has made the counter-traditional Paracelsan move of identifying the alchemical triad with the tripartite soul. Philosophical Quicksilver is matter, Philosophical Sulfur is form, Mercury is substantial prime matter, the underlying substance and catalyst of the transformation. This triad is universal to natural substances, rather than tied to those weird substances we call human beings. Vitriolic descent into the earth is the reduction to prime matter before restoring form. The alchemical unification of heaven and earth is not in the human tripartite amphibian, but most properly in the God-Man, bringing things down to prime matter (in the Crucifixion) so that they can be remade (in the Resurrection). Cross as alchemical glyph.
    -The mandrake connection here is beautiful, notably in connecting the image of the Cross/Hanged Man to the potion that softens those turned to stone.
    -“Thrice-great” in the Emerald Tablet refers to Hermes’s possession of Alchemy (transformational art), Astrology (Hermeneutic art) and Theurgy (Sacramental art), not related to the Alchemical triad at all.

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