Rethinking Prometheus

by Alasdair Czyrnyj

Some thoughts and interpretations about a derided classic.
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I love Prometheus. I love it to death. If I had to pick a personal “best film of 2012”, I would be hard pressed to choose between Prometheus and The Master, but given how this essay is not about Joaquin Phoenix’s interpersonal skills, there’s no question which film has provoked the greater fascination with me. I’ve watched the film again and again, discussed it with other people, read countless interpretations, and I’ve agonized for months about if I should write this piece and how I should go about it. Hell, I’ve even abandoned the Internet to dig through old interview collections and scholarly works on the original Alien to understand more about the movie. That’s how much I love Prometheus.

Which makes the popular reaction to the movie all the more inexplicable to me.

To say that the reaction to Prometheus was “divisive” is to put it mildly. In the circles I traveled in, the movie was pilloried. The more charitable reviewers described it as “visually stunning, but thematically inconsistent.” The less charitable simply wrote the film off as “dumb”, as being filled with plot holes and characters who did stupid things solely to advance the plot, of not explaining anything that happened, of being about “answers” but just raising more questions. Fingers were pointed, mostly at writer and beloved punching-bag Damon Lindeof. Indeed, it has become commonplace to discuss the film as if it were a failure at everything it set out to do.

Suffice to say, I don’t believe this.

There are no plot holes in Prometheus. Every character acts reasonably, in ways that make sense to their personalities and to the themes of the movie. Much of the movie operates through image and metaphor rather than exposition; a choice of a word, a gesture, and set decoration speak with more efficiency than a page of dialogue. Certain questions are answered, but not the ones either the characters or audience expect. While the film does argue that some questions cannot be answered, it also takes the far more interesting tack of arguing that simply getting a question answered is not enough.

Now, this is an interpretive essay rather than a review, so I’m not going to provide a plot synopsis or character breakdown. I would recommend watching Prometheus before reading this in order to have a decent understanding of what I’m talking about. I’d also recommend seeing Alien, since that movie is wound deep into the core of Prometheus. While we’re at it, a viewing of both 2001: A Space Odyssey and Lawrence of Arabia would be advisable, since not only are they both stylistic and philosophical sources for Prometheus, they’re excellent movies to boot. (Seriously, though, if you’re stuck just find a synopsis on Wikipedia. It’s not good, but it’ll get you through.)

Less than Godly - Alien and the Aliens Franchise

Before I saw Prometheus back in June of 2012, I spent the week beforehand rewatching Alien and Aliens, the only two movies of the franchise I owned at the time. It had been a long while since I had seen either of the movies, so the experience was rather surprising. For Alien there was no problem. It’s a stone-cold classic of science fiction horror, and everything in it still holds up today.

But Aliens

But Aliens.

It’s not that it is a bad movie. In some ways it would be much easier if it was. Aliens is probably one of the best action movies of the 1980s. The set-pieces are technically and visually impressive. Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley has a clear character arc that drives the movie. The other characters are shallow, but they fit in well with the milieu of the film. There’s even quite a bit of allegory for the Vietnam War, with the uniforms and behavior of the colonial marines directly invoking the images of American servicemen from that conflict, and the different ways the marines and the xenomorphs interpret and use the environment of Hadley’s Hope are a reflection of the problems the Americans had adapting to asymmetric warfare. Aliens has everything you could want.

But despite all of this, Aliens feels like a lesser film to me. There’s a lot of stuff going on in the film, but it’s all presented very matter-of-fact. What you see is what you get. Everything has a reason. A character can be dropped into the story and by taking note of his surroundings can easily find his way to safety.

Alien is not like that. It is a film that operates more intuitively, within the realm of thought and dream, of awe and fear. It’s something that is established from the beginning of the film, with the camera floating like a Kubrickian specter through the corridors of the Nostromo. There are characters, of course, and great work was done in realizing them, but there is always a contrast between them and the events of the film. The universe of Alien is a mysterious place that operates far outside the confines of the human experience. The characters in the film do the best they can, but they are always out of their depth. From the first scene where they find the Engineer fossilized to his pilot’s chair, to the fumbling attempts by Dallas and Ash to remove an alien creature they know nothing about from Kane’s face, to finally come up with a plan to destroy the fully-grown alien, they are running to stay where they are, and it is only with luck that the creature is defeated in the end.

The creature itself is a good illustration of the difference in approach between Alien and Aliens. In Alien, the alien was a nightmare, an insectile-mechanical horror that interacted with the crew of the Nostromo primarily through sexual assault. It was canny; it could lure people into traps, patiently hunt, and work its way out of tight spots. It was biological, but its biology didn’t make any sense. It was even beautiful, which made it even more horrible. But in Aliens, the alien had given way to the “xenomorph,” a being which was…well, just a bug. A very interesting one to be sure; a species that not only mimics the Viet Cong by living in hives and by exploiting gaps in structures their American human opponents cannot see, but whose armored heads and carapaces visually identify them as the dark mirror to the marines themselves. But a bug all the same, a bug that flies out of the wall and dies with a three-second burst of machine-gun fire. By contrast, the alien stymied all attempts made on its life in the first movie, and Ripley was only able to drive it into space rather than end its life.

By themselves, this change in attitude between Ridley Scott and James Cameron would not have been a problem. They’re two different directors, after all, and every man is free to tell the story he wants to tell. However, after its release the film Aliens began to overshadow its predecessor. These days, if you were to ask someone to describe some features they could consider to be integral to the Alien “universe,” most of them would draw features from Aliens. The queen, the colonial marines, the kickass woman protagonist, Weyland-Yutani and its bioweapons research, all of that is from Aliens. Given the wealth of detail provided by the film, it was expected that a franchise and an “expanded universe” would grow up around the movie. However, the nature of Aliens made it rather unsuitable for expansion; a man can hold many different jobs in Star Trek and Star Wars; in Aliens there’s not much to do but shoot xenomorphs. Predators had to be imported to keep the universe vital. The next two films do little to shift this opinion. Alien3 had a troubled production history, but that does not excuse the problem that the film is little more than a rehash of Alien. Alien: Resurrection is a right hot mess, bouncing between comedy and melodrama, with a script that represents all of Joss Whedon’s worst impulses brought to the fore. Aliens Vs. Predator should never have been made, although its followup Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem is actually a much better film than people have accredited it. Still, in the end one cannot help but look at all that has come from Aliens and feel that a wrong turn was taken somewhere all those years ago.

What Is This Movie About?

Prometheus has terrible creatures and horrible events, but it is not solely a horror film. It has scientists exploring a distant world, and it discusses science, but it is not a hard science-fiction film. It discusses creation, but that is not the sole topic of the film. It talks about questions being answered, but it is not about the answers.

To understand Prometheus, it is necessary to understand that the movie is a fable. Nothing about it will make sense otherwise. Despite all the imagery of Golden Age science fiction, the world of Prometheus is not a materialistic realm of cause and effect. It is a dreamtime that operates according to the whims of irony and metaphor. Save two, the characters in the movie are not three-dimensional constructs with complex psychological backgrounds; they are archetypes, marionettes consigned to their fate by the dictates of theme. This juxtaposition of “rational” science-fiction and “irrational” myth is appropriate, for Prometheus is a fable about man’s quest for knowledge. Specifically, it is a fable about what motivates this search for answers, and what happens when the answers reveal something unpleasant.

To use a geekish analogy, Prometheus is to Alien what Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On Serious Earth is to Batman.

At the same time Prometheus is also an homage to and reconsideration of the original Alien. It’s certainly not an attack on its predecessor; if anything Prometheus breathes new life into the images of the first film. However, it has concerns of its own, and gleefully references and reimagines the first movie in ways to disorient the viewer. The entire film is built out of a sequence from Alien that was never filmed: the landing party's exploration of a alien tomb that would have occurred between the discovery of the Engineer's ship and Kane's infestation. Prometheus has an android and a pushy bureaucratic woman, but David and Vickers are not like Ash and Ripley. Prometheus is set on moon LV-426, whose name and identity as a habitable moon of a jovian planet evokes Alien’s LV-223. Alien’s bestiary of the egg, the facehugger, the chestburster, and the alien are all in Prometheus, translated respectively into the urn, the trilobite, the hammerpede, and the Deacon, creatures which fulfill similar functions but have a far different thematic purpose.

The intent of this essay is to explore some of the ways Prometheus operates as a fable and reinterprets the original Alien. Most of the focus will be on the characters, though there will be some discussion of certain visual and thematic elements of the film. I can’t claim complete originality on all of this essay; many of the interpretations below are a result of long hours of forum trawling sprinkled in with my own interpretations.

The Scientists - A Study in Hubris

The one complaint about Prometheus I have never been able to understand is that the scientists are “dumb”, that they act foolishly for no reason other than to serve the plot. This is in my opinion a profound misreading of the story. If five people each make a mistake that allows the hero to succeed, that’s contrivance. If five people make the same sort of mistake, then that’s theme, and that’s a far different animal.

On one level, the problems the scientists encounter are due to the fact that their whole expedition is a sham, a cover story designed to placate the media while Peter Weyland goes off looking for immortality. This isn’t something the movie tries to hide; there are plenty of clues that something is off with the mission. At the beginning of the movie, a line of text gives the crew complement of the Prometheus as seventeen, only a half-dozen of whom appear to be scientists. The ship has comfortable two-person cabins, a sizable athletic facility, and a spacious hangar deck, but the only laboratory space seen in the film hardly seems bigger than the medical bay of the Nostromo. The technology in Star Trek may be far more advanced, but even the Enterprise had a few dozen people to do lab work.

However, there is another reason why the scientists, indeed all the characters, act the way they do, and it can be summarized in one word: entitlement. Everyone has their own reasons for voyaging to LV-426. Holloway wants the Engineers to tell him the secrets of human existence. The biologist Milburn wants to make friends with them. Peter Weyland wants them to grant him personal immortality. David wants them to get rid of Weyland and take him with them. Vickers wants to run her father’s company. (The geologist Fifield is a special case; his dialogue suggests that all he desires is money and solitude, but his body modification and the robotic drones he carries suggests that he has a latent desire to transcend the merely human.) While there is perhaps nothing much wrong with these desires per se, the problem is that the characters of Prometheus not only wish for these gifts, they expect them to be given them for simply having arrived. The poster child for this attitude is Holloway, who rushes off to explore the tomb the instant the Prometheus touches down, dismissing Capt. Janek’s concerns by declaring “It’s Christmas; I wanna open my presents.” After finding the chamber with the massive stone head, he mopes, surrounded by artistic wonders, disappointed that his Engineers could not give him his reward.

Holloway eventually receives his reward, of course. But the reward he and the crew of the Prometheus receive is not the gold star they expected; it is instead the terrible irony only the divine can mete out. Poisoned by David, Holloway’s body disintegrates, bringing him closer to the lone Engineer from the prologue. Milburn tries to tame and befriend the hammerpede only to get a mouthful of alien cock monster for his trouble. Fifield gains his transcendence and returns to the Prometheus as a hulking monster with both the ability and desire to kill everyone on the ship. Weyland and David presume to talk to the Engineer as equals; they are beaten like dogs. They assumed they were the lords of creation, fit to walk with the gods. Naturally, it fell to the gods to remind them that this was not so.

Rather interestingly, science in Prometheus is depicted as another example of man’s hubris. At the beginning of the mission, Milburn condescendingly asks Shaw if she is willing to throw out “three hundred years of Darwinism” for the sake of her theory, refusing to entertain the possibility that, in the world of the film, the theory of evolution is indeed based on a flawed premise. The characters operate in a thoroughly scientific milieu and have rather little interest in anything outside that bubble. The expedition is filled with scientists, but there are precious few liberal arts majors. When they enter the head chamber, no one bothers to record the murals before they are destroyed, but everyone fusses over the decapitated Engineer head and the urn of black oil. However, once they get back to the lab, the limits of science are made depressingly clear. While operating on the head, they manage to desecrate the Engineer’s remains by detonating his head with an electrical probe. The climax of their research comes when they process the dead cells and discover a genetic match to humanity, a fact that, in the context of the film, means precisely nothing. Meanwhile, the Engineers make a mockery of science, with their species surviving for billions of years and their black oil, a substance that cannot be explained by human science, yet exists all the same. In Prometheus, science is but a small squidge on the sum total of the universe’s knowledge, and those who worship it blindly are lead down a dark path.

Shaw and David – Good Bad Pilgrims

However, there are two characters that survive the fate that befalls the crew of the Prometheus: the archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw, and the android David. They are the two best-developed characters in the film, and they certainly have a very complicated relationship. They are also interesting, for the path the two of them take leads them away from the narratives of hubris and punishment experienced by the other characters.

Initially, Shaw does not seem like a remarkable character. She follows the rest of the scientists in their ill-conceived attempts to dissect meaning out of the Engineers, and her declaration of “that’s what I choose to believe” makes her appear foolish and credulous. However, even in the first act there are some key differences. She is the only person on the ship that treats David like a person, and her attitude towards the Engineers is subtly different from Holloway’s. While he wants direct communion with them, Shaw is simply content to study their ruins and learn from them in her own backwards way.

David, by contrast, starts the film from a very different place. He is an android, but unlike Ash he is comfortable in his skin, and unlike Bishop he has a distinct personality of his own. His affection for Lawrence of Arabia is key to understanding him. Like Lawrence, David considers himself a man destined for bigger things, a superman who can move outside of the confines of society and accomplish great acts that will remake the world. Unfortunately, he is trapped under the thumb of a “father” who considers him a tinkertoy, a “sister” who loathes him as her male replacement, and is surrounded by men like Holloway who falsely believe themselves to be his better. However, armed with Lawrence’s mantra of “not minding that it hurts,” David is able to keep himself going, playing the English gentleman, ignoring the insults. However, while he plays the servant, he is not an obedient servant; he feels no particular loyalty or affection to the crew of the Prometheus. He follows Weyland’s orders, but he ignores the wishes of everyone else. In time, acting under another creative interpretation of Weyland’s orders, he experiments on them.

It is here that Shaw and David’s stories intersect. Her faith puzzles David; it is not something he is designed to grasp. As a result, her motivations don’t make much sense to him, leading to him studying her dreams in order to understand her world view. Her unexpected pregnancy provides an excellent opportunity for him. Poisoning Holloway was merely an ironic bit of revenge, giving a man who sought God but denied the humanity of others a little taste of godhood himself. However, Shaw provides David with a unique opportunity to test her faith.

For Shaw, the test is nigh-unendurable. She extracts the Trilobite from her womb (assuming, of course, the creature is not her womb itself, transformed and given unholy life), coming to the realization that the Engineers, the creators of humanity, also begat demons. She encounters Weyland, learning that her entire quest was organized solely to sate an old man’s vanity, and of the role David played in her suffering. Finally, brought to the pilot’s room, to the feet of a revived Engineer, she asks the Engineer, not in the sense of addressing an equal or out of any entitlement, but as a scared pilgrim who just wants some explanation for their suffering, “why do you hate us?”

And the Engineer…says nothing.

The silence of the Engineers is crucial. Throughout the entire run of Prometheus, not a single Engineer ever speaks. Not a single line of text is ever translated. The only one who can understand them is David, and he never stops to translate. Scenes shot of Engineers speaking were left out of the final film, making it fairly clear that this was an intentional stylistic choice. If the Engineers do not speak, it means that they are not bound to explain themselves to anyone. To them, their mysteries are for themselves alone.

Now, you could say this is the sort of deep terror that guys like H. P. Lovecraft have been trafficking in for decades, but Ridley Scott takes another tack. In Prometheus, there is actually nothing wrong with searching for answers. Problems only arise when you act as if you are the center of creation. While nothing is ever stated, this seems to be the realization Shaw makes at the end of the film. She still wants to know the answers, but she does not expect them to come on a plate. It could be called a mutation of her faith; the universe may be a dark, terrible place, but there is no need to hide in your burrow until your dying day. You may venture forth and learn, provided you step carefully. Even David, built and grown in an environment of cynicism, can be brought along, perhaps growing to understand in time. As endings go, it’s remarkably hopeful, and much different from Ripley’s returns to Earth.

Now, the interpretation I have outlined is a good starting point for understanding Prometheus. There is honestly so much going on in this movie that any aspect could be expanded and commented upon. For myself, I have a nice line of argument about how the class politics of Prometheus are an evolution of the class structure depicted in the earlier Alien films, one that depicts the class structure of the actual 2012 in a rather unflattering light while also speculating on their mortality. However, to keep in line with the interpretation I have offered for this film, I would like to close with a discussion of a certain phallic-headed creature.

There Is No God And The Trilobite Is Its Prophet

At the end of Prometheus, the final Engineer is attacked and impregnated by the Trilobite. In the film’s final moments, a great head digs its way out of the Engineer’s lifeless body, revealing the final creature: the Deacon. The Deacon resembles the classic Giger alien stripped of its biomechanical design, becoming an odd, ungainly, gawky little beast. The design elements are there, but they are cruder, almost like a first draft of the classic creature. Its appearance initially puzzled me; it seemed like a sop to longtime Alien fans, but why did it get the reveal at the end of the movie? After some thought and a consultation of the classics, a much darker interpretation presented itself.

The birth of the Deacon takes places at the end of the movie because it is not intended for the characters. It’s is a private tête-à-tête between Ridley Scott and the audience, in which he answers one of the questions that the audience “wanted” to know.

To understand the Deacon, we need to know its story. The events surrounding the birth of the Deacon take up the last half of the film. I have summarized them below, abstracting each major point in its life to the utmost:

- A husband and wife travel to a distant place.

- The wife finds herself with child, despite this event being impossible.

- The wife is then visited by an inhuman being that resembles a perfect human figure, who explains the miraculous nature of her child.

- The wife soon comes to term; however, as there are no adequate facilities for her, she must make do with whatever place she can find.

- Having delivered her child, the wife then flees the wrath of a vengeful monarch who (incorrectly) presumes himself to be the messiah. The husband departs from the narrative from this point.

- Finally, the child chooses to sacrifice his life so that he may ascend and unify with his true father, resulting in the creation of a trinity of the Engineer, the human, and the black oil...or the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

So, among other things, Prometheus is a blasphemous retelling of the life of Jesus Christ, with Shaw in the role of Mary, Holloway in the role of Joseph, David in the role of the Archangel Gabriel, Weyland in the robes of King Herod, and a land octopus with vagina dentata in the role of Jesus Christ. Taken on its own, the imagery is plenty horrific, but there is still something missing. To truly understand the Deacon, it is necessary to move to another tradition.

When considering the movie in the context of Greek mythology, two things become apparent. First of all, unlike the traditional alien, the Deacon is born fully grown from the body of the Engineer, a clear allusion to Athena's birth. However, rather than emerging from the Zeus' head, the center of the intellect, the Deacon is born from out of the Engineer's stomach, the source of appetite. Secondly, the Deacon is seen being born, not by punching through the breastbone mouth-first, but by digging its way out of the Engineer's body with its head, a great, crude structure that resembles a dull blade...or a beak. Looking at the Deacon itself, we see a body with a great beak-shaped head and spindly little limbs, like a baby bird. In the context of the Prometheus legend, the Deacon is identified with the eagle that tormented the titan, this time consuming his liver from within instead of without.

Seeing this ending, with the birth of an ersatz alien attended by so much religious allusion, it seems that the statement Prometheus is making about its universe is quite clear. In the world of Alien, at the end of the day, the only purpose of life is to eat and to fuck. Because they can perform both of these sacred tasks flawlessly, the alien is, quite literally, God. Since all life must perform both these tasks in order to sustain itself, all life is part “alien” to some degree or another. At the very least, its success can be judged by how closely it approaches the alien ideal. Intellect may exist, but there is nothing special about it. The aliens themselves have no revelation, no commandments, no language, and no eyes. Intellect is meaningless to them. And if anyone feels that this state of affairs is unjust, that they should challenge this...their punishment will be unending.

Now, this may be a rather extreme interpretation, but not one unsupported by the film. Truth be told, the question of the precise meaning of the Deacon may have to wait for a follow-up to Prometheus. Indeed, by the interpretation above it could be argued that both Shaw and David are aware of the implications of the Deacon, if not the creature itself, and have chosen to build something constructive from that knowledge rather than dwell on its implications.

I have to say, though, if I had to choose between nightmare figures, I would pick a blind primordial hate-god of life over a hutch of angry space termites any day.

Final Thoughts

There is some bitter irony in the fact that, in a world where the summer season is full of sequels and formula, a prequel that drastically reinterpreted its origin and took it in wildly different directions, that tried to break new ground, was greeted so poorly by the established fanbase. Still, in the grand scheme of things the initial response counts for very little. Blade Runner was hit with many of the same complaints Prometheus was (albeit Blade Runner was hampered by a poor studio cut), but time was kind to its reputation. It would not be unreasonable to expect the same for Prometheus.

I will say this, though; even after the first Alien, I didn’t really feel any desire to revisit that universe. As far as I was concerned, it began and ended with that movie.

With Prometheus…I can’t wait to see what happens next.
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Comments (go to latest)
A fascinating reevaluation of Prometheus. The way you worked the Deacon's birth back to the Prometheus legend… I dig. I'm still much more interested in the sequel, because of where it can go and because I couldn't square the archetypical characters with Shaw and David, but you've dug up some themes that I'm going to be chewing on for a while. You make me want to rewatch it, and I was pretty tepid about it.
Arthur B at 11:27 on 2013-08-13
Heh, I'm not convinced myself but I'm glad you've gone to the effort of putting the case, Al.

Every character acts reasonably, in ways that make sense to their personalities and to the themes of the movie.

I mean, take this bit for example, I just don't think we're ever going to agree on that. I have trouble reconciling Shaw's failure to even mention to anyone that she just gave birth to an octopus with her personality, for instance, and more generally I'd argue that character personality often took a back seat to the themes of the film.

That isn't necessarily a bad thing - it's often a requirement of allegory that people behave in a way which is thematically appropriate, even if it's not actually the way human beings typically behave. But on the other hand, that's kind of why a lot of old school allegories present their characters as blunt archetypes rather than trying to convince us that they're rounded individuals with actual personalities beyond "Everyman" or whatever it is they are meant to represent. (This sort of comes back to my point where I still think Prometheus would be genuinely improved if it were some sort of epic music video rather than a film with dialogue, not least because the attempts to make the dialogue sound like natural things real people might say to each other seems to be a hindrance a lot of the time.)

The queen, the colonial marines, the kickass woman protagonist, Weyland-Yutani and its bioweapons research, all of that is from Aliens.

[citation needed] - pretty sure Ripley was hailed as a kickass woman protagonist in the contemporary critical response to Alien. Likewise, I'm fairly sure the severed head of Bilbo Baggins more or less directly hints at the bioweapons research in Alien.

Not taking away from your point here - I agree that Aliens was both a very different beast from Alien and nigh-impossible to produce a satisfying sequel to - but I think a lot of it comes from Cameron latching onto certain specific things in Alien, cranking them up to 11, jettisoning the rest and adding colonial marines, a gun fetish, and throwing in a small child to replace the cat.

its followup Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem is actually a much better film than people have accredited it

Though it's lit so badly that even if it were a better film, nobody would ever know. (Seriously, I can't see a damn thing that's going on for half of that movie, though possibly on some releases they've amended that.)

In Prometheus, science is but a small squidge on the sum total of the universe’s knowledge, and those who worship it blindly are lead down a dark path.

I like this and I like your unpacking of how Shaw differs from the other scientists, though I like reading that more than I liked sitting through the film. (In particular, the movie seemed to throw in a lot of moments of movie-ness - like a particular character dying because she didn't think to run sideways - which seem to sit oddly with the sort of meditative rumination on approaches to science you're talking about here.)

I would submit, in fact, that of all the "scientists" in the film only Shaw is acting like a good scientist - as you point out, everyone else is going into this exploration with very fixed ideas about what they're going to find out and accomplish, and when you actually work as an IRL scientist one of the things your tutors work hard to train you to do (but an awful lot of people struggle with) is to let go and not impose your preconceptions on the outcome of your experiments. That doesn't mean you grope blindly and randomly - you select your work to test or prove or disprove something specific - but you can't let yourself get too down when the results aren't what you expect, and typically when the results aren't what you expect that's a good thing because it means you have something interesting to write about.

This does mean that the scientists still act dumb - or to be more specific, they act grossly unprofessionally. But I can see a reading where they're not actually meant to be scientists as in actual professionals who've had halfway decent training so much as they represent different people's attitudes towards science, which frequently fly in the face of science as she is actually practiced. But then again we're back in the space where the film is an allegory, which sits uncomfortably with the way the film wants us to believe that these characters are actual people with backstories and lives and everything rather than bipedal metaphors.

As a source of faith and hope and all that stuff science is rubbish and people who expect science to impart meaning to their life are destined for disappointment (or destined to become enthusiastic transhumanists, which is basically religion for people who want a bit of SF to justify their confidence that they're not going to cease existing when their body gives out). It's all downers and reminders of our cosmic insignificance from the second law of thermodynamics onwards.

Blade Runner was hit with many of the same complaints Prometheus was (albeit Blade Runner was hampered by a poor studio cut), but time was kind to its reputation. It would not be unreasonable to expect the same for Prometheus.

Time's been kind to subsequent cuts of Blade Runner, though, not - as you admit - the original theatrical release. I maintain that a music video version of Prometheus with almost all the dialogue missing and a lot of the action sequences cut or toned down would hit the mark much more convincingly, if indeed the film was aiming at what you propose it was aiming at.
Shim at 15:35 on 2013-08-13
So this was a really interesting counterpoint to those other folks on Prometheus. Probably even more so if only I'd actually seen any of the Alien films! But there we are. I have seen some stills, heard people talking about them and played Space Hulk, so I mean, that's practically the same, right?

One thing I do feel vaguely qualified to suggest: assuming for a minute that you're entirely spot on and this is a sort of symbolic, metaphorical story, it seems to me that while it may help with understanding Prometheus as a worthwhile film in its own right and as part of the Aliens mythos, it still leaves very strong grounds for complaint.

Because if you take a stylish but basically realistic film about non-allegorical characters (which is what Alien sounds to be) and then produce a sequel which is a deeply allegorical and philosophical work with heavy mythological references and structural parallels to the first work, to the point that characters act in accordance with allegorical requirements, literary themes and archetypal tropes rather than according to expected human behaviour, then that seems to me to be a vast enough departure from the original that presenting it as a sequel is wildly misleading. Even more so if the potential audience are allowed to assume that it will be more of the same (which they were, I mean, this article is the only symbolic reading I've heard of).

I mean, it's the equivalent of taking deeply symbolic original works, and then writing sequels (or adaptations) based entirely on the surface content of those works. I really wish I could remember some examples here, because I'm sure that's the kind of thing people rail against. But I'm terrible at examples.
Andy G at 15:56 on 2013-08-13
@Shimmin What about Hobbit/Lord of the Rings?
Arthur B at 16:21 on 2013-08-13
@Andy: I was going to say, Jackson's very, very reductive take on the books (culminating in Sauron basically being an angry lighthouse) sounds like exactly the sort of superficial take on deep source material Shim's talking about there.
James D at 21:55 on 2013-08-13
Because if you take a stylish but basically realistic film about non-allegorical characters (which is what Alien sounds to be) and then produce a sequel which is a deeply allegorical and philosophical work with heavy mythological references and structural parallels to the first work, to the point that characters act in accordance with allegorical requirements, literary themes and archetypal tropes rather than according to expected human behaviour, then that seems to me to be a vast enough departure from the original that presenting it as a sequel is wildly misleading.

In fairness, ever since the James Cameron sequel, vastly departing from the previous films in terms of tone, theme, and even genre is basically a staple of the Aliens franchise.
Andy G at 22:43 on 2013-08-13
@Arthur B: I'd actually meant a different comparison: I was thinking of the relation between The Hobbit (book) and The Lord of the Rings as a sequel as an interesting comparison with the relation between Alien and Prometheus as a prequel. Arguably, like Prometheus, LotR takes some of the surface content of the original work but beyond these superficial similarities is a radically different beast.
I thought the movie was terrible. It didn't have a straight story that made any sense and the allegory motif was similarly garbled. I only rate it highly because the sets and effects were lovely.

Sir Scott is interested in Alchemy. The film follows the path of Rosicrucian Alchemy. The reason for its thematic problems lie in its determination to adhere to the great work. That was one of the reasons why the Potter books and films were so off kilter too. When fiction meets a belief system that is iron clad in its rules...well things don't end well...for fiction.
Arthur B at 22:56 on 2013-08-15
The film follows the path of Rosicrucian Alchemy.

Can you unpack this a bit more or point us to a place which unpacks this? I've not heard this theory before.
Jules V.O. at 00:01 on 2013-08-16
It's an interesting interpretation, but is there any evidence that the film-makers were *trying* to make this bizarre multiple-mythology allegory, or is it just that the film is so incoherent on its surface layer that *only* an allegorical reading can make any sense of it?
@ Jules

Yes, I'm saying that only the Alchemical allegorical reading of Prometheus makes sense of the film. If you are not familiar with Alchemical symbolism, the story is garbled. This is because Scott did all his work on the symbology than changed the story to fit the framework. He had to do this because the steps in Alchemy absolutely cannot be changed.

@Arthur B

I'm the only one who will write about it and I've posted a lot of information on imdb.com but that has since disappeared. I should gather all that I've saved and put it on my little blog. But I've been too lazy.

In a nutshell. Prometheus is following the Rosicrucian alchemy symbolism as showcased in The Chemical Marriage of Christian Rosenkreuz and The Book of the Lambspring. The reasons why Scott is following this esoteric path is up for debate. I don't know why, but I do know it is a matter of proclaiming faith. He will NEVER discuss it because it is forbidden.

The film and its viral videos were released according to magical dates on the Alchemists calendar. As in lab Alchemy, the Visual Alchemist undertakes the steps at specific dates according to astrology.

The films will be in a trio to highlight each major step in the great work.

1 - Nigredo - Prometheus
2 - Albedo - Prometheus 2
3 - Rubedo - Prometheus 3

The Nigredo stage is the death stage. In which the stone is purified and separated from its impure elements. Alchemists used images of death (skulls, beheadings, the color Black, caves, worms, snakes, dragons, Black King, the death of the King).

The Albedo stage is the heart of the great work. It is the chemical marriage in which alchemists married the red man to the white woman. The couple represented elements that were used to create the stone. The images show a man and woman making love, dying, being buried together. Their souls, in the form of birds, rise and fall to denote each purification stage. Then they are reborn. Images associated with this stage are white roses, white lilies (check out the David viral video), the color white, perfume, clouds (watch the end of Prometheus), dew etc.

The final stage is Rubedo. Which is also called The Return of the King (yes, LOTR is an alchemical work). This is when the stone is born from the marriage of the red man and white woman. It is shown as a newborn child in the imagery.

Even though the films will represent each major step. These steps will be shown in all the films. Frequently, fantasy, horror and Sci Fi works will show these steps as deaths of major characters.

Nigredo death - Millburn
Albedo death - Charlie (the white fish creature in his eye is a symbol of the albedo)
Rubedo death - Fifield (it wasn't a mistake that he had red hair)

The death of the two kings in the film are important. Weyland represents old man Saturn. The Black King is the Captain, the black King is the foremost symbol of the death stage.

Another visual hint that this is an alchemical allegory is star map that David found. It represents the Harmony of the Spheres and can only be accessed by music by "perfect" beings.

Yes, David 8 is the major character of this work. His mate will be Elizabeth Shaw. David 8 was beheaded (symbol of the Nigredo) and Elizabeth gave birth of a failed stone (the Deacon).

The next film will be their Chemical Marriage.
Jules V.O. at 03:43 on 2013-08-16
@musings

I think you've misunderstood my question. I was wondering if you're aware of any statement of intent from anyone involved in making the movie that this particular allegory was intentional.
@Jules

My answer is in my post. No, Scott will never discuss it. Anyone involved in the production who is also an Alchemist will likewise never discuss it. The ones who don't know, it is just another film they worked on.

The film was created for people who know Alchemy. They will meditate on the alchemical structure and stage (Nigredo). For those who don't know, you get an obtuse science fiction film. If the intent of Scott & Co is not benign, it is meant to influence.

Why do I discuss it? I'm not an Alchemist. But, starting with the Harry Potter debacle, I was tuned into Alchemy and was intrigued by it. Especially since our popular culture is saturated by it. I wanted to know more so I wouldn't be ignorant in the face of something that was being pushed on me. I would like to do the same for other people.

Some other works that are alchemical.

Harry Potter series
Lord of the Rings
Gormenghast
The Matrix series
Reign of Fire
The Hunger Games series
Hitchcock's The Birds
Henson's The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth
Many of Shakespeare's plays
Mozart's The Magic Flute
Arthur B at 11:51 on 2013-08-16
I don't think it's a matter of an organised agenda being pushed on people so much as the process of people borrowing ideas from pre-existing media that they like which has been going on for about as long as people have been telling stories.

I mean, you're not the first person to suggest there's a Rosicrucian angle to Prometheus but it's a big leap from "Ridley Scott happens to use some symbolism which can be hammered into an alchemical context if you look at it from the right angle" to "Ridley Scott is one of the secret alchemists who have been infiltrating pop culture since Shakespearean times".
Jules V.O. at 12:41 on 2013-08-16
See, the thing is, Scott *has* discussed the film. He has a whole director's commentary track on the Blu-Ray. And he comes off ranty and incoherent, exactly as might be expected from someone who made a film that didn't make any sense. Tortured esoteric interpretations and conspiracy theories are just so much less plausible than 'incoherent man tells incoherent story.'
@Arthur

Alchemical ideas can't be borrowed or changed. If they are than that is blasphemy. Scott is quite serious about this proclamation of faith.

I think the guy who wrote that article you linked to writes as Taudarian on imdb. I've had a lot of discussions with him on the fallen angel angle. That is in the film. But it is primarily an Alchemical work.

As far as Alchemy being used since Shakespeare and even before that, it has. It is always there and I'm just pointing it out. Explore it or ignore it. But I am telling you that some alchemical works are benign and some want to influence the public to accept Divine Right. I'm not going to rant on illuminati and that junk. I don't know about any of that. But I do know Alchemy and it is used frequently on us or against us. It is up to the viewer/reader to make that decision.

One of my posts on imdb. I write there as kaskait. I used to write as kaskait on livejournal years ago.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1446714/board/thread/205201139?p=1

@Jules
Listen to Scott when he discusses David, the Star Map and music. He almost spills the beans. Scott is coherent for the people who know Alchemy. I know the story on the straight narrative level makes no damn sense. The only way I can make sense of it is to use the alchemical framework.

Here is another post of mine at imdb

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1446714/board/thread/210841158?p=1
Arthur B at 13:55 on 2013-08-16
Alchemical ideas can't be borrowed or changed. If they are than that is blasphemy. Scott is quite serious about this proclamation of faith.

But nothing stops people who don't actually believe in alchemy from borrowing ideas and motifs simply because they thought they looked cool.

Also, if Scott isn't meant to talk about alchemy, what's he doing making an hours-long proclamation of faith?
@Arthur

I'm not a believer. Your question about why Scott is making this proclamation is the same as asking why Muslims walk to Mecca or why Jewish people journey to see the wailing wall. Can I hypothesize? He is an older man who wants to leave proof of his belief before his time is done.

Here is an article at an alchemy site explaining the silence in relation to Newton's work.

http://www.alchemylab.com/isaac_newton.htm

Of course people who are not Alchemists use alchemy symbols. That is why it is hard to see the true alchemical works from the pastiche. It is also an indication of how strongly these symbols influence us.

Bryn at 14:22 on 2013-08-16
So I found Alasdair's reading interesting, but not entirely convincing. I find this alchemical account, especially as stated as the 'right' way to read the film intended by Scott, rather a bit less convincing :P

You say
The reasons why Scott is following this esoteric path is up for debate. I don't know why, but I do know it is a matter of proclaiming faith

Do you 'know' this purely on the basis of your interpretation of the film? It seems quite likely that a number of the elements you flag as 'alchemical' would very frequently occur in a text not created with an alchemical interpretation in mind.

What would you need to observe for you to reject the hypothesis that a text is 'alchemical'?

That is, it seems the alchemical writing you cite has a lot of content that can be loosely fitted to a work, but that it would be very easy to get a false-positive pattern. We are very good at finding patterns even in random data which has no such pattern (look at 'bible codes' and the like), and finding 'evidence' that isn't really a test of your hypothesis.

Of course, that doesn't matter if you're just looking for an interesting way to read the text to discuss it and so on. All sorts of readings can be considered for fun! If you're proposing a matter of fact - that the 'alchemical' reading was the creators' intended message, that the film was constructed to have an 'alchemical' influence - you need to have some way to actually test the hypothesis: I guess this would be patterns or elements that would be very unlikely to occur in non-'alchemical' media and likely to occur in 'alchemical' media (or vice versa).

I guess another question would be if there are any media that look sort of 'alchemical' at first glance, but that you do not consider 'alchemical' - and given such media, how you were able to distinguish this from the media you consider 'alchemical'.

Also, as Arthur says, how can you distinguish someone merely appropriating alchemical symbols because they consider them cool and one of these secret alchemists attempting to influence the world?

I also kind of feel that if you want to
influence the public to accept Divine Right

there are better ways to achieve it than to make a fairly unpopular science fiction film with a lot of symbolism that won't ever be understood by 'the public' you're trying to influence.
@Bryn

I'm merely posting what I see Scott is doing on the symbology level. You can accept it or deny it.

The steps are adhered to too closely for it to be a false positive. But again, ignore it. But know this, the films will continue to baffle you because they are not made for you.

False positives are everywhere. Dragons, wizards (really alchemists), griffons, basilisks, unicorns and other symbols are frequently used without adhering to alchemical steps. Believe me, once you know the framework it is pretty easy to spot who and who is not using it.

Divine Right? Why bash it over the public's head? Especially a public who most rejoiced when a French Queen lost her head. And so many royals still left to be beheaded? No, better to use subconscious symbology. Alchemical symbolism that pushes divine right frequently uses a hero/heroine who are portrayed as elite or better than everyone else. They deserve to rule.

Harry Potter pushes a divine right angle.
The Hunger Games does not push divine right. Its heroine Katniss Everdeen refuses to be a Queen symbol.
Jules V.O. at 14:40 on 2013-08-16
@musings

Please read this carefully. What you are posting here is insanity. I don't mean that it is absurdist or that I disagree, I mean insane like hallucinating secret messages hidden in long texts. And then adding that these messages have been placed by a centuries-old conspiracy for the purposes of manipulating human behavior. That is a *very high* level of paranoid thought, and an actual serious symptom, and you should see a medical professional about it. I am not kidding. Make an appointment *today.*
@Jules

Where am I ranting or hallucinating? I'm merely attempting to explain the framework in which Scott created Prometheus. And he will continue to do so when he makes the last 2 films.

If you want to see paranoid crazed ranting then read the website that Arthur linked to. It has numerous paranoid posts about illuminati and such. I stay away from that because that in itself is a false positive.

Alchemy is in the film as it is in numerous other films from Hollywood. You can go on and ignore it. It makes no difference. But I will continue to address people who want to know more. Because I want to know more and be aware of this symbology when it is used in popular culture.
Arthur B at 15:05 on 2013-08-16
False positives are everywhere. Dragons, wizards (really alchemists), griffons, basilisks, unicorns and other symbols are frequently used without adhering to alchemical steps. Believe me, once you know the framework it is pretty easy to spot who and who is not using it.

But this is true of any arbitrary framework for the use of powerful symbols; the Dungeons & Dragons monster manual assigns moral outlooks and abilities to different colours of dragon, but that doesn't mean that every single subsequent story that has emerged that features an evil red dragon that breathes fire is an advertisement for D&D.

With respect to heroic narratives, I agree that heroes can be problematic, on the other hand I think major Hollywood movie series tend to include prominent heroes because people tend to relate more easily to stories with one or two central figures rather than larger, sprawling casts, especially when those stories need to be told in the space of a couple of hours. It's not that Hollywood wants the public to cheer for heroes, it's because Hollywood believes the public expects heroes and is all about going for as broad appeal as it can get.
@Arthur
I used to have pictures of Dragons and Unicorns all over the place as a kid. And I would draw them as well. I know of plenty of kids who did the same. We weren't cultists nor where the people who made them. But we were part of the public who were unaware of the original symbology. The symbols are used plenty of times divorced from their original intent. But for people who do believe in the concepts behind the imagery, it is insulting.

Yes, the hero narrative can be problematic. But there are plenty of books and films out there that don't push an elite concept on their hero/heroine. The reason why I named the Hunger Games as one was because its heroine is not from the elite of her district, she is only special because she worked at her "art" (archery) and she refuses to be cast as goddess/queen. However we did see the Queen concept at work because the people in charge used Katniss to influence the public. And she shot that down...literally.

Harry Potter does push the elitist form of the hero narrative. Harry Potter is born of the elite in the wizarding world. The wizards are also a hidden elite controlling regular humans. Harry Potter has special powers no one else has. He is used as a King symbol and even though he makes comments that he refuses that role he doesn't take action against it (like Katniss). He is also allowed to commit torture and attempted manslaughter without consequences. Pair this with a magical, religious symbology such as Alchemy and it becomes rancid.
Arthur B at 15:24 on 2013-08-16
Pair this with a magical, religious symbology such as Alchemy and it becomes rancid.

Isn't it rancid regardless of whether alchemy's in the equation?
"Isn't it rancid regardless of whether alchemy's in the equation?"

Of course it is. But paired with religious, mystical symbology we have all been immersed in our entire lives, it looks "right and justified". You don't know how many times I've had arguments about Harry Potter almost killing Draco was not wrong with people. So many it scares me.

That leads us back to Prometheus and David 8.

Prior to Prometheus, Scott's films had an anti-elite theme. I'm not sure if this is the case in Prometheus. David 8 means perfection both in name and number. He is an elite hero. Scott may eventually humble David 8 if he is not following the elitist path. It all depends upon how David's murder of Charlie is handled. Already I've argued with people that say David was not responsible for the murder. That sets my alarm bells ringing. And since Alchemy is being used, my alarm bells are ringing even more.
Arthur B at 15:37 on 2013-08-16
But paired with religious, mystical symbology we have all been immersed in our entire lives, it looks "right and justified". You don't know how many times I've had arguments about Harry Potter almost killing Draco was not wrong with people. So many it scares me.

Well, here's our basic disagreement: you're inclined to blame a particular symbolic system that most people aren't aware of and don't study (so how are they supposed to know what the symbols mean?), I'm more inclined to blame more general cultural trends and attitudes and prejudices.

"Bad guys are bad and good guys are good so if someone who we've been told is a good guy kills a bad guy that must be good" is a fairly easy idea to get across to people when you present it in sufficient stories. This alchemical stuff seems less so. After all, if the alchemical symbols really did exert that much force on us, we wouldn't all be complaining that Prometheus is incomprehensible, would we?
Frequently alchemy symbols are used in conjunction with christian symbology. Obviously, Tolkein was not a cultist and he used the Alchemy framework in his Lord of the Rings books.

True the public does not recognize Alchemy but it does see the Christ symbolism. And when the story showcases a Christ figure doing heinous things. That gives the wrong message. The fact that most people think nothing of Harry Potter's use of torture or that David 8 murdered someone, is dangerous.

On Scott's commentary track of Prometheus he made a comment stating that he was happy regarding the film and he didn't care if no one liked it. That indicates to me that he is happy with how the story works on the hidden symbology level and doesn't really care how garbled the straight story turned out. The film is Scott's personal pet project and made for people like himself who know the Alchemical steps. Everyone else is just along for the ride.
Jules V.O. at 16:11 on 2013-08-16
Where am I ranting or hallucinating?


You are claiming to know what and how strongly a person believes something while also admitting you have no quotes from that person to inform that knowledge; literally all you have is an esoteric reading of a single piece of art that the person was one of many contributors to. I don't know if you actually believe you hear Ridley Scott's thoughts, but either way, that is hallucinatory knowledge.

As for the ranting, *everything you have said is a rant.* Seriously: the Deacon is Athena, except it has a beak so it is also the eagle of divine punishment? Not only is that gibberish, it is also a non sequitur, because unless there is some further context for the unification of those two very different myth roles, you are just making schizophrenic logic connections.

Your conspiracy theory of Rosicrucian Alchemist secret masters manipulating the world with subliminal messages is not meaningfully distinct from the Illuminati conspiracy theory in terms of how paranoid they are.

I am really worried about you. I understand that everything you have written here makes sense to you, but you really should talk to a doctor about this as soon as possible.
Why are you trying to shut down the conversation Jules?

I never claimed the Deacon was Athena. You did.
I don't claim to read Scott's thoughts. You said I do.
I didn't claim that alchemists were ruling the world. You did.

All I say is that there are many films with this specific imagery (alchemy), sometimes with specific intent(divine right). I started studying this imagery because of my involvement with the Harry Potter fandom way back when who used to discuss the use of Alchemy in the HP series. It was only after that, that I noticed Harry Potter was not an isolated use of the imagery.
Arthur B at 16:27 on 2013-08-16
Frequently alchemy symbols are used in conjunction with christian symbology.

Given that historically a fair number of European alchemists were Christian and deliberately adapted their symbology for the purpose of making it adhere to and/or teach Christian theology, are you sure this isn't just Christian symbolism which you can hammer into an alchemical framework easily because a lot of European alchemical systems are designed to have Christian symbolism slotted into them?
@Arthur

The visual symbols were once used to denote steps in the system as used in Laboratory Alchemy. If the alchemists couldn't discuss their work, they could draw it and allow other people who practice to see it as well.

Of course, since many of the practicing alchemists were Christian, they used christian symbols for the steps. Alchemy is/was also practiced in the Middle East. I've seen examples of middle eastern alchemy which uses an islamic symbology in the framework.

But since Christianity was predominant in the West, the Christian based Alchemy is what we are more familiar with.

Now why use Christian symbols? I've read all kinds of reasons. One, the Alchemists didn't want to be labeled heretics, so they used the Christian symbols to hide their work. Some Alchemists saw equivalents between Alchemy and their Christian faith so they merged the two. Alchemy itself is considered a kind of meditation, a path to self-enlightenment like Buddhism. It doesn't favor any particular religion but lends itself to various religious symbology.
Arthur B at 16:51 on 2013-08-16
OK.

I honestly don't think closet alchemists are as widespread as you suggest, but I am reassured that you do not in fact that think they are a hostile power bent on world domination, but just slightly crass authors who get pushy with their messages (just like every other author out there).
Jules V.O. at 16:53 on 2013-08-16
I'm not trying to shut down the conversation, I'm trying to get you to see a doctor. My motivation is concern for your wellbeing.

I never claimed the Deacon was Athena. You did.

Uh huh.

the Deacon is born fully grown from the body of the Engineer, a clear allusion to Athena's birth.

So... do you not remember writing that?

I don't claim to read Scott's thoughts.

No, but you do repeatedly claim to know what his thoughts on this matter *are* despite also claiming that he has never *said* any of them out loud and never will.

Sir Scott is interested in Alchemy.

How do you know this?

Scott is quite serious about this proclamation of faith.

How do you know this?

The reasons why Scott is following this esoteric path is up for debate. I don't know why, but I do know it is a matter of proclaiming faith. He will NEVER discuss it because it is forbidden.

How do you know this?
@Arthur

Yes, that is my point.

What I would like is for this symbology to be demystified and allow the public to make their own decisions on it. There should be discussions on why many current filmmakers feel the need to use this symbology and the nature of their intent. The public should be empowered to accept the message or reject it.
Arthur B at 17:05 on 2013-08-16
the Deacon is born fully grown from the body of the Engineer, a clear allusion to Athena's birth.

So... do you not remember writing that?

Musing didn't write that, Al did. I am reasonably sure Musing isn't Al sockpuppeting (as in technically speaking it could be possible to do more checks if we got Rami in to look at it but I'm satisfied based on what's in front of me as an editor that they are different people).
Arthur B at 17:05 on 2013-08-16
The public should be empowered to accept the message or reject it.

But if the public don't understand the message, then they can't be forced to accept it, can they?
That is true.

But since it is being mixed with various religious symbolism that people do recognize, it can influence. Depending on the intent of the creators of that film or book. Everyone should have the tools in hand to accept or reject the message. The same as we have the power to either read the Narnia series as a Christian fable or as just a Fantasy.
Arthur B at 19:13 on 2013-08-16
But if you don't give the people the tools then people still have a choice - they can do their own research and dig deeper, and make a decision based on that, or they can decide that they don't care enough to invest that time and thereby ignore it.

Again, if you need to have secret knowledge to access a covert meaning of a message, then the covert meaning of that message is going to just go over your head and what influence the work has on you will depend on your reaction on the parts you do understand. If Harry Potter really does have the message of "Harry is a hero, also divine right of kings is awesome" (note: I don't think it does), then if someone only sees "Harry is a hero" and comes away thinking "Harry is a hero" that doesn't mean they've accepted "also the divine right of kings is awesome" because they've completely missed that angle.

A signal that isn't received doesn't influence, any more than white noise influences.
But Arthur the audience does accept divine right in relation to Harry Potter. No one ever questioned (accept astute readers) why Harry was so special that he was given a pass to torture. Because everything he did was divinely ordained (all that christian and alchemical symbolism) and that calmed whatever qualms they had. Believe me when I tell you the majority of the public has no problem with Harry using the unforgiveable torture curse.

So its there, ever present and ever influential.

That is why I write. I tell people the symbols that I see and it is up to whoever I tell to investigate further or reject it. Many people chose to ignore it. But there are plenty out there who start their own reading on the internet and libraries to know about this symbolism.
Arthur B at 19:36 on 2013-08-16
I think I'm going to let it lie there.
http://johnmsawyer.livejournal.com/ at 12:48 on 2013-08-30
The "Aliens" franchise has always had a parallel theme: that it's not really about aliens. This was made more explicit with "Prometheus", complete with its emphasis that the Creators's DNA is, as is said in the film, "a 100% match with human DNA". By extrapolation, humans are also kin with the products of the Creators' DNA science.
Robinson L at 20:00 on 2013-12-21
I'm in the slightly peculiar situation of not having seen Alien, let alone any of the other films in the series. I have sort of seen a fair bit of Prometheus though - a guy in front of me was watching it on the plane to London last year. So I didn't get any audio, or watch all of it, but I did catch a lot, including the ridiculous "running away from the rolling space ship as if you were only capable of moving in one dimension" scene, which was exactly as ridiculous as I'd imagined.

Beyond that, it looked and sounds like your standard "bunch of people get picked off one-by-one by some sort of monster" movie; which generally isn't my beverage of choice.

However, as usual I quite enjoyed the article, and I'd be really interested to hear more about this:

I have a nice line of argument about how the class politics of Prometheus are an evolution of the class structure depicted in the earlier Alien films, one that depicts the class structure of the actual 2012 in a rather unflattering light while also speculating on their mortality.


I also enjoyed the discussion of alchemy above, but it leaves me with some questions.

musingsandscribblings: some alchemical works are benign and some want to influence the public to accept Divine Right.

Do you have any idea why? Because with the exception of Tolkien, I have a really hard time imagining any contemporary author/filmmaker having a vested interest in pushing Divine Right. In an age where monarchism as a political platform is deader than the dodo, what would that accomplish?

Also, out of curiosity, what kinds of messages do benign alchemical works push, anyway?

(If Lord of the Rings is an alchemical work, then either Tolkien was a shit alchemist, or subliminal influence via alchemy in general is kind of a washout. I've been a humongous fan of Tolkien's stuff ever since I was a nipper, and I'm about as far from accepting Divine Right as you could possibly get.)

No one ever questioned (accept astute readers) why Harry was so special that he was given a pass to torture. Because everything he did was divinely ordained (all that christian and alchemical symbolism) and that calmed whatever qualms they had.

I'm still not convinced that the Christian and alchemical symbology is what causes people to accept his behavior unquestioningly, as opposed to any of probably dozens other harmful cultural messages we have floating around. So reaching back a bit:

You don't know how many times I've had arguments about Harry Potter almost killing Draco was not wrong with people. So many it scares me.

I suppose a way to test whether this is, in fact, due to the Christian/alchemical symbology is to ask whether you've had comparable arguments over characters' actions in stories which clearly weren't structured alchemically?. Personally, I can remember more than one argument concerning the legitimacy of Mal from Firefly kicking a helpless prisoner into an engine intake; would that be a counterexample? I'm curious to learn a bit more of your thoughts on this matter.
Hi Robinson.

In regards to Divine Right, most alchemical works that support it were created by artists who have royal patronage. Shakespeare was very careful to support the Crown. Scott is a Knight. And some I've debated with on IMDB suggested that Scott's interest in Alchemy seems to stem from the time he was knighted or going through the vetting process.

I will say that the intention of Alchemy itself is not to support elitism. It is just that the images used to illustrate its concepts (Kings and Queens) can be twisted to suit the intentions of the practitioner.

Tolkein's work is really religious at heart. His work was an allegory based on the crucifixion and ascension. Again Alchemy can lend itself to the intentions of the user. In Tolkein's case he used it to proclaim his faith in Catholicism.

JK Rowling's work is a confused mess in regards to faith and Alchemy. Is she Calvinist? Anglican? What? Her usage of the Alchemical steps are just as garbled as her faith. The end result is that it ultimately supports elitism whether that was her intention or not.

The main difference between Tolkein and Rowling is that Tolkein is coming from a strong belief in Catholicism. His Christ figures (Frodo, Aragorn) failings are more in the line of confusion and doubt in their abilities. But they NEVER torture, which Rowling's Christ figure did (Harry) and was congratulated on it.

How does Alchemy influence us? Well, we are all steeped in it from birth. It is a part of our major children's stories. We immediately recognize the symbols (even if we do not know the true meanings). We all have a strong knowledge on how Alchemical stories should begin and end. If the creator of the work is benign (as in only interested in Self Enlightenment) there is no bad associated with it. Hitchcock's The Birds and Henson's Labyrinth seem to be in that group. In the case of Lewis and Tolkein, they were proselytizing their religion. Are you okay with that? Especially since it is not to your knowledge and you are not Catholic? The elitists use the images to support Divine Right. That the King and Queen (the elites) are natural, powerful, and ordained by higher power to rule over the rest of us. This is what some paranoid writers around the internet call the Illuminati agenda or the Bilderberg group. Whatever the case, I find it interesting that Hollywood and entertainment people for hundreds of years, feel the need to fill our entertainment with this belief system. Why? So when I see it being used, I take a step back, evaluate the work and the lifestyle of the creator.

I'm sorry I can't debate Firefly. I never watched it. Once you are familiar with the Alchemical steps, it is pretty easy to pick out the stories that use it against the ones that don't. Of recent years, I can't think of a sci-fi film or fantasy film that doesn't use the steps. Non-genre films are still relatively free from that framework. But we can't compare The Hunger Games to The Wolf of Wall Street.
Daniel F at 03:51 on 2013-12-23
Cue rambling about Tolkien!

Robinson:
(If Lord of the Rings is an alchemical work, then either Tolkien was a shit alchemist, or subliminal influence via alchemy in general is kind of a washout. I've been a humongous fan of Tolkien's stuff ever since I was a nipper, and I'm about as far from accepting Divine Right as you could possibly get.)


I'm not sure divine right is the best way to talk about the politics of Lord of the Rings anyway. The political framework of most of Tolkien's works, it seems to me, is a sort of benign patriarchy, which is normally expressed through either tribal chieftainship or monarchy. My feeling is that in Tolkien's world, monarchy shades into a more general concept of familial rule.

It's tricky because Lord of the Rings is such a superficially secular work which is nonetheless shot through from top to bottom with Catholicism. In that book there are really no visible gods, priests, churches or temples, etc., so the religious element comes through in terms of values and themes rather than any institutions in the secondary world. I think the Valar are mentioned a few times in LotR, but that's about it. It's very odd to talk about divine right in a setting where ideas of divinity and legitimacy are so conspicuously absent. Aragorn's right to the throne of Gondor is asserted in terms of his bloodline and is confirmed by his deeds.

Musings:
Tolkein's work is really religious at heart. His work was an allegory based on the crucifixion and ascension. Again Alchemy can lend itself to the intentions of the user. In Tolkein's case he used it to proclaim his faith in Catholicism.


I can't help but think this is an oversimplification. Even leaving aside that I have no clue where you're coming from with Alchemy (it sounds like textbook eisegesis to me, really), I think there is more going on with Lord of the Rings than Catholicism. Certainly it's affected by Tolkien's faith, but surely Tolkien's life-long interest in Anglo-Saxon and Germanic mythology has bled through? Looking at the cosmology of Arda is instructive. I don't think Tolkien ever quite worked out how to combine Catholic faith with the pagan epic. He does his level best, but when he tries to introduce explicit Christian or Catholic ideas, it's incredibly kludgy. (The Athrabeth and the Old Hope spring to mind.)

I understand a temptation to see Frodo as a suffering servant, but it seems to me that you've overstated the Christ parallels. They both undergo symbolic deaths and I see other comparisons (dead of Dunharrow, Harrowing of Hell, how subtle!), but I'm also inclined to view them as examples of the decidedly non-Christian journey to the underworld. I see the Christian influences, but calling LotR an allegory of the Crucifixion and Resurrection just doesn't seem accurate to me.

Once you are familiar with the Alchemical steps, it is pretty easy to pick out the stories that use it against the ones that don't. Of recent years, I can't think of a sci-fi film or fantasy film that doesn't use the steps. Non-genre films are still relatively free from that framework.


It might help if you could explain or link to an explanation of this framework. It's rather difficult for me to see what pattern you mean; and for that matter, to see how some rather esoteric magical doctrines from centuries in the past attained such dominance over genre fiction. Alchemy isn't something like Christianity, which you might reasonably expect to have shaped the narrative traditions of an entire culture. My understanding is that alchemy was practiced more like a mystery cult. How do you think it reached the level of cultural power - to the point where so many authors unconsciously rely on its tropes - given its esoteric nature?
Arthur B at 04:15 on 2013-12-23
I think the Valar are mentioned a few times in LotR, but that's about it. It's very odd to talk about divine right in a setting where ideas of divinity and legitimacy are so conspicuously absent. Aragorn's right to the throne of Gondor is asserted in terms of his bloodline and is confirmed by his deeds.

Yeah, I think if you take the Silmarillion into account then the idea of kingship as a sacred and at least partly religious thing in Middle Earth becomes somewhat more supportable, though I think it reads more as a divine responsibility of kings as opposed to divine right - in the sense that you lose legitimate kingship if you end up flying in the face of what the Valar want for the world (see what happens to the kings of Numenor, for instance). Which works in a world where the existence of deities doesn't really seem to be in doubt and divergent religious views don't seem to exist, but obviously tends to devolve into something reminiscent of the divine right of kings in the real world where, especially when it's the king deciding what the will of God/the Valar demands and you don't have actual angels to consult to get a second opinion.
@Daniel F

I am an atheist but I was raised a Catholic. It is hard for me to ignore the Catholicism that holds both works (LOTR and Narnia) together. It is like trying to ignore a wart on your nose when you look into the mirror. I read once that the reason why the pagan symbols are not a problem in both works was because Catholicism was shown to be preeminent over the old religions and triumphs over them.

Divine right in regards to these works is tricky. Mainly because the authors were Catholic in an Anglican country. To get into a sticky mess about who should rule gets into religious warfare area. So they sidestepped the issue. I don't look at their works as elitist but as religious.

To see Alchemy cut away from the religious angle, you can read Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series and Peake's Gormanghast series. Peake, in particular, was very clever not to set his universe in a European aristocracy based fantasy. The Groan royals are more akin to Chinese royals with their strict adherence to celestial calendars. Watch the Gormanghast TV series along with Curse of the Golden Flower, and you'll see the similarities. Through that lens, Peake was able to show the royal family as an inbred cancer on the commonwealth.

To learn more about Alchemy in general, I would suggest these books.

Lyndy Abraham's A dictionary of Alchemical Imagery (Explains all majory alchemical/"Fantasy" imagery
Alexander Roob's Alchemy and Mysticism (Another book that explains art symbolism)
Brian Cotnoir's The Weiser Concise Guide to Alchemy(this is laboratory Alchemy. But it will explain why Alchemists follow Astrology Calendars)
Dennis Hauck's The Complete Idiot's Guide to Alchemy (The title is funny but it explains the symbolical steps in a complete fashion)

This website is valuable.
http://www.levity.com/alchemy/
Although slogging through it can be time consuming.
I have a correction.

C.S. Lewis was an Anglican. But he wrote about theological concepts that were closer to Catholicism.

His children's books were very accepted in the parochial schools I attended even if he wasn't Catholic. Interesting.
Daniel F at 02:53 on 2013-12-24
Arthur:
Yeah, I think if you take the Silmarillion into account then the idea of kingship as a sacred and at least partly religious thing in Middle Earth becomes somewhat more supportable, though I think it reads more as a divine responsibility of kings as opposed to divine right - in the sense that you lose legitimate kingship if you end up flying in the face of what the Valar want for the world (see what happens to the kings of Numenor, for instance).


I think in the Silmarillion the Valar are a little more fallible than that, though I'd broadly agree with you. Even the Valar at times need to surrender their own desires to that of Iluvatar. You could probably make an argument that the primary moral value in Tolkien's works is the ability to set aside your ego and obey. Tolkien has multiple tiers of obedience up: children to parents, people to kings or chieftains, kings to the gods, the gods to God.

That's all well and good in the Silmarillion, where acts of rebellion seem to consistently make the world worse and acts of obedience strangely work out, but in the real world it's definitely more problematic.

Musings:
I am an atheist but I was raised a Catholic. It is hard for me to ignore the Catholicism that holds both works (LOTR and Narnia) together. It is like trying to ignore a wart on your nose when you look into the mirror.


Well, I'm not a Catholic either, but I am at least Christian and that probably makes it easier for me to engage with Tolkien or Lewis on a sympathetic basis. It helps that Lewis is Anglican and the strongest distinctively Catholic element of Tolkien's fiction, it seems to me, is a repeated image of a Fall. (Not that Protestants or Orthodox don't have a Fall, but we seem to emphasise it less.) Tolkien certainly isn't a Walter M. Miller or a Graham Greene (though he might be a bit of a Chesterton). Normally the warning bells for overt Catholicism for me are some sort of ecclesiology or the use of Marian imagery, and Tolkien stays a fair distance from those.

Anyway. I can easily imagine that Tolkien's fiction would read differently to someone who doesn't share any of his presuppositions. I think he doesn't mind the pagan symbols in part, though, because the literary/cultural stream Tolkien was part of was pretty obsessed with 'Northern' mythology and with fairy-tales. It's something he shares with Lewis and which again shows the strong influence from Chesterton. The tendency is to take fables and fairy-tales as in some sense prefiguring Christianity. Pagan fairy-tales represent a human yearning for escape, joy, immortality, the divine, etc.; a yearning that is ultimately consummated in Christ. I don't know if you've read On Fairy-Stories, but Tolkien sketches some of this out at the end.

I'm not sure that perspective quite works, but it informs my understanding of Tolkien's writing. The Athrabeth implies that the entire Silmarillion is a sort of cosmic prelude to the Incarnation, which would track with the way that Lewis and Tolkien understood pagan myth.

To see Alchemy cut away from the religious angle, you can read Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series and Peake's Gormanghast series. Peake, in particular, was very clever not to set his universe in a European aristocracy based fantasy


I've been meaning to read Gormenghast for a fair while. I might bump it up the reading list. As for HDS... already read, didn't much enjoy.

To learn more about Alchemy in general, I would suggest these books.


I was hoping more for some context for your previous claims about alchemy in Prometheus, LotR, Potter, etc.?
Arthur B at 03:05 on 2013-12-24
I think in the Silmarillion the Valar are a little more fallible than that, though I'd broadly agree with you. Even the Valar at times need to surrender their own desires to that of Iluvatar. You could probably make an argument that the primary moral value in Tolkien's works is the ability to set aside your ego and obey. Tolkien has multiple tiers of obedience up: children to parents, people to kings or chieftains, kings to the gods, the gods to God.

Pretty much; of course I was using "the Valar" as shorthand for "all the Valar except Morgoth", since by my recollection Morgoth is the only one who manages a sustained rebellion against Iluvatar. (There's that one dude who bakes some dwarfs and then Iluvatar shows up and is like "What the fuck is this?" and the Valar in question is like "Sorry Dad, here, I'll exterminate them" and Iluvatar is like "No, no, wait up, I can use these," but that's explicitly a case where repentance of rebellion resulted in forgiveness.)
@Daniel
"I was hoping more for some context for your previous claims about alchemy in Prometheus, LotR, Potter, etc.?"

This would require me to speculate on why these writers want to include alchemy in their works. It is the same as trying to explain why Tolkein is a Catholic.

I've given a few reasons, some are elitist, some are spiritual, some think it is a spell to make gold (Money). So many reasons. All I have to go on is what I see in the books and films. What makes it even more difficult is that true believers in this mysticism are prohibited from speaking about Alchemy. They believe they are creating the stone and it must be done in silence or it breaks the spell/prayer.

In order to see the Alchemy structure, you need to know the structure and the art symbols associated with each step. The links and books I've cited will help you. Once you know it, it is easier to pick out the works that do and don't have it.

One easy way to pinpoint the structure, the main hero or heroine is always an orphan. They have experienced fire (a symbol indicating the first firing or purification of the philosopher's stone material) or cleansed by water. Examples in the corny Bale film "Reign of Fire", the main character is an orphan whose mother sacrificed herself for him. He experienced fire and was marked by it. I'm sure you know enough of Harry Potter to see the same symbols. In Hitchcock's The Birds, the heroine is orphaned through abandonment by her mother. Although there is no fire, she crosses water to get to Mitch's home (same example in Harry Potter when the children first visit Hogwarts). In Gormenghast, Titus is neglected by his parents to the point where he is a symbolical Orphan. His black twin, Steerpike, comes up from the fires of the kitchen at his birth. LOTR, the Hobbits cross water to escape the Black Riders and take the ring from the Shire. Frodo is an orphan. This film, Promotheus, the heroine is an orphan.

That is just the first step in the Alchemical structure. There are other symbols to look for to verify if the writer, filmmaker, artist is using it in their work.
Daniel F at 03:20 on 2013-12-27
This would require me to speculate on why these writers want to include alchemy in their works. It is the same as trying to explain why Tolkein is a Catholic.


Er, hang on, "did these authors include alchemy in their works?" is a completely different question to "why did these authors include alchemy in their works?". You're not required to speculate on it at all.

In order to see the Alchemy structure, you need to know the structure and the art symbols associated with each step. The links and books I've cited will help you. Once you know it, it is easier to pick out the works that do and don't have it.


I appreciate the links, but I was hoping for something a little more accessible. The link you provided throws an awful lot of data at the reader without any easy way in, and regarding the books, I hope you'll forgive me if I don't particularly want to spend much money on this.

One easy way to pinpoint the structure, the main hero or heroine is always an orphan. They have experienced fire (a symbol indicating the first firing or purification of the philosopher's stone material) or cleansed by water.


My concern is that this is the sort of thing that is common enough that you might reasonably find it everywhere, if you're inclined to look; and for that matter it's the sort of imagery that recurs in other stories and traditions.

For instance, we talked about Christian narrative symbolism above as well, and I can't help but think that by your description here, the synoptic gospels sound a lot like alchemical works. Jesus has no biological father, there is a symbolic gap between him and his parents (cf. Luke 2:41-51, 8:19-21), and there are conspicuous episodes in his life where he is cleansed by water and purified by fire. But of course the gospels significantly predate alchemy, so what's going on? Almost certainly there are powerful Christian influences on European alchemy, but if so, it would sound like we're talking about Christian motifs and not alchemical ones. After all, baptism and transfiguration images aren't exactly rare in Western culture.

(Please don't think I'm privileging Christianity here. It's just that we were comparing alchemy and Christianity before, so it's a natural comparison now. We can also talk about the imagery in the gospels in the context of earlier religion and mythology. It's probably dangerous to look to any one text or tradition as the wellspring of all symbolism.)

Further, the idea that all of this is conscious alchemy on the part of the authors seems to me to be, well, verging on conspiracy theory, especially since alchemy is such an esoteric tradition and isn't widely known, and these authors don't give any sign of being acquainted with alchemy. Isn't it plausible that repeated motifs, like orphan heroes, are influenced by other factors? You say there are other symbols, but from where I'm standing, it all seems very contrived on your part.

I mean, it is plausible to me that fire and water are frequently used in purification imagery, and that fire and water are associated with purification in alchemy, but it does not therefore follow that any work in which fire and water are signs of purification has therefore been influenced by alchemy. (Much as I doubt that Lord of the Rings was in Hitchcock's mind when he directed The Birds.) It seems unlikely to me that alchemy is the ultimate source here. Surely it's more intuitive to think that alchemy is just one more instantiation of these general images? Fire and water both have great practical value for cleaning, forging, sterilising, etc., and surely that's a better explanation of how they came to be symbolic shorthand for purification and cleansing?
@Daniel

The structure is iron set, it can't be changed. Once you know the blueprint, it is very easy to see who is and who isn't using it. Why? Because there is no deviation, there can't be. Not for true believers.

You don't have to spend money on the books. I'm sure they are available in the library.

I don't look everywhere for the imagery. I just know the structure and see it when it is there.

In regards to Christianity and Alchemy, many Alchemists hid their lab instructions as Christian symbols to avoid being burned as heretics. So that is why there is a lot of mixing of symbols. Christianity itself is also cobbled together from co-opted pagan symbols.

I'm so far from Conspiracy theories, I think it is hilarious that I'm pushed into that corner. Take a look at conspiracy sites and you'll see the difference. The symbols are there, I just don't jump into flights of fancy regarding Illuminati. However I do believe they are there to influence. Which is why I think everyone should know the symbols and be able to reject them.

Alchemy stands alone from Christianity as well as being a part of it. Hitchcock was a Catholic just like Tolkein. But he didn't reference Tolkein's work. He was referencing the same Alchemy structure called Rosicrucianism. He fit the framework into the horror genre instead of using it as fantasy.

As I've stated before, Alchemy can be a set a of general images divorced from the mysticism. We see dragons everywhere. But again once you know the structure, you can see when it is general and when it is a serious use of the work. I'm seeing serious uses of it in many, many pop culture films and books.
Arthur B at 15:26 on 2013-12-27
Once you know the blueprint, it is very easy to see who is and who isn't using it.

For the sake of this conversation not continuing to go around and around in circles, would you mind posting the blueprint here?
Daniel F at 15:53 on 2013-12-27
The structure is iron set, it can't be changed. Once you know the blueprint, it is very easy to see who is and who isn't using it. Why?


I know I keep harping on this, but can't you explain this blueprint? I'm not asking for a full exposition of alchemical mysticism, but just something like 'alchemy tends to have elements A, B, C, D, and E arranged in that order; here's how Prometheus contains those elements in that order.' You've spent a lot of time telling us that these elements are there, that they're very obvious to trained alchemists (whatever those are), etc., but haven't really explained what they are or why they show that Ridley Scott is a secret alchemist making a proclamation of belief.

What you have told us, it seems to me, is extremely vague. Fire and water as symbols of purification? Black, skulls, snakes, etc., as images of death? Isn't this all far too general to establish an alchemical connection at all, much less the certain proclamation you've argued for?

In regards to Christianity and Alchemy, many Alchemists hid their lab instructions as Christian symbols to avoid being burned as heretics. So that is why there is a lot of mixing of symbols. Christianity itself is also cobbled together from co-opted pagan symbols.


I'm not sure I'd put it that way, but surely this is a dodge? If Christianity (for whatever reason) contains a certain set of images - life-giving saviours wounded in the side, barren women becoming fertile, birth without insemination, baptism by fire and water, etc. - and Christian alchemists adopted those symbols, then all that shows is that Christian symbols penetrated Western culture pretty deeply. If modern film-makers use those symbols as well... that's pretty much what you'd expect in a Christianity-influenced culture.

I'm so far from Conspiracy theories, I think it is hilarious that I'm pushed into that corner. Take a look at conspiracy sites and you'll see the difference. The symbols are there, I just don't jump into flights of fancy regarding Illuminati.


I think the reason the conspiracy comparison springs so easily to mind is because you've made some quite definite assertions about what Ridley Scott was doing when he was making the film: what he believes, what he's motivated by, and so on. You come off as creating an agenda and then arbitrarily imputing that agenda to an extremely diverse group of authors (Tolkien, Peake, Shakespeare, Henson, the Wachowskis, etc.), in the face of most everything we know about them and what can be read in their texts.

That triggers warning bells in my head. Isn't it more plausible that popular authors use a diverse range of images and ideas from their cultural background, and that European alchemy, as a product of that same culture, contains similar images?

As I've stated before, Alchemy can be a set a of general images divorced from the mysticism. We see dragons everywhere. But again once you know the structure, you can see when it is general and when it is a serious use of the work. I'm seeing serious uses of it in many, many pop culture films and books.


But to reiterate the start of this message: can't you show some of those symbols? Just a simple matching game, enough to show that there might be something to this whole line of thought? Something to suggest that Prometheus is a serious exposition of alchemical symbolism, rather than just a blisteringly incoherent retread of Alien? (As I think it is. Sorry, Alasdair.)
@Arthur

http://musingsandscribblings.blogspot.com/2011/11/purification-of-melanie-birds.html

My essay on the website regarding Hitchcock's The Birds which goes into the Alchemy structure.

I would like to write more about Alchemy on my site. But lately I haven't the time.

If you have any questions, you can post them there as well.
Robinson L at 22:30 on 2014-01-09
Sorry I've been so long with my follow-up - been busy with stuff related to holidays and my sister's time off school.

Anyway, Re: Tolkien
I'll cop to being overly flippant on this one. I've only read The Silmarillion once, several years ago, and remember practically none of it - neither have I read any supplemental material to speak of. My impression of Tolkien's politics is based entirely around my numerous readings of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Based on those, I came to the conclusion that he's quite enamored of monarchy.

During my last reading of The Hobbit in particular, I saw the contrast between the Master of Laketown on the one hand and Bard the Bowman on the other as a critique of government by elected officials (which for the record, I also have issues with) in favor of government by hereditary, benign dictatorship (which I like even less). That may not technically be Divine Right in the sense of being explicitly laid down by God/Iluvatar/whoever, but it is in keeping with the sentiment that monarchs "are natural, powerful, and ordained by higher power to rule over the rest of us."

But, again, I can believe that I'm misreading Tolkien's political views.

musings and scribblings: I'm sorry I can't debate Firefly. I never watched it.

That's a-okay. I just threw that one out as a possible example.

My question was whether you could think of any such arguments you've had about the legitimacy of immoral acts perpetrated by fictional characters whose stories DIDN'T follow the alchemical formula/symbolism. The stories need not be films and they need not be genre, just has that ever happened? I'm guessing you can't think of any examples, but I wanted to check and make sure.
Daniel F at 14:31 on 2014-01-11
My impression of Tolkien's politics is based entirely around my numerous readings of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Based on those, I came to the conclusion that he's quite enamored of monarchy.


I suspect it might be more that he's enamoured of familial structures of power. I also can't shake the feeling that he likes monarchy because, for Tolkien, perhaps the greatest sin in the world is that of seeking power. It follows fairly logically, then, that monarchy has an advantage over an electoral system, because no one chooses to become a monarch. At no point (in theory) does wanting to be king ever come into the question, whereas to be elected you need lots of ambition.

That's not a fully-formed thought, but off the top of my head I think there might be something to it? Melkor and Sauron are villains because they want more power than they were made with. If you contrast Aragorn and Denethor, as I recall Aragorn never makes much fuss about being king. It'd be easy to argue that he doesn't want it at all. Meanwhile Denethor is far more open about wanting to stay in power.
Arthur B at 11:58 on 2014-01-12
It follows fairly logically, then, that monarchy has an advantage over an electoral system, because no one chooses to become a monarch. At no point (in theory) does wanting to be king ever come into the question, whereas to be elected you need lots of ambition.

There's a neat discussion here which cites a Tolkien letter that suggests that Tolkien was also thinking about a monarch who couldn't go entirely absolute because there were immutable ancient laws that neither they nor anyone else was allowed to touch.
James D at 00:05 on 2014-01-13
The neat thing about LotR is that Tolkien allows for different people preferring different specific systems - the titular head of the Shire for example is the Mayor, an elected official, though in practice things run smoothly enough that he doesn't have to do much. Technically they're under the King, but he is so distant as to be practically a myth to the average Hobbit.

As I read it, LotR is less espousing a specific system of government or even life in general than he is talking about the larger question of the morality of power and its use (and abuse) - the Shire is almost certainly his own vision of Utopia, but he doesn't seek to impose it on everybody else. Minas Tirith is clearly urban and not shown to be inferior to the rural life. Bree is a bustling hub of trade and travel, and shown to be friendly to both men and Hobbits (agents of Sauron notwithstanding). Ghan-Buri-Ghan and the Woses are shown to be good honest people opposed to Sauron, and the only thing they want from Aragorn is to be left alone to live their lives in peace, as sovereigns of their own territory, which he is specifically shown signing into law. Considering the Woses are pretty clearly Tolkienized POCs, and that LotR was published in a time when the British Empire still had a number of remaining colonies, I wonder if that was a subtle jab at colonialism?

This is why I think Moorcock's famous "Epic Pooh" essay misses the point, at least with Tolkien (not so much his imitators). LotR is less about glorifying rural life as it is about exploring the ways in which life can be arranged such that it doesn't culminate in hideous abuses of political power. The book itself depicts a number of possible solutions, and I don't think it's quite fair to criticize Tolkien for being fondest of one in particular.
Daniel F at 06:51 on 2014-01-13
Considering the Woses are pretty clearly Tolkienized POCs, and that LotR was published in a time when the British Empire still had a number of remaining colonies, I wonder if that was a subtle jab at colonialism?


I'm not sure how much I'd run with this, but I remember also seeing an argument that the Rohirrim are crypto-Native-Americans. I wouldn't want to run too far with that - and it's likely problematic to convert real conquered peoples into blond, blue-eyed Europeans before making them sympathetic - but I confess that I like reading Tolkien in a way that gives LotR this wide applicability.

I'm pretty sure Tolkien didn't intend LotR as a postcolonial work, but if that reading of it is coherent, I'm all for it. I'm sure we all know that quote from Tolkien's prologue: I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse 'applicability' with 'allegory'; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.

So if one can read LotR in a way that accepts social/cultural diversity, and in which Tolkien's general skepticism of powerful individuals is generalised into an anti-colonial message, so be it.

...huh, it's actually kind of tempting to go back to the Silmarillion in this light, comparing the Valar first coming to the elves with humanity's first contact with Morgoth in the Tale of Adanel. Or for that matter the coming of the Edain into Beleriand. Or the Númenoreans colonising Middle-Earth.
@Robinson

"My question was whether you could think of any such arguments you've had about the legitimacy of immoral acts perpetrated by fictional characters whose stories DIDN'T follow the alchemical formula/symbolism."

That is an interesting question. Because I'm not a believer in Alchemy. I only read up on it because it is added to our literature, art and entertainment. So if the alchemy wheels fall off of a story, it doesn't really disturb me. I'm more disturbed by the numerous Alchemy stories in which the hero, the "Philosopher's Stone", perpetrates serious and gross immoral and/or amoral acts but is still lauded as virtuous by the Alchemy paradigm. That brings me around to David in this film. I'm telling you that I'm 95% sure that he won't pay at all for the death of Charlie if a sequel is made. Somehow his behavior will be whitewashed.

In regards to Tolkein's monarchy. I hesitate to claim that he supports divine right. Simply because his books are obvious religious allegories. When he writes of Frodo and Aragorn, they are first and foremost Christ figures. However I always had a nit to pick when he gave the Hobbits their freedom (the monarchy had no power over the Shire) but the rest of humanity had to bow to the crown. Why couldn't all of Middle Earth be free of a King/Queen?

In regards to the Rohirrim being Native American based. I don't believe so. They are obviously a Nordic, Viking based culture. However it was said that the Elves could have elements of Native American lore since many people claim the Undying Lands are based near L'Anse aux Meadows and the further down the East Coast of North America. Maybe he had in mind the lost Dorset Indian culture? They were killed off by the Vikings and Inuit. Anyway that is all speculation. The Lord of The Rings, The Hobbit are based primarily on European culture.
Robinson L at 00:36 on 2014-01-15
James D: The neat thing about LotR is that Tolkien allows for different people preferring different specific systems

While this is true, in The Hobbit and the "Lord of the Rings," at least, among the societies that do have explicit monarchies, the hereditary royalty who do appear (Bard, Thorin, Aragorn, Theoden and Eomer, and even the Prince Imrahil) inevitably get the Great Man treatment. They can certainly do wrong (as Theoden and even moreso Thorin demonstrate), but even in those circumstances they are still treated as being very much above the common rabble (i.e. people such as you or me). "Lord of the Rings" also overtly dwells upon various themes related to royalty and monarchism (such as the responsibility of kings, succession, all the Great Man stuff, etc.) in a way which takes for granted that this is a desirable political system, and in a way it does not explore the relative anarchy of the Shire, or whatever the hell the elves and the Ents practice. (I'm sure that's explained in supplemental material, but again, I'm approaching this from the point-of-view of a semi-casual fan who enjoys the core books but hasn't ventured too far into background material.)

I have recently been listening to a podcast by a teacher at Washington College who calls himself "The Tolkien Professor," which does dig into supplemental material. So, for instance, in one episode from two or three years ago, he and one of his students discuss another letter from 1943, where Tolkien told his son Christopher he was growing increasingly of the opinion that the ideal political system is either "philosophical anarchy" or "unconstitutional monarchy," which makes for an interesting pair of ideas.

Other discussion on the podcast confirms that the Rohirrim were based on Vikings - or rather, Anglo-Saxons. Apparently, their language is based on Anglo-Saxon (such as the plural for "people/children of Eorl" being "Eorlingas"), and there's some in-joke in the appendices suggesting they were in fact the progenitors of the Anglo-Saxons. (Or, actually, perhaps it was just Saxons?)

Daniel F: I'm pretty sure Tolkien didn't intend LotR as a postcolonial work, but if that reading of it is coherent, I'm all for it.

I'm inclined to concur; this seems to me a good way to approach fiction.

@Musings and Scribblings: When I said brought up "stories [which] DIDN'T follow the alchemical formula/symbolism," I didn't mean that the creator screwed up the formula/symbolism so much that "the alchemy wheels fall off" so much as that the creator is not following the alchemical formula to begin with, and there are either no alchemical symbols at all, or the symbolism is purely accidental. Can you think of any such non-alchemical stories where a character largely gets a pass by many members of the audience for doing something horrible (or maybe just being an asshole?)

In regards to Tolkein's monarchy. I hesitate to claim that he supports divine right. Simply because his books are obvious religious allegories.

Given his infamously proclaimed dislike of allegory (I'm pretty sure I've heard it was an issue he had with Lewis' Narnia books), that's a pretty amusing thought. Granted, in the context he was specifically against the tendency to read "Lord of the Rings" as a political allegory to World War II. Still, the scholarship I've heard (mostly by the Tolkien Professor, who is himself Christian), seems to agree that he wrote the books primarily as works of fiction, and semi-consciously structured them to fit a Christian worldview because, well, that was his worldview.

When he writes of Frodo and Aragorn, they are first and foremost Christ figures.

I find that a little difficult to believe. I mean, my ignorance of the nuances of Christian symbolism is almost as vast as my ignorance of the nuances of alchemical symbolism (i.e. I can only spot it when it gets really blatant). Frodo, especially, though, seems unlikely to me, considering 1) that he is portrayed as flawed, and moreover 2) ultimately succumbs to temptation, fails his task, and manages to avoid complete calamity through no virtue of his own but rather due to the intervention of a third party. It puts me in mind of a quote Arthur shared in one of his early posts, where Gene Wolfe makes the distinction of one of his characters being a "Christian" figure but not a "Christ" figure.

Why couldn't all of Middle Earth be free of a King/Queen?

And why are the only characters who lodge serious objection to monarchy men who do so for explicitly self-serving reasons to preserve their own power (Denethor, the Master of Laketown)?
Daniel F at 01:40 on 2014-01-15
So, for instance, in one episode from two or three years ago, he and one of his students discuss another letter from 1943, where Tolkien told his son Christopher he was growing increasingly of the opinion that the ideal political system is either "philosophical anarchy" or "unconstitutional monarchy," which makes for an interesting pair of ideas.


I believe that's Letter 52. It suggests - since I'm sure you have the whole thing as well - that Tolkien's real objection was to people ruling over other people. With a rather charming naivete, he seems to have embraced monarchy as a guard against the totalitarianism of an impersonal regulatory government.

I like to think it also helps defend my suspicion that what Tolkien likes about monarchy is that it makes wanting to be king irrelevant.

Other discussion on the podcast confirms that the Rohirrim were based on Vikings - or rather, Anglo-Saxons.


I think it's fairly obvious that the most direct influence on them is the Anglo-Saxons. Even so, I would hardly wish to disqualify any and all other comparisons on that basis.

I find that a little difficult to believe. I mean, my ignorance of the nuances of Christian symbolism is almost as vast as my ignorance of the nuances of alchemical symbolism (i.e. I can only spot it when it gets really blatant).


Maybe you could argue that Aragorn and Frodo together make up a composite Christ? The prophesied king and the suffering servant.

I think you're right and it's a quite weak argument, though. There are certainly strong Christian elements to those characters, particularly with Frodo and the motif of the weak and unremarkable overthrowing the strong, but I doubt it's a straight allegory.
I've only read his dislike of Allegory in regards to LOTR and WWI. He always denied that his war experiences had no bearing on these books. The problem he had with Narnia was theological.

I agree that to a non-Catholic, it appears that Frodo is flawed and failed in his quest. But Tolkein has staunchly denied this interpretation. Frodo's lapse was due to being in hell itself, near the heart of Sauron's power. That Frodo got to the edge of the pit before failing was all that was needed and the higher power took over. Then he was ultimately saved by Sam's grace.

The fact that Frodo carried his cross/ring to Mount Doom/Calvary with Sam/Simon carrying both at one point....it doesn't get any more pronounced than that.

In regards to the Alchemy paradigm the journey into Doom represents that last purification, the last torture of the elements.

Frodo - Sulphur-Heart
Smeagol/Gollum - Mercury - Mind
Sam - Salt - Body

Sam carries to Frodo into Doom. At that point Frodo and Gollum leave him behind (alchemy pictures always show spirits leaving the body before falling back down to it). They struggle, Gollum takes the ring indicating the last impurity is taken out of Frodo. After his demise, Frodo and Sam reunite and have become the Philosopher's Stone.

In regards to your question. I have read plenty of paperback Fantasy hard boilers with Alchemical symbolism. I can't bring to mind any that stumbled into the symbols accidentally. It all seems new agey and flighty but Alchemy is a serious philosophy. One that many believe is a spell for wealth. This is most likely why JK Rowling was so adamant that she didn't need to get a day job while writing Harry Potter. She believed she was turning lead into gold and a proclamation of faith.
James D at 06:40 on 2014-01-15
While this is true, in The Hobbit and the "Lord of the Rings," at least, among the societies that do have explicit monarchies, the hereditary royalty who do appear (Bard, Thorin, Aragorn, Theoden and Eomer, and even the Prince Imrahil) inevitably get the Great Man treatment. They can certainly do wrong (as Theoden and even moreso Thorin demonstrate), but even in those circumstances they are still treated as being very much above the common rabble (i.e. people such as you or me).

Yes, you're right about that, we never see any overtly stupid or hedonistic royalty or anything like that. Still, I wonder if that isn't so much a question of politics as it is of literary influence. In Arthurian myth, Das Nibelungenlied, the Prose Edda, etc. always portrayed royalty as Great Men as far as I remember, and never dealt with the fundamental question of whether monarchy and feudalism themselves were just.

Again I don't think Tolkien was specifically outlining which particular systems he thought were the best in LOTR - as you mentioned, his statements about which specific political systems he thought were best were often contradictory - but rather dealing more with the morality of politics in general. Hobbits were able to wield absolute power more safely than others, because they were above its temptations, their ambitions beginning and ending in the Shire for the most part. However, in order for there to be a Shire, there must be people like the Rangers and Gandalf who can wield more power and possess more ambition to watch over it and protect it against attack from without. To me that seems more democratic than anything else - LOTR tellingly doesn't show Aragorn or any other king as safely above the Ring's temptation. Only the lowliest citizens are to be trusted with that much power, and even then, not for too long.
Arthur B at 08:16 on 2014-01-15
To me that seems more democratic than anything else - LOTR tellingly doesn't show Aragorn or any other king as safely above the Ring's temptation.

Actually, it seems remarkably class-based to a nigh-feudal extent to me. The peasants go here and do this. The merchants go here and do this. They owe fealty to the local knight or bishop because those are the people who ensure their security and guarantee their rights. Social mobility? What's that?
James D at 08:50 on 2014-01-15
Sorry, I don't see how that follows - yes, there isn't much social mobility depicted in LOTR, but there is a little, at least. Samwise the servant and gardener becomes the master of Bag End after all. Regardless, it's still pretty explicitly set forth in the narrative that kings can't be trusted with absolute power - only the "peasants" can.
Dan H at 09:26 on 2014-01-15
In regards to the Alchemy paradigm the journey into Doom represents that last purification, the last torture of the elements.

Frodo - Sulphur-Heart
Smeagol/Gollum - Mercury - Mind
Sam - Salt - Body


I realise we've gone over this about eight thousand times, but what actual textual evidence do you have that any of them represent any of these things?

And what is the "last torture of the elements" in Harry Potter? And who represents what in that? And why on Earth would any sensible person believe that these are secret messages implanted into texts by followers of an obscure mystery cult, rather than things you are projecting onto the text out of your own head?

In regards to your question. I have read plenty of paperback Fantasy hard boilers with Alchemical symbolism. I can't bring to mind any that stumbled into the symbols accidentally.


But since the only evidence you have for whether somebody did or did not stumble into alchemical symbolism accidentally is your personal belief that people never stumble into alchemical symbolism accidentally, I'm not sure how this is helpful data.

It's rather like when bitcoiners insist that anybody who criticises bitcoin is a shill for the Federal Government on the basis that the only people who would want to criticise bitcoin are shills for the Federal Government.

It all seems new agey and flighty but Alchemy is a serious philosophy. One that many believe is a spell for wealth. This is most likely why JK Rowling was so adamant that she didn't need to get a day job while writing Harry Potter. She believed she was turning lead into gold and a proclamation of faith.


And once again, *this is a conspiracy theory*.

The fact that you are not positing any organised structure behind it just makes it an *even more implausible* conspiracy theory, since you are arguing that a wide range of people have conspired to fill popular culture with mystical symbolism despite there being *no formal structure or organisation* teaching them to do so.
Dan H at 09:41 on 2014-01-15
Actually, it seems remarkably class-based to a nigh-feudal extent to me. The peasants go here and do this. The merchants go here and do this. They owe fealty to the local knight or bishop because those are the people who ensure their security and guarantee their rights. Social mobility? What's that?


This seems a little bit unfair in that whatever else it might be, Lord of the Rings is a medieval fantasy novel. You can't go from "depicts a feudal society" to "is literally a neo-feudalist". You certainly can't judge Tolkein's position on society on the basis of the presence or absence of social mobility in a single quest story. I mean nobody changes their social position in Perdido Street Station either, does that mean that Mieville is some kind of closet Tory?

More generally, I just don't think that the portrayal of kings in a book that was clearly designed as a myth cycle is a good indicator of the author's feelings about society. And as James points out Tolkein's greatest sympathies clearly lie with the Hobbits, whose down-to-Earth parochialism is what ultimately allows them to resist the lure of the One Ring. Aragorn isn't even really a person, he's just a symbol. He doesn't defeat Sauron, his return is evidence that Sauron has been defeated.
Arthur B at 10:19 on 2014-01-15
This seems a little bit unfair in that whatever else it might be, Lord of the Rings is a medieval fantasy novel. You can't go from "depicts a feudal society" to "is literally a neo-feudalist". You certainly can't judge Tolkein's position on society on the basis of the presence or absence of social mobility in a single quest story.

Oh, I'm not arguing that Tolkien thought that British society should be arranged like Aragorn's domain in Middle-Earth, I'm just arguing against the idea that Aragorn's kingdom is some sort of crypto-democracy when, in fact, the idea that the peasantry have a scale on which they exist and the nobility have a scale on which they exist and there's distinctly different responsibilities in each different sphere is a central tenet of feudalism.
James D at 10:32 on 2014-01-15
I never said that Aragorn's kingdom was a crypto-democracy; as Dan said, there's the in-universe depiction of a feudal society, and then the messages Tolkien seems to be trying to convey through that depiction. In Middle-Earth, it's true that the Hobbits and the other non-nobility seem to have essentially zero political power, but looking at the symbolism, Tolkien seems to pretty clearly be saying that only non-nobility can be trusted to wield ultimate power (i.e. the One Ring) without abusing it, and even then only to a certain point.
Arthur B at 10:35 on 2014-01-15
Samwise the servant and gardener becomes the master of Bag End after all.

"Master of Bag End" means exactly nothing except a middle class boy earned enough to retire and own a big house. In the Shire bubble that might be significant but we've already established that the Shire is a weird anomaly which doesn't really work like the rest of Middle Earth.

Regardless, it's still pretty explicitly set forth in the narrative that kings can't be trusted with absolute power - only the "peasants" can.

Again, the fact that a lower class has certain properties which are implicit and special to them doesn't carry one sniff of democratic implications. If anything, feudalism and its associated class systems are all about saying "This class of people is best suited to tilling the soil, this class of people is best suited to riding around with swords," and so on, so being able to resist the temptations of power by virtue of having no conception of how said power could actually be used as a by-product of being the sort of person who tills the soil for a living fits into the feudal paradigm perfectly well.
Arthur B at 10:38 on 2014-01-15
Tolkien seems to pretty clearly be saying that only non-nobility can be trusted to wield ultimate power (i.e. the One Ring) without abusing it, and even then only to a certain point.

I'm pretty sure the unambiguous message is that "ultimate power" shouldn't actually be used by anyone. Bilbo's possession of the Ring has fairly clearly fucked him up, Frodo's uses of the Ring almost always herald disaster, Gollum is a cautionary tale on two legs (and, I would note, is depicted in his backstory as being far more peasanty than either Bilbo or Frodo), and so on.
James D at 10:51 on 2014-01-15
"Master of Bag End" means exactly nothing except a middle class boy earned enough to retire and own a big house. In the Shire bubble that might be significant but we've already established that the Shire is a weird anomaly which doesn't really work like the rest of Middle Earth.

Samwise was pretty clearly not middle class, but working class. He was a gardener and a servant, and not only inherited a fairly sizable estate by Shire standards, he also was elected Mayor. And you're right that the Shire is an anomaly as far as Middle-Earth goes, but at the same time it's where we most clearly get to see where Tolkien's sympathies lie.

I'm pretty sure the unambiguous message is that "ultimate power" shouldn't actually be used by anyone.

I'd actually say that the unambiguous message is that "ultimate power" shouldn't actually be allowed to exist. The solution isn't just to pitch the Ring into the ocean, as Sauron would win even without the Ring; it's to destroy it forever. Yet its disposition fell to Frodo and Samwise and Gollum, not Aragorn or Gandalf or Elrond or anyone like that.
Arthur B at 11:02 on 2014-01-15
And you're right that the Shire is an anomaly as far as Middle-Earth goes, but at the same time it's where we most clearly get to see where Tolkien's sympathies lie.

Oh, sure, but by the same token you can't reach conclusions about the overall tone of Middle-Earth on the basis of a slice of 1930s England transplanted to it.

I'd actually say that the unambiguous message is that "ultimate power" shouldn't actually be allowed to exist.

Depends on the ultimate power.

Iluvatar as the source of all things and the composer of the song that made the world and so on has ultimate power. The Ring was in effect an instrument of usurpation, binding people to a power structure answering ultimately to Sauron.

It's not the existence of that power which is a problem - the rest of the Ainur were powerful in their own right and arguably the Valar could have smushed Sauron themselves (and arguably did in fact have a hand in things - Frodo and Sam being saved by the eagles looks like a huge and convenient coincidence if you don't make the connection that the eagles are Manwe's troubleshooters). The problem is power that doesn't ultimately answer to God.
James D at 11:14 on 2014-01-15
Well the difference with the power of the Ring is that its main power is the domination of the wills of others - something that takes away their free will, in essence. I don't think even Iluvatar himself would have used that power, as he allowed Melkor/Morgoth to choose to rebel.

Also I don't know how much of the apocrypha you've read, but it's pretty explicitly stated somewhere or other that the Valar could've easily smushed Sauron if they'd exerted all their power. The problem was, the last time they did that at the end of the First Age, it blew up half the continent and sank it into the sea. So in the Third Age they tried for a more delicate approach and sent in the five wizards as sort of covert operatives to organize mortal resistance against Sauron.
Daniel F at 11:20 on 2014-01-15
Again, the fact that a lower class has certain properties which are implicit and special to them doesn't carry one sniff of democratic implications.


How on Earth have we got to the idea that Tolkien had a subversive democratic agenda in his medieval fantasy novel? I thought the argument was "monarchist versus non-monarchist", or to be even more specific, "divine-right-monarchist versus some-other-kind-of-monarchist versus non-monarchist"? And surely in any case the political structures represented as good in LotR don't tell us a whole lot about the political structure Tolkien would have liked to see implemented in the twentieth century?

(Apologies if you're not interested in that last question at all. It seems like part of this discussion has turned to the question of what political agenda, if any, LotR can be plausibly interpreted to support today?)
Many Alchemy stories have a struggle between 3 lead characters representing the Tria Prima (Mercury, Sulphur, Salt). So Harry Potter had Harry, Hermione, and Ron. This film, Prometheus, had Charlie, Elizabeth and Charlie. LOTR has Frodo, Gollum and Sam. In the recent book Ready Player Number One, at the end there were three major contestants left which was Parzifal, Artemis, and Shoto. The Ready Player 1 the Artemis name tipped me off to the Alchemy structure. Diana of the hunt represents the White Woman/Queen (opposite to the Red Man/King), the Albedo stage. In the Hunger Games series, it is extremely important that Katniss is an Archer. In LOTR the White Woman to Aragorn's King is Arwen. Although due to his own preferences he didn't do much more than make her a Marian figure. The same with her Hobbit counterpart Rose.

The last torture of the elements in Harry Potter was Harry allowing himself to become a sacrifice to get rid of the last of Riddle's soul.

No, It is impossible to stumble into it. If a writer, filmmaker or artist goes to the length of even a preliminary study of Alchemy why base something on it halfway? You start it, you end it the way its supposed to be done.

Again I'm not saying EVERYONE in Hollywood is using this outline. But a great many GENRE artists who specialize in Fantasy and Science Fiction do use it. I'm not saying EVERYONE is using it to influence. But there are some who seem to use it to push the religious and political angle. The structure can make the STORY ridiculous or just creepy. I mean am I the only one who was creeped out by the black man, Morpheus, worshipping white man Neo as THE ONE?

There are some who think Alchemy is a spell for wealth and/or Self Enlightenment. Rowling probably took a deluded leap into the dark that her story would print money. But for the most part, maybe it wasn't deluded. We have to question, does the publishing industry favor Alchemy stories intentionally or just because they are successful more often than not. WE gravitate toward them because they are familiar. And the Human Race LOVES familiarity. So we just instinctively pick entertainment that fits a structure we know. Some elites use that for political purposes. Hence Divine Right shoved into many of these kinds of stories.

Arthur B at 12:19 on 2014-01-15
@James D:
Well the difference with the power of the Ring is that its main power is the domination of the wills of others - something that takes away their free will, in essence. I don't think even Iluvatar himself would have used that power, as he allowed Melkor/Morgoth to choose to rebel.

Eh, maybe I just lack patience for Christian apologetics but I don't buy the free will thing. "You're free to choose to rebel, but if you do you'll be exiled, besieged, cast into the outer darkness for the remaining duration of the world, and then snuffed out of existence before we make World 2.0" isn't free will, it's just soft determinism - in the sense that people can still choose to disobey you, but the consequences of doing so are so harsh that no rational person would actually choose to do it.

@Daniel F:
How on Earth have we got to the idea that Tolkien had a subversive democratic agenda in his medieval fantasy novel?

You say this like the Prometheus -> Alchemy -> Tolkien -> Democracy chain weren't obvious!
Andy G at 12:32 on 2014-01-15
surely in any case the political structures represented as good in LotR don't tell us a whole lot about the political structure Tolkien would have liked to see implemented in the twentieth century?


I agree with this, I've read that he's precisely trying to set up contrast between the values of modern and ancient societies in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Though societies like Lake Town and The Shire are more representative of the latter, so perhaps they are more indicative of his views on 20th century society?
Arthur B at 12:37 on 2014-01-15
Supposedly the internal politics and gossip of the Shire was an enormous piss-take of senior common room politics in Merton College.
Andy G at 14:20 on 2014-01-15
Does this mean I was taught by ... Hobbits?
Arthur B at 14:34 on 2014-01-15
Not only that, but you have likely seen the Stone Table where Aslan died for our sins.

It... it isn't impressive.
Andy G at 16:07 on 2014-01-15
It's to Hobbit scale.
Dan H at 16:10 on 2014-01-15
Many Alchemy stories have a struggle between 3 lead characters representing the Tria Prima (Mercury, Sulphur, Salt). So Harry Potter had Harry, Hermione, and Ron. This film, Prometheus, had Charlie, Elizabeth and Charlie. LOTR has Frodo, Gollum and Sam.


Okay, now we're getting somewhere (although I assume "Charlie, Elizabeth and Charlie" was a typo unless you're really, *really* reaching here).

The first observation I would make is that where you say "many Alchemy stories have a struggle between 3 lead characters representing the Tria Prima" I would say "you can choose to interpret any story with 3 lead characters as an Alchemy story."

The last torture of the elements in Harry Potter was Harry allowing himself to become a sacrifice to get rid of the last of Riddle's soul.


Okay, but you're arguing that an "alchemy story" follows a very rigid structure which could not possibly be stumbled into by accident. But let's look at the two examples you've given - Harry Potter and Lord o the Rings.

In Lord of the Rings you outline the "last torture of the elements" as follows:

In regards to the Alchemy paradigm the journey into Doom represents that last purification, the last torture of the elements.

Frodo - Sulphur-Heart
Smeagol/Gollum - Mercury - Mind
Sam - Salt - Body

Sam carries to Frodo into Doom. At that point Frodo and Gollum leave him behind (alchemy pictures always show spirits leaving the body before falling back down to it). They struggle, Gollum takes the ring indicating the last impurity is taken out of Frodo. After his demise, Frodo and Sam reunite and have become the Philosopher's Stone.


The key elements here are:

- Sam ("Salt") carries Frodo ("Sulphur") up Mount Doom. They are pursued by Gollum ("Mercury").
- Frodo ("Sulphur") and Gollum ("Mercury") together abandon Sam for the final stage of the journey. You seem to argue that this stage is essential.
- Gollum ("Mercury") is destroyed, removing the last impurity from Frodo ("Sulphur"). You seem to feel that this stage is also essential.
- Frodo ("Sulphur") reunites with Sam ("Salt"). This represents the culmination of the alchemical journey and is likewise essential.

Now let's look at the Harry Potter version of this essential feature of an Alchemical narrative, which cannot be altered in any way, and cannot be excluded, and the presence if which is evidence for your argument that J. K. Rowling, like Tolkein and Scott, is willfully and consciously using alchemical symbolism in her work as a declaration of faith:

Here the Tria Prima are represented by Harry, Ron and Hermione. You didn't say which was which but I'm going to assume that Harry is Sulphur, Hermione is Mercury and Ron is Salt. Or for a Lord of the Rings comparison, Harry is Frodo, Ron is Sam and Hermione is ... umm ... Gollum. I admit that I'm assigning these myself but since *somebody* has to be Gollum in this analogy, I flatter myself that this version makes as much sense as any other.

In this version of the Last Torture of the Elements - an element of the entirely rigid alchemical process which alchemical writers all use deliberately and cannot deviate from or alter the details of - is when Harry goes off to face Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest.

So this time we have:

- Harry (Sulphur) abandons both Hermione (Mercury) and Ron (Salt) and heads into the Forbidden Forest. Prior to this it is established that Hermione (Mercury) and Ron (Salt) are in a romantic relationship (chemical wedding?)
- Harry (Sulphur) uses the Resurrection Stone to summon the spirits of James, Lily and Sirius (what alchemical concepts do these people represent?)
- Harry (Sulphur) confronts Voldemort (again, what alchemical concept is he?), Voldemort (???) casts Avada Kedavra at Harry (Sulphur), causing Harry (Sulphur) to appear dead but in fact only destroying the fragment of Voldemort(???)'s soul that Harry was carrying around with him.
- Harry (Sulphur) wakes up in his own body. He is carried from the wood by Hagrid (again, unknown alchemical component) where Voldemort (???) tells everybody that he is dead. Harry (Sulphur) wakes up and duels Voldemort (???). Voldemort (???) is destroyed.
- Harry (Sulphur) is reunited with Hermione (Mercury) and Ron (Salt). The Philosopher's stone has, canonically, already been destroyed.

There is no way on Earth that you can convince me or - I would hazard - any halfway sensible reader that these two sequences of events bear anything more than the most superficial of similarities. Certainly you can't convince me that they are *so similar* that only possible explanation is that both Tolkein and Rowling were following the same rigid system of mystical symbolism in an effort to express their faith in Rosicrucian Alchemy and/or enact ritual magic through their work.

No, It is impossible to stumble into it. If a writer, filmmaker or artist goes to the length of even a preliminary study of Alchemy why base something on it halfway? You start it, you end it the way its supposed to be done.


Again, I'm afraid this is classic conspiracy-theorist logic. [CONSPIRACY THEORY X] must be true, because you wouldn't [CONSPIRACY THEORY Y] without [CONSPIRACY THEORY X].

I am not arguing that somebody might make a cursory study of alchemy and decide to include a limited representation of the Great Work in their fiction. I'm suggesting that somebody might include a number of *perfectly common and innocuous elements* in their fiction and that you might interpret them as "alchemical symbolism" because you have clearly *trained* yourself to see alchemical symbolism.

Again I'm not saying EVERYONE in Hollywood is using this outline. But a great many GENRE artists who specialize in Fantasy and Science Fiction do use it.


No. A great many genre artists who specialise in Fantasy and Science Fiction use a number of perfectly ordinary motifs (like, for example, "having three characters in it") which you have decided are "alchemy".

I'm not saying EVERYONE is using it to influence


I know you aren't.

David Icke wasn't saying that *everybody* was a shapeshifting alien from Sirius. 9/11 Truthers don't claim that *all aeroplanes crashes* are secretly caused by the FBI.

You still seem to be under the impression that the question here is "to what extent do those Hollywood genre artists who believe in Rosicrucian Alchemy and who intentionally incorporate its symbols and structures into their works do so with the intent of promoting a political agenda, and to what extent are they successful."

As far as I am concerned, the question is "is Rosicrucian Alchemy in Hollywood even a thing?"

I mean am I the only one who was creeped out by the black man, Morpheus, worshipping white man Neo as THE ONE?


I'm going to go out on a limb and say that you were probably the only one who was creeped out by the alchemical symbolism of it.

Because seriously. Are you honestly, honestly telling me that "black man recognises white man as saviour" is a uniquely *alchemical* trope? And not, say, one that is as old as colonialism?

We have to question, does the publishing industry favor Alchemy stories intentionally or just because they are successful more often than not.


No. No we don't. Any more than we have to question whether schools are teaching evolution out of ignorance or willful hatred of Jesus. You have provided no evidence that "Alchemy stories" exist *at all*. Speculating about the reasons for their popularity is therefore *entirely* fruitless.
Arthur B at 16:32 on 2014-01-15
As far as I am concerned, the question is "is Rosicrucian Alchemy in Hollywood even a thing?"

Now you're making me want to see a movie version of Foucault's Pendulum.

With Belbo, Diotallevi and Casaubon as the key three.
Michal at 17:41 on 2014-01-15
I suddenly have a strong desire to join that North Pole expedition aimed at finding the entrance to the Hollow Earth. Thank you, comments thread.
The Chemical marriage is between Sulphur and Mercury, the Salt is always left behind. As the alchemist heats the tria prima (torturing the elements) the mercurial/sulphur products will leave the substance(salt) behind and rise. The Alchemist allows them to cool and return to the Salt. As the heatings continue the salt will become purer. At the final heating all will combine and create the Philosophical child. The pictures show a King and Queen holding a child.

In regards to Harry Potter, Rowling followed a number of different allegories from Christian Rosenkreutz, Lambspring, Flamel's Abraham the Jew and more. So her imagery is all over the place. But she had a definite framework which she followed in each of the books. The trio have a mystery to solve. Hermione, being the mercury figure, always has the answer, they leave Ron behind and she accompanies Harry to the final stage. Harry then acts alone. They both return to Ron after the adventure. The early book that deviates is COS, Hermione still has the answer but she is petrified. So she acts in spirit. Harry leaves Ron behind to face Riddle and save Ginny. Each of the Harry Potter books represents the steps, the number of heatings it takes to purify the stone.

HP Series
SS - Calcination
POA - Dissolution
COS - Separation
GOF - Conjunction
OOP - Fermentation
HBP - Distillation
DH - Coagulation

An explanation of the steps on this blog
http://ordosacerdotalvstempli.net/seven.html

Just like her garbled religious inspiration for these novels, the Alchemy she uses suffers the same problem. Since she was a prisoner of the framework it made the trio act in erratic fashion. Where she excelled were the characters that didn't have to follow the paradigm. So Luna, Cedric and other characters are interesting, well written and have good back stories.

The Harry/Hermione kerfuffle was all to do with the alchemy. Most of the public is used to the Mercury/Sulphur characters embodying the chemical marriage both symbolically AND in the story. An example of this is The Hunger Games.

Mind - Mercury - Peeta
Heart - Sulphur - Katniss
Body - Salt - Gale

In the end the chemical marriage is Peeta/Katniss. The real kicker is that there was NEVER a mystery about who would end up together because Collins gave people tuned into the Alchemy angle the proper hint (the flower Katniss associates with Peeta).

The Hunger Games method is the norm. Which Rowling only followed up to a point then tried to keep some autonomy for her characters by dropping the alchemy after the adventure is over. So Hermione marries Ron and Harry marries his Arwen/Rose figure in Ginny.

Again the symbols are clearer in LOTR because Tolkein was a better writer, had a firm belief in his religion and was only using one Alchemical allegory.

In regards to THE MATRIX and PROMETHEUS. The Black characters in both are potent symbols of the Black King who rules over the Nigredo stage. The death or sidelining of these characters indicates that the hero has successfully passed that stage and entered the Albedo.

In Ready Player One, Cline did not use the common stage symbols of Black, White and Red. But used colors that indicate the stone's readiness for the next stage.

Parzifal had to find 3 keys each representing the Nigredo, Albedo, Rubedo. The colors of the keys represented his readiness, so the keys were:

1) Copper - representing Venus - the metal that can be perfected but still in the impure state. It also represents the White Woman. So it is no mistake that Parzifal meets his chemical marriage partner, Artemis, at the first test.
2) Jade - Green is the stone gaining maturity, ready to be further purified.
3) Crystal - this represents both the purified stone in albedo and the final rubedo stage.

All of these colors are explained in Abraham's Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery.

You don't have to believe these stories are using this mystic formula. I myself did not believe it for a long time. But when I can pinpoint the direction of most of these stories to a T using the formula, then it isn't a mistake and it isn't borrowed motifs.
Robinson L at 20:36 on 2014-01-15
Musings and Scribblings: I have read plenty of paperback Fantasy hard boilers with Alchemical symbolism. I can't bring to mind any that stumbled into the symbols accidentally.

That's, um, still completely tangential to the point of my question. (Though for the record, when I said "accidentally," I meant "happens to contain a dragon" or one or more of the other "perfectly common and innocuous elements" Dan mentioned.)
My question is not about the uses of alchemical formula as such, nor is it necessarily about genre fiction. It's about any fictional stories at all in which the author/creator is clearly NOT following the alchemical formula in any way, shape, or form, and yet their characters in that work who commit unconscionable acts but still get a pass on it from large sections of the audience.
My goal here is to test your claim that the reason Harry Potter gets away with employing torture and unforgivable curses is the alchemical symbolism at work in the series which we Westerners are primed to respond to. I like to think of myself as an open-minded person, so I'm prepared to entertain that hypothesis - but as of yet I'm not convinced. From my perspective, it's equally possible that we are primed with other cultural messages (e.g. a binary concept of Good versus Evil, in which anything that Good does is justified by definition; the idea that some human lives are inherently worth less than others) which may coincide with alchemical themes at points but are distinct from alchemy as a discipline.

I want to test the "it's because of alchemy" hypothesis to see if it holds up, and one of the easiest ways is to seek out any contradictory examples. So again, a scenario where alchemy is NOT INVOLVED and yet characters get away with doing seriously wrong and do not incur audience censure - can you think of any examples which fit the SPIRIT of the scenario I've just outlined?

Arthur: Eh, maybe I just lack patience for Christian apologetics but I don't buy the free will thing. "You're free to choose to rebel, but if you do you'll be exiled, besieged, cast into the outer darkness for the remaining duration of the world, and then snuffed out of existence before we make World 2.0" isn't free will, it's just soft determinism - in the sense that people can still choose to disobey you, but the consequences of doing so are so harsh that no rational person would actually choose to do it.

Well, I suppose if you believe that God is the source of all that is good, the only ways there are really to rebel against Her are to do something truly evil. And if you believe Her creation is a just universe, then evil is ultimately self-defeating and will inevitably turn back upon its' perpetrator. So free will means that you have the ability to choose evil, but not to escape its' consequences.

... Yeah, doesn't really convince me, either, but then, any theology or philosophy based upon transcendence really doesn't work for me,so it's not as if I'm the target market.
Supposedly the internal politics and gossip of the Shire was an enormous piss-take of senior common room politics in Merton College.

Okay, that's one real world reference which I really hope is true.
Arthur B at 20:45 on 2014-01-15
You don't have to believe these stories are using this mystic formula. I myself did not believe it for a long time. But when I can pinpoint the direction of most of these stories to a T using the formula, then it isn't a mistake and it isn't borrowed motifs.

I can ascribe more or less any story you throw at me to one of the 36 dramatic situations. Cornelius Agrippa presented a 6 by 6 magic square supposedly associated with the Sun. That doesn't mean all storytellers are Sun-worshippers.
"It's about any fictional stories at all in which the author/creator is clearly NOT following the alchemical formula in any way, shape, or form, and yet their characters in that work who commit unconscionable acts but still get a pass on it from large sections of the audience."

The one example I can pull up off hand is Mitchell's "Gone with the Wind". Both Rhett and Scarlett are pretty odious. But are still successful and have large fan bases. But Mitchell makes them pay, especially Scarlett.

Austen's Mansfield Park, perhaps? Henry Crawford is an idiot but a large part of the book's audience believes he was really in love with Fanny. But Austen makes him pay by losing Fanny.

Any examples I can think of, the author makes sure there are repercussions. In many Alchemical tales, there are none.

Dangerous Liaisons? Nope, both blackguards pay.

Ridley Scott's Thelma and Louise? Nope they pay in the story with suicide.
http://scipiosmith.livejournal.com/ at 21:31 on 2014-01-15
Actually, it seems remarkably class-based to a nigh-feudal extent to me. The peasants go here and do this. The merchants go here and do this. They owe fealty to the local knight or bishop because those are the people who ensure their security and guarantee their rights. Social mobility? What's that?


Personally, I've also seen the social attitudes reflected in LOTR as far more reflective of Victorian/Edwardian social mores than fedual ones.

There's a scene in the Two Towers, when Faramir has Frodo and Sam in custody and is giving Frodo a genial interrogation. Then Sam opens his mouth, and Faramir tells him to, essentially, shut his gob and learn his place. This confused the hell out of me (both Frodo and Sam are a way below Faramir in terms of wealth, status) until I read Robert Blake's life of Disraeli for A2 history which explained the way class worked in the late nineteenth century: either you owned land or you didn't. Thus the squire and the Duke would mingle as equals at the hunt ball and both would sneer at the Birmingham industrialist who could afford to buy them out fifty times over.

In that context, Faramir's behaviour makes a lot more sense: he and Frodo are both landed gentlemen, and the fact that Frodo owns the land around his house while Faramir is going to inherit a kingdom is irrelevant, they can converse as equals. Sam, on the other hand, is a manservant and so must learn to doff his cap and touch his forelock.
James D at 22:57 on 2014-01-15
Eh, maybe I just lack patience for Christian apologetics but I don't buy the free will thing. "You're free to choose to rebel, but if you do you'll be exiled, besieged, cast into the outer darkness for the remaining duration of the world, and then snuffed out of existence before we make World 2.0" isn't free will, it's just soft determinism - in the sense that people can still choose to disobey you, but the consequences of doing so are so harsh that no rational person would actually choose to do it.

Well I'm not a Christian myself but to be fair, I'm pretty sure Melkor wasn't punished so much for rebellion as, y'know, murdering and torturing countless people. Also it wasn't Iluvatar who did any of that punishing IIRC, it was his fellow Valar, who are certainly not infallible. Radagast essentially quit his job, in that he gave up on humanity and just wanted to protect animals rather than organize resistance against Sauron, but he doesn't seem to suffer any kind of punishment, since he doesn't do anything overtly evil.
Arthur B at 23:07 on 2014-01-15
Well, strictly speaking Melkor's original rebellion was singing the wrong tune in the Song of Eru, at which point Eru Iluvatar said "Hey, you're just embarrassing yourself because whatever you do ends up redounding only to the glory of my work".

Which is a fairly compelling argument that actually free will doesn't exist in Middle Earth, because obedience or disobedience has the same result in the end.
James D at 23:26 on 2014-01-15
That or it's a fairly compelling argument that Iluvatar is just really good at improvisation. Ella Fitzgerald ain't got nothin' on him.
Dan H at 23:28 on 2014-01-15
But when I can pinpoint the direction of most of these stories to a T using the formula, then it isn't a mistake and it isn't borrowed motifs.


Except you ... umm ... can't. Which is sort of my point.

You can concoct *ex post facto* arguments that these stories fit the formula, but that isn't the same as being able to "pinpoint" the direction of anything, "to a T" or otherwise.

Case in point, your "formula" completely *fails* to pinpoint the direction of the story in Harry Potter (and, for that matter, Lord of the Rings).

Harry (Sulphur) doesn't marry Hermione (Mercury) in Harry Potter, either literally or symbolically. He confronts Voldemort completely alone. Similarly while you can argue that Frodo might symbolically "marry" Gollum in the final confrontation atop Mt Doom, they do not return to Sam (Salt) together, because Gollum dies with the ring.

So in neither of the two examples that started this conversation does your "formula" give so much as an *outline* of the story, much less allow you to "pinpoint" it "to a T".

More than this, even if your formula *did* have the predictive power you claim it does (and it does not), that would not prove that it was a representation of reality. Ether theory and caloric theory were both extremely powerfully predictive, but neither ether nor caloric actually exist.

What you are dealing with here is *confirmation bias*. I have no doubt that you believe that you can diagnose the structures of the plots of works of popular fiction using alchemical symbolism. Many people believe that they can predict the future by speaking to spirits, and many people have vast stores of anecdotes about times when they have done just that. This does not prove that spirits exist.
Robinson L at 03:30 on 2014-01-16
Re: protagonists from non-alchemical works whose actions are terrible and get a pass on them
musings and scribblings: Austen's Mansfield Park, perhaps? Henry Crawford is an idiot but a large part of the book's audience believes he was really in love with Fanny. But Austen makes him pay by losing Fanny.

Any examples I can think of, the author makes sure there are repercussions. In many Alchemical tales, there are none.

Okay, but surely whether the author includes negative repercussions is kind of beside the point? You asserted that the reason characters like Harry Potter gets a pass among readers for torture and unforgivable curses is because of the alchemical symbolism. If fans are giving the characters in non-alchemical works similar license, does that weaken the argument that that it's the alchemical formula as opposed to some other cultural messages which are provoking this reaction?

Follow-up thought: it might actually be useful to revisit the Firefly example (since I'm not personally familiar with the works you cite, let alone their fandoms). I know you don't watch the show, but have you detected the use of the alchemical formula in Whedon's other works?

@scipiosmith: That's an interesting perspective on the books. Thanks for sharing.
@Dan
Harry and Hermione have adventures alone, fulfilling the alchemy structure/chemical marriage in every book with the exceptions of COS and HBP. In those books, Ginny was showcased. Again, Frodo and Gollum leave Sam behind. Gollum shows Frodo the way into Mordor (but then neglects to tell him he has to pass a huge spider). You are taking the chemical marriage too literally. Yes, some allegories have the chemical marriage become a love story. In Reign of Fire, there is a union between Mercury/Alex and Sulphur/Quinn. Again in Hunger Games the Mercury/Peeta and Sulphur/Katniss marry.

In Rowling's case she originally planned to make Hermione a boy. Did she write that last scene (sans the Ron union) with a boy in mind? Since she has admitted that the last scene was among the first things she wrote, she knew where she was headed. Hermione was supposed to be side character much like Luna. But for whatever reason in Rowling's creation process, Hermione took over the Mercury role.

Using the Alchemical formula (which the Alchemist cannot change) I can pretty much suss out where the story is heading. In Prometheus, there will be a chemical marriage between David and Elizabeth. Since Scott hired a Singularity believer to be screenwriter the second film will deal with Elizabeth taking David's "humanity" on faith. They may fall in love. The film will end with David "losing his head" again in some fashion. Many Alchemical films like to show this as a loss of memory/mind to one of the trio (Peeta in HG, Sarah in Labyrinth and Melanie in The Birds). I think there will be a system reset to David making him forget who he was and what he was becoming. The third film will be his return and final sacrifice.

Again, Dan, I am not claiming that ALL works of fiction are alchemical. I'm saying GENRE works seem to be predominantly using this structure. The fad seems to be accelerating of late since the HP craze.

I'm not talking to spirts, maybe you do?

@RobinsonL

No, you are misunderstanding my take on alchemy. I am saying that because of the alchemical structure, it deforms the artist's ability to create proper moral characters. Because the writer knows that their lead character is supposed to be the philosopher's stone and the Quintessence that gives them a blindspot. To fit the structure they make their characters do questionable acts. But since the formula tells them that their character is good, the creators don't spend time thinking about the morality. So Rowling was able to have McGonagall congratulate Harry on torture. Do you see what I mean?

In regards to Firefly, I did watch "Serenity" years and years go. I thought it was awful. And when Nathan Lane hakuna matata threw that person off his ship, I pretty much tuned it out. I liked that Summer Rainforest character but she wasn't the lead. And I thought the final denouement with TV coverage blah, blah really juvenile. Afterwards I ran to LJ and made a stupid joke about the title making it look like a film about Adult Diapers. The fans were not amused. But all of them admitted that Nathan's character was wrong in killing that guy. Was it alchemical? I don't know, I disliked it so much I don't want to remember. And I'm sorry, I don't want to watch it again or the series it is based upon.
Robinson L at 15:00 on 2014-01-16
No, you are misunderstanding my take on alchemy.

Ah, I see. When you said

paired with religious, mystical symbology we have all been immersed in our entire lives, it looks "right and justified". You don't know how many times I've had arguments about Harry Potter almost killing Draco was not wrong with people. So many it scares me.

In the context of alchemy, and talked about some alchemists using the formula to push the concept of Divine Right, I took that to mean that in your mind, the presence of the alchemical formula in works of fiction make audiences (or Western audiences, at least) more susceptible to accepting the harmful, elitist messages of the piece, in the context of the story and even in real life. To be honest, I thought that was the reason you want to promote greater awareness about alchemy: because it has an influence on people (whether they know it or not) that, say, hidden Mormon or Confucian or Hindu or Socratic symbolism would not.

Re: Firefly/Serenity
Fair enough - I actually had in mind trying to triangulate by reference to Whedon's other works (e.g. Buffy, Doctor Horrible, The Avengers). In hindsight, though, I realize that only works if the person responsible for any hypothetical alchemical machinations in the show was Whedon himself, which doesn't necessarily follow.

I actually haven't seen Serenity - the incident I have in mind is from the "Train Job" episode. And while I'm disturbed by some people's reactions to Mal's behavior in that episode, I do have a pretty small sample size, and I wouldn't go so far as to say I find the treatment he gets "scary."

So yeah, Firefly probably was a bad example, after all.
Ichneumon at 07:29 on 2017-05-29
Having finally seen this film for myself, I must say that I largely agree with the interpretation put forth here, as well as Arthur's comments on scientific inquiry. Aside from being a really entertaining viewing experience and recapturing some of the slow-moving eeriness of the original film, it's just a really strong study of hubris and gnosis.

Incidentally, one of the friends I saw it with who has also seen Covenent says that your interpretation of David's character is borne out even more strongly in the most recent film, so kudos. I really need to see it myself...
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