Study Guide

The Alchemyst

By Michael Scott

The Alchemyst Introduction

Imagine you are a teenager, working in a bookstore or coffee shop. You know, the usual. Then, BAM! One day you realize you have magical powers. Awesome? Absolutely. That's just what happens in today's book, and we're only talking about the first few chapters. Just imagine the possibilities.

The Alchemyst is the first book of the tremendously popular fantasy series The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, written by Michael Scott (no, not that Michael Scott). Published in 2007, it tells the story of two totally ordinary twins, Josh and Sophie, in San Francisco who one day find themselves caught up in one of the greatest secrets of history—the centuries-long fight between "two incredibly ancient magicians" (5.14) for control of the book of Abraham the Mage. Phew, what a mouthful.

Don't know what the book of Abraham the Mage is yet? Never fear. Just know that it's a Very Important Book (a VIB), with all kinds of juicy secrets and magical miracles. In their quest to protect the secret of life the book contains, Josh and Sophie face all the terrifying creatures, warriors, and gods of myth and legend. That's right, folks, sometimes myth and legend are all too real.

Or at least so thinks author Michael Scott. He's an acclaimed folklorist in his own right, which means he gets to study the traditions of particular people in story, song, custom, and belief. In fact, he's quite the expert, and he puts that expertise to good use here. Nearly all of the characters in The Alchemyst (except for the twins) were real people, or were based on actual legends. As alchemyst Nicholas Flamel tells the teens, "Everything you have been taught, all the myths and legends of your world, have a kernel of truth in them" (15.58).

You know what that means, Shmoopers. You could be just like the twins—working a normal, boring job one day, discovering your magical powers the next. After reading this first book of the best-selling series, you just might conclude that anything is possible.

No wonder these books are so popular. Since its publication, the Nicholas Flamel series (which includes The Alchemyst, The Magician, The Sorceress, The Necromancer, and The Warlock) has taken the world by storm. The last book of the six-book series, The Enchantress, came out in 2012 (source). Interactive online games produced by Random House to promote the releases of books in the series attract tons of gamers (see our "Best of the Web" to play), and there's even a movie in the works, produced by the man who brought us Transformers, G.I. Joe, and Salt (source).

So we know it's action-packed, right? But what else makes people love it so much? Well, young readers love it for its action and magic, and parents and teachers appreciate that the plot centers on characters drawn from actual historical events and myths. As School Library Journal tells us, "While there is plenty to send readers rushing to their encyclopedias [...] those who read the book at face value will simply be caught up in the enthralling story. A fabulous read" (source).

What are you waiting for? Grab your book and get lost in the legend.

What is The Alchemyst About and Why Should I Care?

Did you ever wonder why certain legends have stuck around, or why so many different cultures' myths have such striking similarities? Take vampires, for example. These mythical bloodsuckers have existed in legends for centuries—right up to our present-day fixation with Twilight. Witches and wizards, too, have been around for millennia, as any Harry Potter fan would know. And entire civilizations have worshiped gods and goddesses with magical powers since, well, ever.

But why be obsessed with this stuff in the first place? Could it be, as Flamel says in The Alchemyst, that these myths and legends have a grain of truth at their heart? That might explain where these stories come from, but it certainly doesn't explain why, in the world of modern science and technology, we're still drawn to the magic and mysterious.

Let's face it: science and technology have advanced so much that you can pretty much find anything you need to know with the click of a mouse. We know why the sky is blue, why the sun is hot, and why echoes, well, echo. But with all these mysteries solved, it's easy to miss the magic. What once seemed miraculous is now mundane. Boring, even.

So it makes sense that books like Michael Scott's The Alchemyst tempt us. Wouldn't it be cool if you could leave your ordinary life behind and discover all the magic beneath the everyday? Ancient mythology and old events in history suddenly don't seem so dusty and out-of-date if the stories they contain could help reveal the secrets of your present. The Alchemyst puts the wonder back in life and literature, and can make you believe in magic all over again.

The Alchemyst Resources

Websites

Michael Scott's Official Website
Follow the author on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and his blog. Plus, you can watch interview clips and see cover art for all the books in dozens of languages, as well as keep up-to-date on when the next installment hits shelves. Go ahead, jump on over there. You know you want to.

Flamel Fan Map
Where are you reading The Alchemyst? Put your mark on this interactive map and see where others around the world are reading the series. Shmoop made its mark, make yours!

Nicholas Flamel's MySpace
Who knew Nicholas Flamel was such a popular guy? Visit his MySpace and become one of his 500+ friends.

Nicholas Flamel's 'Hood
Feelin' fancy? Take a walk around the real-life Nicholas Flamel's neighborhood in Paris through Google Earth.

Official Fan Site
Dying for more on our Immortals (sorry, Shmoop couldn't resist the pun)? Visit Flamel's Immortal Portal to read news and updates about the series, participate in the official fan forum, and take fun polls.

Online Games

The Challenges of the Elder
Channel Sophie and Josh and take on the challenges of the Elder in this interactive online game based on The Alchemyst; it's filled with puzzles, logic games, and hosted by the author, Michael Scott, himself.

Mythology Websites

Pantheon Goes Irish
Explore the mythology of Ireland, and be sure to check out the entries on Scathach and Morrigan. Just be on your guard, because that Morrigan has quite the temper.

More Mythology
Learn more about those fascinating Irish myths. There's plenty to explore, and you just might meet some familiar faces.

Egyptian Mythology Links
Go back to the age of the pyramids to discover the ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses, like our old friend Bastet.

More on Egypt
For when Pantheon doesn't quite cut the mustard.

Hekate
Brush up on your Greek and Roman mythology with this entry on Hekate, goddess of magic, witchcraft, and necromancy. Hey, she's a Jill of all trades.

Movie or TV Productions

Coming Soon to a Theater Near You
At least, we hope.

Video

Michael Scott Discusses The Sorceress
Michael Scott reveals his inspiration for the Nicholas Flamel series. Plus, he gives us the skinny on the much-anticipated sixth installment, The Sorceress.

Michael Scott at Comic Con 2010
Michael Scott talks about his love of writing the Nicholas Flamel series.

Audio

Music for The Alchemyst: "Perenelle's Theme" by Jumeaux
A duo named Jumeaux has a collection of songs inspired by The Alchemyst. Take a listen yourself—you can even download songs like "This Way Forever," and "Carry My Voice" for free.

Images

Nice Hat, Nicholas
Flamel himself, rocking a beard.

Portrait of Perenelle Flamel
She doesn't look too happy with her hubby.

Portrait of Dr. John Dee
Points for the pointiest beard Shmoop's ever seen.

The Witch of Endor…
… is not to be trifled with. This painting from the National Museum of American Art depicts the Witch of Endor conjuring up the ghost of the prophet Samuel.

Cover Art for The Alchemyst
Go ahead. Judge it by its cover.

Nicholas Flamel's House in Paris
It's looking a little ramshackle these days, but Nick's house is one of the oldest buildings in Paris, so we'll cut him some slack.