Study Guide

The Alchemyst Themes

By Michael Scott

  • The Supernatural

    Do you believe in magic? Nicholas Flamel sure does. But Sophie and Josh aren't too sure, that is until they see it with their own eyes. The strange thing about magic in The Alchemyst is that it's really not all that extraordinary. In fact, as Flamel tells us, there's magical potential in all of us; we just have to learn how to Awaken it.

    Questions About The Supernatural

    1. How does The Alchemyst define magic? What's the difference between magic and advanced science and technology? Are there any similarities?
    2. Do we learn something more about Sophie when we learn her magic smells like vanilla ice cream? Do we think of Josh differently when we learn that his smells like oranges? What about Dee, or Nicholas Flamel? What is the effect of giving each character "his or her own distinctive odor; rather like a magical footprint"?
    3. Nicholas Flamel believes that everyone has the possibility of magic within them. Do you think this might be a metaphor for something else? Do we all have that potential inside us? And if everyone does, what then makes the twins so special?

    Chew on This

    Science is the opposite of magic. The two just don't mix.

    If science or technology advanced enough, Nicholas Flamel would call that magic.

  • Awe and Amazement

    Awe and amazement goes with magic like peanut butter goes with jelly. Sure they can exist on their own, but they taste so much better together. Every time a supernatural or magical event occurs in The Alchemyst, it is greeted with dropped jaws, gasps, and bugged eyes. See, our human characters aren't used to talking ghosts, traveling by way of mirror, or minty-smelling auras. And as we encounter each fantastical event or creature, it becomes clearer and clearer that the awe and amazement Sophie and Josh feel goes hand in hand with the fact that they know their lives have changed forever.

    Questions About Awe and Amazement

    1. What's the most awesome thing in the novel? When do Sophie and Josh experience the biggest sense of awe?
    2. Why do you think Dr. John Dee—a human character who hates mankind—is in awe of the man-made city of Paris? Does this information affect the way you feel about his character?
    3. How is awe and amazement experienced differently by human and nonhuman characters in the novel?

    Chew on This

    Sophie and Josh aren't in awe of all the strange and magical things they're seeing; they're actually in awe because their lives have changed so quickly, and so permanently.

    Awe is what keeps Sophie and Josh going with Flamel and Scatty. If they weren't so fascinating by what's going on (and dying to see more), they would have run for the hills the moment Dee showed up in the bookshop.

  • Transformation

    Shape-shifting. Awakening. Growing up. Characters in The Alchemyst are constantly undergoing all kinds of crazy changes, and that means our characters are standing on some shaky ground. Transformation is often linked to uncertainty because these characters, like anyone, fear the unknown. Still, no matter how scary it might be to choose to Awaken magical powers or witness a goddess changing forms, these changes are a source of power. So you tell us: is transformation a gift or a curse?

    Questions About Transformation

    1. Is the power of transformation a gift or a curse in this novel? What about in the cases of Hekate, the Witch of Endor, Sophie, and Bastet?
    2. What transformations do the twins go through in the novel? Sure, Sophie has been Awakened, but do they go through any other transformations, too?
    3. Sophie has transformed so much throughout the novel, that we wonder if we can still call her a "teen"—is she now just a magical being? Where do you draw the line?
    4. How does Sophie's transformation into a sorceress affect her? How does it affect Josh?

    Chew on This

    When Sophie is Awakened, it transforms her relationship with her twin forever. The two of them will never be as close as they once were, because Josh has been magically left behind and now they have nothing in common.

    Sophie's Awakening doesn't change her relationship with Josh one teeny bit. The two are twins, and that's a bond that lasts a lifetime.

  • Family

    Family: you can't live with 'em; you can't live without 'em. For Sophie and Josh, they have to live with family and without family every day of their lives. They have each other, sure, but their parents are, for the most part, M.I.A. And we get some other rather dysfunctional family relationships, too, like that of Scatty and her grandmother, or of the Morrigan and her sisters. Still, the bonds between Josh and Sophie, and between the Flamels stay strong, no matter what. What The Alchemyst tells us is that family is a choice. Josh and Sophie choose to stick together, and that's what keeps them alive. Here's hoping it stays that way.

    Questions About Family

    1. Where are the parents in this story? Seriously, if Sophie and Josh were your kids, wouldn't you be calling them every five seconds, wondering what in the world is going on? Why do you think the 'rents are missing in a book so centered on family? How does that affect Josh and Sophie's relationship?
    2. Let's take a look at some of the sibling groups in the novel: Hekate and Bastet, the Morrigan and her dead sisters, Sophie and Josh. Why are there so many different pairings? And what are the dynamics like in each of them? Are any of these pairings similar? Total opposites? 
    3. How does power affect family bonds in this novel? Does Josh's relationship to Sophie change after she is Awakened? Does Bastet's relationship to Hekate change once Hekate summons the Ghost Wind? And how might the Morrigan's relationship to Bastet change now that Dee has discovered the Morrigan's dead sisters live inside her?

    Chew on This

    Families are a choice. Josh and Sophie stick together because they choose to. Sophie comes back for Josh because she actually wants him by her side, not simply because he's her brother, but because they have a deep bond that they choose to maintain.

    Nick Flamel doesn't really understand family. If he did he wouldn't ask the twins to risk each other's lives, and he certainly wouldn't have allowed Hekate to Awaken Sophie and not Josh.

  • Fear

    Be afraid, be very afraid. After all, an evil magician has just stolen the secret to your immortality. Or your awesome boss has just told you that you hold the key to either saving the world or destroying it. Or a man made of clay has just whisked you off to a cell in Alcatraz. Okay, okay, you get the picture. All the characters in The Alchemyst are scared of something, and for the most part, each of them must come face to face with that fear at some point in the novel. But being scared is totally cool. After all, Nicholas Flamel tells the twins, there is "no shame in fear." What matters is how each character handles that fear.

    Questions About Fear

    1. Is Dr. John Dee a coward for being scared to go first into battle? Or is that just good thinking? Where is the line between courage and wisdom in this book? And what is Flamel's position on retreating? How does that fit in?
    2. Niccolò Machiavelli, a Renaissance political philosopher, once said it is better to be feared than loved. Do you agree? How do you think our characters would answer this question? And which one is stronger in this book—fear or love? 
    3. Scatty says that those of her vampire clan are the finest warriors because they cannot feel fear, but that means they also cannot experience love, or enjoy feeling happy. Do you agree that the best warriors are those who cannot feel? Or is that sacrifice too high a price to pay?

    Chew on This

    Scatty is, well, an idiot. It's better to feel—even bad things—than to feel nothing at all.

    Without unfeeling characters like Scatty, the twins wouldn't have survived very long. We need people who are callous and cold to keep us safe.

  • Fate and Free Will

    Do you believe in destiny? If you're not sure, that's cool—neither are the characters in The Alchemyst. While it makes sense that Sophie and Josh would ponder their fates and whether they'll have any power over them, it's shocking to learn that even all these awesome supernatural beings aren't too sure about the future and their role in it. Even gods and goddesses are a little fuzzy about the prophecy and whether or not they'll be able to change it. It seems pretty safe to say that the destinies of the characters in the novel are bound up not only with ancient spells, but also with the actions they take in the present. Which brings us to our Big Question: which is more powerful in The Alchemyst—fate or free will?

    Questions About Fate and Free Will

    1. Which characters believe in free will, and which characters believe in fate? Why do you think they believe what they believe?
    2. Does the ability to see the future, even multiple futures, mean that free will does not exist? How do you think the Witch of Endor would answer that question? 
    3. Do you agree with Nicholas Flamel when he says that we are "prisoners of circumstance"?

    Chew on This

    The characters in this novel are prisoners of circumstance. They have no control over what happens, and they'll just have to go along for the ride.

    Destiny? Hogwash. The characters in this novel make choices that affect their futures, and that's the plain old truth.

  • Good Versus Evil

    A fantasy novel wouldn't be complete without a fight between good and evil, now would it? In The Alchemyst evil takes the form of the powers of darkness—the "Dark Elders" who want to reclaim the earth and their minions—cats, rats, and crows. "Good" is much more colorful, but it's also a whole lot more ambiguous. Flamel and Perenelle assure their crew that they battle against evil, but sometimes their choices seem a little, well, unclear. But if their auras—their "magical footprints"—are any indication, we'll take the pepperminty goodness of Nicholas Flamel over Dee's rotten eggs any day.

    Questions About Good Versus Evil

    1. Does Nicholas Flamel represent good, and Dr. John Dee evil? Is it really that simple? Take a look at the scene in which Dee tries to tempt Josh. And what about the scene in which Flamel first meets Dee. Given what we know about the Elder Race, can we really know for sure who's on the good side and who's on the bad side? 
    2. Who are the "good" characters, and who are the "bad"? Are there some that don't fit into either category?
    3. Are Josh and Sophie good? Evil? Do they perhaps have both of those qualities in them?

    Chew on This

    The Dark Elders are bad news, through and through. You can't be called Dark and expect any sympathy or understanding from us readers, thank you very much.

    Flamel is not as awesome as everyone seems to think he is. If he were really fighting on the side of good, he wouldn't have put innocent kids in danger, and he wouldn't have Awakened Sophie to suit his own magical needs.

  • Youth

    Sure, Sophie and Josh may be a bit out of their league when it comes to, well, knowing what in the world is going on in The Alchemyst. But what's so great about this book is that they're actually the ones with all the power. Their untapped abilities and awesome attitudes mean that they're going to play a big role in events to come. After all, according to Flamel, the twins are the young upstarts who'll push the Elders off their thrones. Sure, they've got some teen angst to deal with first, but we think the youth will reign supreme before the day is done.

    Questions About Youth

    1. What do you think is the effect of age on the family relationships in The Alchemyst? What do you make of the relationship between the older First Generation, like Hekate and Bastet, and the Next Generation, like Scatty and the Morrigan? Do their powers and personalities seem different, somehow? 
    2. Does it make sense that Sophie treats Josh like her baby brother, even though she's a grand total of twenty-eight seconds older? Why do you think this power dynamic emerged, when they're really the exact same age?
    3. As youngsters, Sophie and Josh don't have a ton of adults to trust. Their parents are gone, and Flamel has, frankly, put their lives in danger. What's up with that? How does their lack of parental support and advice affect Sophie and Josh throughout the novel? 

    Chew on This

    The oldest characters (the Elder Race, the immortal Nicholas Flamel, and Dr. John Dee) are the most powerful in The Alchemyst because power is all about wisdom, and wisdom comes with age.

    The youngest characters (The Next Generation, Sophie, and Josh) are the most powerful in The Alchemyst because power is about destiny—not age.