Dr. John Dee is one of the most famous magicians and necromancers (a sorcerer with the ability to raise the dead) of all time. Oh, and he's also Nicholas Flamel's enemy, and the major antagonist of the novel.
It's tempting to label Dee "evil" and Flamel "good" but their striking similarities and shared past sometimes prevent us from doing so. And we get a lot of the novel from Dee's perspective, so we often understand where he's coming from, even if we're not a fan of his tactics or goals.
Of course we don't mean that Dee's a Good Guy. Quite the opposite, in fact. Let's tally up his Bad Guy qualities: he kills Hekate, steals the Codex, and plots to destroy civilization as we know it. Um, can you say villain?
Yes, we can. Plus, there are a few other telltale signs that Dee is up to no good. His magical scent is of "brimstone" (3.34), which is a fancy way of saying that the dude smells like rotten eggs, or a spewing volcano, or sulphur. Literally, the dude stinks. Whereas the good folks, like Flamel, whose peppermint scent follows him everywhere, smell downright delightful.
Plus, there's Dee's creepy treatment of Josh, the vulnerable, unmagical teen. Honestly, the way he tempts Josh reminds us a bit of a more famous temptation—you know, the one that happened in the Garden of Eden? As crazy as it sounds, the scene where Dr. John Dee tempts Josh to come over to the dark side parallels the biblical scene where the serpent, a stand-in for the devil, tempts Adam and Eve to fall from grace.
As Dr. John Dee tells Josh, "in the ancient past, the earth was a paradise. It had an incredibly advanced technology, but the air was clean, the water pure, the seas unpolluted" (37.49). This "paradise" sounds a little like the Garden of Eden, right?
Dee continues, "the Elders were driven out from this paradise by the foolish superstition of the mad Abraham and the spells in the Codex" (37.51). Wait a minute, driven out of paradise? That sounds super familiar, kind of like how Adam and Eve were turned out of the Garden of Eden because of a "foolish" mistake. We're just saying…Dee is bad news.
It takes more than evil powers to stay alive for 500 years. It also takes cleverness. While he's totally willing to risk his safety, Dee doesn't put his life on the line for anyone. He's savvy enough to serve others only as much as it serves his own purposes.
So when Bastet and the Morrigan plan to invade the Shadowrealm, Dee makes sure he's not first in line because he knows that "It was always a bad idea to be first into battle. The soldiers in the rear were the ones who tended to survive. […] It didn't make him a coward, he reasoned; it just made him careful, and being careful had kept him alive for many hundreds of years" (25.1).
Ah, but here again, those pesky similarities between Dee and Flamel pop up. His comment here is remarkably similar to something Flamel says to the twins—that "there is no shame in fear" (24.40)—which shows us that great minds often think alike, even if they're working toward opposite goals. It is no coincidence that the two enemies think such similar thoughts, they are foils of each other, and Flamel is peanut butter to Dee's jelly.
Dr. John Dee is a complicated guy. He is a human, yet feels nothing but contempt for humankind. He no longer feels for his fellow man, and that actually makes him a little less human, strangely enough.
How do we know this? Well, Hekate tells Nicholas Flamel, "then you are still human, Nicholas Flamel. The day you stop caring is the day you become like Dee and his kind" (22.49). So we know that Flamel's compassion and caring are what keep him human, despite his immortal status and incredible magical powers. But Dee is just the opposite: he doesn't care, and that makes him inhuman, even though, strictly speaking, he's still, you know, a homo sapiens.
Oddly enough, Dee has no "kind." He's not an Elder, like those he serves (and they make him feel that way every day, like when the Morrigan and Bastet treat him like an inferior), and he is not a human because he does not care for man.
He is like the bat in Aesop's fable: when the beasts and the birds went to war, the bat did not fight with the beasts (he excused himself because of his wings), nor did he fight with the birds (he made the excuse that he had fur). The bat got to stay out of the battle, but when the war was over, both sides shunned him because he was with neither. What do you think will happen to Dr. John Dee when the battle for the Codex is over?