The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 3

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Something evil lay through that door, he told himself.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I think Doctor Spittle was the first Robin Jarvis villain who I actively hated. With the rats, they were nasty in an entertaining way, and with Roslyn Crozier, at least she had a solid motivation behind her cruelty.  In contrast, there is absolutely nothing fun about Spittle. He is petty and narcissistic and abuses Will just because he can. I’d compare him to Isaac Nettle in terms of sheer unpleasantness, but Spittle is arguably worse because he doesn’t even have misguided faith to cling to. He’s out for himself from start to finish, and his actions in this chapter show us just how hateful he really is. In this case, I hazard that first impressions may turn out to be correct.

Spittle might be a villain, but he is also a complex character with plenty of sinister secrets. Clearly, the apothecary business is a front for his true endeavours, which, judging from that mysterious attic door, are most definitely magical in nature. At this point, whether he really is an ‘alchymist’ is as debatable as his dubious London Pharmacopoeia associations (I highly doubt that he is, in fact, affiliated with any official medical institutions, and even if he is speaking the truth, I expect that his qualifications are forged) but there is evidently something going on behind the scenes.

In the finale of The Dark Portal I mentioned Felidae, and I beg your pardon, Readers all, for bringing it up again here. When Will finds the attic door, I could not help but think of the beginning of that book, in which Francis, the feline protagonist, senses something deeply unsettling from the upper storeys of his owner’s new home and determines to investigate. The Alchymist’s Cat does in some ways have a similar claustrophobic atmosphere to Akif Pirinçci’s novel, and both are certainly stories of cats and murder!

 

Matt’s Thoughts: So this chapter gives us the Alchymist part of the title – we have to wait a wee bit longer for the Cat part.

I haven’t done a lot of research on the habits of apothecaries (or alchemists, for that matter) from the 17th century, but it all feels very real to me. The grubby shop, the strange bunch of herbal medicines that we barely knew how they worked. It just seems like a miserable time to ever become sick. You really would be trusting to your immune system moreso than anything that could be offered by medical science.

Again, a shout-out to the secondary characters – both Lingley and Molly immediately become distinctive and nuanced in just a few paragraphs. How does Mr Jarvis do it?

As for Spittle, what a miserable old man. Did he have a Madame Akkikuyu sort of tale, where he started life as a young man with good intentions, but gave over to a lust for power and dark knowledge? Does he have any soft spot underneath? (Not so far, it appears!)

But the real highlight of the chapter for me was the door. There’s just something in stories about Locked Doors That Must Not Be Opened that never fail to tantalise and this one is no exception.

One other advantage of having the original version is that the back cover, from memory – I lent mine to my sister a few years ago and now only have the silver editions – had a beautiful full-colour illustration of the upstairs attic room. Brilliant stuff.

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3 thoughts on “The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 3

  1. I have to agree about Spittle being utterly vile with no redeeming qualities. He revels in being as malicious as possible and his cruelty knows no bounds. One thing I will say however, is that Tim Piggott-Smith’s voice for the character on the tape is so well-done in its cackliness that it succeeds in making him a bit amusing at times.

    While I won’t give anything away in case there are first time readers here, what Spittle does later (involving murder solely for half-hearted dissection) places him more than anything else in the thoroughly despicable category for me. And though it’s hard to say if it was more nature or nurture that created Jupiter, Spittle’s abuse certainly didn’t help matters.

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  2. Spittle I find interesting for a number of reasons, and I honestly found him entertaining in his cowardly grotesque demeanor. He’s such a venal and honestly not very dignified character, but still a very imposing one at the same time. His constant use of ‘dog’ for Will is such a crass way of acknowledging his power over Will, its almost like a school bully (which, Spittle is basically a jumped-up school bully isnt he)

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  3. Why no, I didn’t harbour a crush on Molly when I got to this chapter as a kid. Why ever would such a ridiculous question cross your mind?

    The door to Spittle’s study…oh my gosh, the door that looks as though it’s coated with blood. Something feels incredibly wrong about that door, like it’s completely out of place compared with the rest of the apothecary shop.

    If Book One of The Deptford Histories reached the big screen in animated form, my fingers would be crossed for Charley Adler to be chosen to play Doctor Spittle. I can vouch for Mr Adler’s ability to supply the voice of a man who dons an ingratiating smile when faced with someone he must suck up to for the sake of getting what he wants, then drops the mask and mocks them the moment they’re out of earshot. He can also pull off quite the distressed shriek in moments of fright, a nasally whine when feeling hard-done-by and a furious hiss when vengeful fury overtakes him. Hands down, Charley Adler IS Elias Theophrastus Spittle and has been since the first time I read this book.

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