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From: "Alice Turner" <akt@attglobal.net>
Subject: (urth) Fairy Tale alchemy
Date: Tue, 2 Nov 1999 10:04:40 

Mantis remarked, in discussion of fantasy v. SF:

> "Magical," yes, but most specifically it is "alchemical."
> If you pick up a modern book on alchemy, chances are it will have some of
> those great old woodcuts regarding the stages of The Great Work: which is
> "turning lead into gold" for the laity.  Red Lion, Green Dragon, Black
> Raven, Virgin Milk--all sorts of wild stuff.  Anyway, in the midst of all
> this Chemical Wedding, there appears a potent symbol: a two-headed being,
> usually a big muscular creature with a king's head and a queen's head
> crowned, iirc).  Mind you, this is an =allegorical= representation of some
> funky chemical process --it isn't meant to be some sort of Frankenstein's
> monster that literally appears.
> But this double-header is =not= the end-product: it is not the
> philosopher's stone.  It is only a stage along the way.  So, true to form,
> it must be "killed" so that the next mode can emerge--this woodcut shows
> the critter being put to bed in a tomb.
> THUS, in addition to the Satan's Temptation of Christ elements in the
> scenes with Typhon and Severian, I have reason to believe that there is an
> even stronger thread of alchemical thought and tradition represented: one
> that links up with other keystones of the text to form an adamantine
> I strongly suspect that Damien Broderick knows exactly what I'm talking
> about. (I also know that alga is rolling her eyes at all this!)

Well, no. Actually I agree---how not. The Gothic elements refer directly
back to alchemy, most specifically in Baldanders's castle by the lake with
his "experiments" aided by "elementals" from the air and his great
familiar/catamite/clone (and the whole parody, almost Pythoneque, in which
Baldanders is both Frankenstein and creature, with Dr. Talos as a "beard").
Also much later when we find the homunculus/mandragora at the Citadel. But,
as I have said before, these are almost certainly filtered from the direct
Gothic tradition (mostly English) by Wolfe's reading of Goethe's Faust, Part
II (the one people don't read so much), which is a weirdly hallucinogenic
"take" on the Gothic/alchemical novel with its castles and laboratories and
"philosopher's stones" and transmutations.

Typhon too appears in this general air of the Gothic.

And mantis, I don't roll my eyes at your allusions, they start to roll when
you seize them (the allusions, not the eyes) with your mandibles and
brutally worry them into virtuality.


*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

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