Discovery of Witches, Chapters 1-12 Discussion- Formative Stages of Alchemy

Be sure, if you haven’t already, to obtaina copy of Discovery of Witches from either Indiebound (independant book stores), Kobo, Barnes and Nobles,  Amazon, or at your local library.

Today, we’ll be mostly focusing our discussion (very brief overview, with some discussion questions) on the first 150 pages of the story, with relation to the beginning stages/ formative stages of ‘alchemy?’

**SPECIAL BOOK CLUB GIVEAWAY (Copy comes courtesy of Viking Books, subsidiary of Penguin Random House)

**By leaving a comment below on our first discussion post, you will be instantly entered into a special giveaway for a paperback edition of Deborah Harkness’ Discovery of Witches, which is only open to those living in the US. The winner will be chosen at random upon the end of the giveaway-Monday October 12,2015 at 11:59 PM. Eastern Standard Time.

Throughout the month of October, tweet (on Twitter)  us using the hashtag #ashmolebibliophile, to engage in bibliophile reverie specific discussions for the first book of the All Soul’s Trilogy, by Deborah Harkness.
Be sure to stay up-to-date on all our updates beginning now, and throughout the month of October!

Our discussions will take place mainly on Lestat’s Book Coven (Facebook Group) and through discussion posts on here, posted every Saturday throughout October, specific to Discovery of Witches. 

Chapters 1-12 Discovery of Witches– Formative Stages of Alchemy

(The Alchemist’s), His (or her) efforts in changing lead to gold are based on the premise that he, as the subject, will go through the same types of changes and purifications as the materials he is working with. In sympathy with these metallurgical transitions and resolutions of contraries, his soul will be purified in correspondence as long as he is working in a prayerful state within the Mysteries (sacraments) of his revealed tradition.

(John Granger; Literary Alchemy via Harry Potter- An Introduction)

Discovery of Witches has been largely omitted from academia, or any literary circles that even have the wherewithal, intellectual courageousness to discuss the underlying metaphors and allegorical structures inherent to JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Specific to my discussion of the fist chapters of the story and how it relates to alchemy both literally/allegorically, I highly recommend you read the full-text overview of Literary Alchemy, as written by Harry Potter scholar John Granger, a scholar of Harry Potter whose works have proven very influential to my own imagination. The same alchemical language he analyzes with respects to Harry Potter both literally and allegorically pervades Deborah Harkness’ Discovery of Witch books. The book even begins with Diana, the main protagonist/alchemist of the tale, inadvertently deactivating a spell that was put upon a powerful, esoteric work, that has been theorized to be the definitive creation story behind the birth of witches, daemons, and vampires. Interestingly enough, the very fact Deborah Harkness utilizes three different otherworldly character types, mirrors the classic three stages of alchemy. Moreover, three books comprise the trilogy of novels, each focused on the different stages of alchemy that both Diana Bishop and Matthew Claremont enter into. Without spoiling, I will say that their relationship in of itself reflects the figurative image of the

Throughout the beginning of the novel though, the main focus is on laying out the mundane, unimpressive, fairly drab lifestyle of Diana’s academic lifestyle, which seems to mirror the black stages of alchemy, meaning the stage that presents the melancholy of one’s life, devoid entirely of the active powers of creative, or in this case, the active connection to one’s inborn proclivities towards the use of magic. And this uncontrolled, unconscious need for magic is something that festers in her subconscious, sublimating itself through her more decisive actions in the story, it’s a type of power that is not controlled or managed by the will, but is more erratic, as any chemicals at the beginning of an alchemical procedure are bound to be. She is restive because she is unwilling to embrace that side of her.

In a more psychological,sense, she is the ID in the Freudian sense, as defined by her powers, as one could assume it’s mostly capricious, and purely instinctual at this time, whereas Matthew Claremont is far more super-ego, in the Freudian sense, as his actions are more fastidious, regimented. Throughout the series, it is their alchemical marriage of sorts, forged between them, both antithetical individuals in both the psychological, metaphorical, and literal sense; the thing that ties them together is the development of a more moderate force of the “ego,” and it is also the contraries of sorts that must strive towards purification of the soul, or in the case of this novel, unraveling the mystery of Ashmole 782, in an attempt to really forge a more meaningful peace, beyond the uneasy tension that exists between the three otherworldly speices.

As you may have noted, there are many important dichotomies within the work, including the way that Matthew Claremont is the more scientific individual, while Diana, seemingly is logical, yet her scientific historical work tends to blend both logic, and tons of metaphysical idea. Both carry these accolades for these disciplines of study they are interested in, which on the face, seem rooted in pure, cold logic (vampire’s logic and stoicism can sometimes be cold like their skin within this work). But yet, their work tends to defy the boundaries of logic, and stretch into metaphysics and pseudoscience even, and this becomes something more developed, as the story unfolds. In later discussions, I will return to this, while also commenting on any other dichotomies present in the work.

Obviously, Deborah Harkness is a writer who is cerebral,  and painstakingly developed all the underlying meaning of this novel, evidenced by the way the book seems endowed with deep meaning. The alchemical marriage is alluded pretty early on, and the alchemical allegorical imagery shown throughout the book, intermittently, as Diana studies these books with a certain insatiable need to know more about the mysterious way that the intellectual world suddenly lost interest in the idea of magic and alchemy, and became more bound in non-mysterious magic. In a sense, Diana’s own accidental discovery of Ashmole 782 presages the mystery both she and Matthew, along with the lives of all three otherworldly species, enter into, an alchemical process that is proceeding all throughout the books, all with the aim in the end to bring forth some kind of purification, or elucidation of some kind.  The main focus for this section is the slow, eventual divorce of Diana, formerly much apart of the mundane world, as she slowly slips into a newer understanding of the world. That in of itself is bewildering, potentially volatile, especially when combined with the opposite personalities of a vampire/ witch within a world where there are certain prejudicial lines between each of these species.

I could probably digress further, but I wish to leave room for your own thoughts on all of this, and anything else that intrigued you, while reading the first twelve chapters of the book. Here are a few questions to ponder, please feel free to discuss in the comment section:

1) Do you sympathize with Diana’s own steadfast refusal to be use her powers, allow them to mutually exist along with her scholarly self? How does this mirror the formative stages of an alchemical process, or at least, the notion of being “reborn” in a sense to a new understanding of the world that gradually develops throughout the course of the novel? As a dynamic character, Diana goes through many different phases of changes and epiphanies, alongside Matthew Claremont the vampire?

2) Do you like the fact that Deborah Harkness invents her own rules for vampires, witches, and daemons? How does this carry across the idea within this part of the story, at least, about how things are quite different when you look more closely at them?

3) What are your thoughts on the allegorical alchemical imagery? What images of purification, or the notion of finding enlightenment hint at the way Deborah Harkness seems to have consciously constructed this story to contain many deeper layers of meaning?

4) Any other thoughts on the reading?

Next week, we’ll be discussing Chapter 13-23, stop at the beginning of chapter 24.

**If you’re looking for somewhere to download the Discovery of Witches audiobook, you may find the below information relevant:

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. bellejour says:

    I love this series. I have never had anyone to really discuss it with before and I am glad you have opened it up. In response to Diana’s steadfast refusal to use her powers: fear. Sometimes we don’t want to make waves that will draw unnecessary attention, but she draws attention through her stringent disassociation with her witch sisters and insistent on doing everything herself. She uses her gifts, though. they are an innate part of everything she does, even the way she thinks. I have found in my own life that just because I don’t want to acknowledge a thing does not rule said thing null or void. The fact that Deborah Harkness creates her own world and creation story for vampires, daemons, witches and humans makes everything more plausible and relatable. The sheer wealth of knowledge presented is exciting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Excellent points, and you raise a good point about the plausibility. I felt like this story was very well-handled, with explaining qualities about these beings that are different than tradition.

      (Btw, you’re entered into the contest to win a copy!!)


      1. bellejour says:

        thanks! I am challenged technologically, but game. Let’s keep talking about the beautiful Matthew and Lovely Diana- Deborah Harkness has such a breadth of knowledge!

        Liked by 1 person

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