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Essays

Nicolas Flamel and the Philosopher's Stone

by Brian Dorband

We read from Dumbledore's chocolate frog card that Dumbledore is "particularly famous for... his work on alchemy with his partner, Nicolas Flamel (PS6)."

Later, Hermione reads from an enormous old book that Flamel is "the only known maker of the Philosopher's Stone (PS13)." Harry and Ron continue reading "...The stone will transform any metal into pure gold. It also produces the Elixir of Life, which will make the drinker immortal. There have been many reports of the Philosopher's Stone over the centuries, but the only Stone currently in existence belongs to Mr. Nicolas Flamel ... who celebrated his six hundred and sixty-fifth birthday last year [and] enjoys a quiet life in Devon with his wife, Perenelle (six hundred and fifty-eight)."

It surprises me that while there may have been other Stones over the centuries, currently one and only one is in existence. In the whole world! Did the others get broken? What? How can they confirm one and only one? But, OK, its canon, so there's only one. Still, that means Flamel is, or ought to be, the Head Honcho, the Big Kahuna, the Top Dog, the one and only wizard with certain powers. He is what Voldemort yearns to be - immortal!

We know that Dumbledore is approximately 150 years old (Sch2). Flamel was 665 "last year" (an aside here, did JKR not want to assign Flamel the age of 666? Why is he 665 "last year" but not "going to be 666" this year? The avoidance of the number may be telling...) Anyway, Dumbledore is about 515 years younger than Flamel. Clearly Flamel had already discovered the Stone and was in possession of it and was using it to extend his own life for at least 350 years before the birth of Dumbledore. (Assuming that Flamel discovered the Stone fairly late in his life - if he discovered it sooner, then he would have had it longer.) Clearly Dumbledore didn't help Flamel with this. But the chocolate frog card says that Dumbledore is "particularly famous for ... his work on alchemy with his partner, Nicolas Flamel (PS6)." Having attained the epitome of Alchemical pursuits over 350 years earlier, what kind of work was left for Dumbledore to assist Flamel with?

Now let's get critical of Flamel:

  • Who is considered by many to be the greatest wizard of modern times? Dumbledore.
  • Who defeated the dark wizard Grindelwald in 1945? Dumbledore.
  • Who discovered the 12 uses of dragons' blood? Dumbledore (It is not stated that Flamel was involved with this; he may have been, being Dumbledore's partner, but the card attributes this to only Dumbledore).

So we have Flamel, having the only Stone in existence, enjoying a quiet life -- while the wizarding world is terrorized by Grindelwald back in the 1940s and through Voldemort's entire reign of terror! What to make of this...

Flamel currently possesses the very thing that Voldemort desires -- eternal life -- he has effectively been cheating death for over 400 years (assuming a normal wizard lifespan of 200 years). But after all that time, Flamel is not considered the greatest wizard of modern times; Dumbledore is. Now you may say that Flamel is not a wizard of the modern times, but I would ask, Why not? He is alive and well in modern times - that makes him a wizard during modern times. But he is not considered the greatest wizard of modern times; apparently he is too busy enjoying his quiet life with his wife to be much engaged in the woes of the wizarding world. How must the wizarding world perceive him? Powerful or pitiful?

Now the real issue is the Stone. "As for the Stone, it has been destroyed," says Dumbledore (PS17) "...Nicolas and I have had a little chat, and agreed that it's all for the best." [I sense a slight patronizing tone in that sentence, no?] The next line is, in my opinion, the foreshadowing of the final showdown. Dumbledore says, "They have enough Elixir stored to set their affairs in order and then, yes, they will die."

I contend that Nicolas Flamel is not yet dead. I hardly believe that the Stone was destroyed, but the book says it was, so it was (that's canon!) But nowhere does it say that Flamel is dead. It clearly says that Flamel still has "enough Elixir stored" to continue living for an unspecified time -- enough time to "set their affairs in order..." [Editor's note: In April 2005, JKR said "Flamel has now died." We are assuming that she means 1996, between books 5 and 6 (JKR)]

Dumbledore's explanation: "...After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure. You know, the Stone was not such a wonderful thing. As much money and life and you could want! The two things most human beings would choose above all -- the trouble is, humans do have a knack of choosing precisely those things that are worst for them (PS17)."

So Dumbledore believes that Flamel's mind is still "well-organized" but seems to be somewhat relieved that Flamel has agreed to give up the ghost. By saying that the Stone was not such a wonderful thing, it seems to me that Dumbledore is saying that Flamel's use of the Stone was not a wonderful thing -- after all, the Stone could have been used to cure may ills, and pay many debts, and effectively change the wizarding world for the better. At least it would seem to have that potential; I suspect that JKR wants us to see it's not the Stone itself, but how one chooses to use the Stone that matters; very consistent with Dumbledore's "...It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities (CS18)."

I suspect that Dumbledore hasn't been impressed with Flamel's use of the Stone over the last 100 years (or however long Dumbledore has known of its existence); it may not have been used for evil purposes, but it doesn't seem to have been used for good purposes either. Apparently, all it does is make Flamel, and only Flamel, rich and immortal. Therefore, Dumbledore says, ..."humans (in my opinion implying Flamel) do have a knack of choosing precisely those things that are worst for them."

In conclusion, it is my opinion that we have not seen the last of Flamel. (Actually, we haven't seen Flamel at all - yet.) Flamel will "set his affairs in order" by choosing to participate somehow in the battle with Voldemort, thus redeeming himself in the eyes of Dumbledore and the wizarding world. And then he will choose to die. Or not. (Hey, I'm no J.K. Rowling, y'know!)
©2001 Brian Dorband, used with permission

WEB LINKhttp://www.alchemylab.com/flamel.htm

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