Study Guide

The Alchemyst Fate and Free Will

By Michael Scott

Fate and Free Will

"But we can't just leave," Sophie said firmly.

Josh nodded. "We're not going anywhere."

[… Flamel] glanced at Sophie and Josh. "You have no choice. If you want to survive the rest of the day, you have to leave now." (5.1-3)

This is the first time Sophie and Josh have an inkling that their lives have changed forever, and that they have no choice in the matter. But here's the thing: do they have a choice? We mean, Flamel could totally be lying to them, right? What might have happened if Sophie and Josh had just said, catch you on the flip side, Nicky? What if they had stayed right where they were?

Ah, Nicholas, you of all people know that when we are gone, when the Elder Race is no more, when even the humani have gone from this earth, then the Allta clans will reclaim it for themselves. Remember, this world belonged to the Were clans first. (14.6)

Is it just us, or does this quote make you think that the history of the world repeats itself? It seems as though the fate of the world is to repeat itself. Maybe Allta is on to something: history seems to go in cycles, and control over the earth passes from one group to the next in the world of The Alchemyst. But where does that leave humans, like Sophie and Josh? Do they just have to sit back and watch the show? Or will they get to fight for their right to live?

In recent years, Nicholas would sometimes awaken at the quietest hour of night with a single thought spinning round and round in his head: if he had known then what he knew now about the Codex, would he have continued his research into the philosopher's stone? […] Most nights he answered yes: even knowing all he knew now, he would still have continued his studies and become the Alchemyst. But there were rare occasions, like today, when the answer was no [… there was] a chance that he had doomed the world. (18.20)

This quote plays with the idea that Nicholas Flamel had the free will to choose to read the Codex, but that choice has some serious consequences that are way beyond his control. You know, like dooming the entire world? But here's the thing, even if Flamel exercised his free will in reading the Codex, couldn't the fact that the entire world is doomed just be evidence of the world's destiny? After all, Hekate herself said that eventually, the world will be returned to the Torc Allta, and there's nothing anybody can do about it. Maybe Flamel's reading the Codex wasn't a choice at all. Maybe it was just the first step on the long road to destiny.

"How did we ever get into this mess?" Josh wondered out loud.

"I guess we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time," she said. […] But even as she was saying the words, she was beginning to suspect that there was more to it than that. There was something else going on, something to do with the prophecy that Flamel had referred to, something to do with them. And the very idea terrified her. (19.29)

It seems as though Sophie is wrestling with the idea that the choices she makes are not necessarily her own. There's a bigger plan out there, one that she is not in control of. So is that her destiny? To follow in Flamel's footsteps? Or is she just at the mercy of Flamel's choices?

You are the prisoners of circumstance, of coincidence and chance […] if you believe in such things. (21.12)

Props to the twins—they totally called it. Their suspicions that they don't have much control over their lives are spot on. In fact, it's possible they never had any control to begin with. If they are the twins of the prophecy, haven't their fates been sealed for ages?

"Two months ago, Josh, you should never have asked me for a job, and you, Sophie, should never have started working in The Coffee Cup. But you did, and because you made those decisions you are both standing here with me tonight […] of course, there is a school of thought that suggests that you were fated to take the jobs, to meet Perenelle and me and to come on this adventure."

Scathach nodded. "Destiny," she said. (21.14-15)

So because Sophie and Josh exercised their free will, they ended up in this mess, without intending to? That hardly seems fair. But the alternative, that Sophie and Josh were fated to come to San Francisco and meet the Flamels, doesn't seem fair either. That's because either way, Sophie's and Josh's lives are no longer in their control.

"You're saying that we have no free will," Sophie asked, "that all this was meant to happen?" She shook her head. "I don't, for one minute, believe that." The very idea went against everything she believed; the idea that the future could be foretold was simply ludicrous. (21.16)

Sophie's fiery response to Flamel reminds us of Josh's response to Nick's show of magic at the beginning of the book. Both of the twins staunchly hold onto their previous beliefs when faced with something they cannot explain.

The Codex prophesies that the two that are one will come either to save or to destroy the world. (21.32)

We'll keep this thought short and sweet: now that Flamel has finally told the twins about the prophecy, we have just one question. Which twin will save the world and which twin will destroy it? Okay, two questions: do the twins have any say in the matter?

I saw what happened this morning a month ago […] I watched one thread of a possible-future. One of many. In some of the others, Hekate killed Bastet and the Morrigan slew Dee. In another, Hekate killed you, Mr. Flamel, and was in turn killed by Scathach. All versions of the future. Today I discovered which came to pass." (35.35)

So if all of these versions of the future were possible, what was it that made the real version come to pass? In other words, what prevented Hekate from killing Bastet? Why didn't the Morrigan slay Dee? Could this be where our choices come into play? Maybe many versions of the future are possible, but as we make choices, we narrow the possibilities down until there's only one left.

"Dora, will you teach Sophie the principles of Air magic? She needs to learn enough to at least protect herself from attack."

Dora shrugged and smiled. "Do I have a choice?"

Flamel had not been expecting that answer. "Of course you have a choice."

The Witch of Endor shook her head. "Not this time." (35.57-60)

We're still not sure whether free will or destiny wins in The Alchemyst, but it's interesting that the one person who can see all the versions of the future (which just might suggest that our choices shape our chances) seems to think that even she doesn't have a choice in the matter.