The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 5


Warning: Contains Spoilers!

They were great islands of rag, looming out of a tattered, filthy sea of shreds.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I realised on reread that a lot about this story makes me think of traditional fairytales. If Peggy Blister is the classic queen/crone; desperate to cling to her lost youth, self-serving and devious, then Molly is the princess archetype; fair and kind, bearing up despite abject poverty, and a bit unlucky in love. To take this further, Lingley is every pompous, honey-worded courtier, while Spittle lives and breathes the role of evil magician. Will is, of course, our young hero, but whether he will turn out to be a prince or be slain by the many dragons which assail him remains to be seen.

Speaking of dragons, during the The Whitby Witches, Matt pointed out the first symbolic, malevolent reptiles in Robin Jarvis canon with the mention of the serpents which St Hilda supposedly cast down. Now, we have two more references to esoteric reptilia – the tomb upon which Imelza gave birth, and the ‘dragon in the rags’ of this chapter.

I’ve spoken of my dislike for Spittle already, but I admit his periods of ridiculousness (being caught in his nightshirt by Lingley, being mauled by Mr and Mrs Gobtrot’s tiny dog) are quite comedic, for all they emphasise the contrast between his opposing moods. It’s also fairly hilarious to think that the good doctor held the World’s Shabbiest Magic-user Award until he stormed upon the raghouse and started dressing for the job he wants rather than the job he has.

I said above that he plays the role of evil magician, but it’s scenes like the one in this chapter which really highlight that at this point, it is a role and only a role. We’ve yet to see Spittle demonstrate any tangible power – even the display which so terrified Jessel and Carver was trickery and sleight-of-hand as opposed to the devil’s work. Then again, perhaps grim old Elias has a spark of magic in his veins that will show itself in time.


Matt’s Thoughts: It’s nice to see another appearance by Molly again. I can’t remember too well what we find out about her character, so I’m assuming she is the equivalent of Nancy from Oliver Twist – a lady of the night with a good heart? Or am I just reading the stereotype onto her? (The great thing about the way it’s written is that it’s ambiguous enough what she is that kids would be totally oblivious. Certainly I don’t remember thinking anything much about what Nancy did for an occupation when I was younger.)

And also a shout-out to Heliodorus the rat as well. Great rat character right there. I’m also interested in the throwaway line that he ‘could tell tales … of the monstrous creatures that live in the boundless seas’. I like to think – though I’m not sure if this works out in practicality – that there is one vast Robin Jarvis Universe in which all of his stories take place. And that the monstrous creatures of the boundless seas might be the Lords of the Deep (or perhaps some of their infernal servants?).

But all of this very quickly is over and done with as the action shifts to the great set-piece of the chapter: the raghouse. I think this is the only time this location and the magnificent characters of the Gobtrots appear, but they stick in the mind straight away. This is one scene that I could imagine working well in 3D, because there’s something thoroughly immersive about the towering piles of rags and the filth and squalor. At one stage, there was talk of an Alchymist’s Cat movie and I could imagine set designers having a field day with a place like this.

At first I was thinking that it was an amazing coincidence that the one guy who so desperately wants to find the Philosopher’s Stone happens to find the very garment that has the recipe for it conveniently sewed onto its surface. But I like to think of this as more than a plot device. In the same way that there was something dark and devious about Jupiter’s father, could it be that all the circumstances of this tale are being controlled? Are there dark forces at work, ensuring that just the right circumstances take place in order to raise up a power to dwell miles below in the sewers? A long dark game, if you like it, designed to bring suffering upon the world in several centuries’ time.

Or it could just be that Spittle happened upon the very cloak that he needs and that’s all there is to it … Either way, who can put the book down now?

What do you think?


6 thoughts on “The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 5

  1. Even as a kid I remember thinking, “Wow! These kittens are TRULY extraordinary if they can blink at a day old.” Cats are born with their eyes shut, and even when they open they are blue before the colour sets in (no newborn kitty has emerald eyes)! But I digress…

    I really liked Molly in this chapter. She’s an intriguing character. And there’s also Heliodorus the rat, who I also wanna know more about! So many characters, so few pages to write their histories…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The rivalry between Spittle and Lingley serves as a well done and much needed source of comic relief in this otherwise bleak world. When confronting and trying to upstage Lingley, Spittle will put more important and pressing matters on the backburner, and that really speaks to his intense pettiness and vanity.

    Heliodorus makes me think of a male version of Madame Akkikuyu… no doubt because they’re both black rats with exotic accents. Maybe they could be related – who knows?

    I’ve always found the closing moment of this chapter (when Spittle proclaims “The time has come for me to call on Magnus Augustus Zachaire” and then extinguishes the candle) to be especially ominous and creepy. Poor Will! It would be utterly terrifying to be forced to go along and bear witness to the frightening events that would soon occur that night.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I def do agree that I really like the idea of all of Jarvis’ worlds taking place in one massive continuity, even if there woulda be some outliers ie Deathscent and the Dancing Jacks trilogy for reasons (I’m sure it could be possible mind, but this isnt the place for that).

    As for that attempted Alchymists Cat movie, if I remember correctly it was actually an attempt at a TV series, with the scriptwriter Richard Carpenter being behind older series such as The Burrowers and Robin of Sherwood (god I remember the Satanist-themed episode of that, it was a belter!) but sadly it fell through and now that Carpenter’s dead, it won’t get anywhere.

    I heard tell there was an attempted movie project with involvement from the Jim Henson Creature Workshop but again, that never got out of development hell)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The moment when Spittle picks up the ginger kitten and announces what his name will be?

    That, right there, is the DUN, DUN, DUUUUNNNN moment to end all DUN, DUN, DUUUUNNNN moments! Had this particular scene been taking place by night, an ominous growl of thunder would have had every right to go rolling across the uneasy Heavens. The night before, a legend was born and on this morning, it has been given a name that shall one day be dreaded throughout the sewers.

    Heh. When Spittle tries on the red coat and sarcastically asks if the Gobtrots think he’s a dwarf, I couldn’t help myself. My imagination leaped into action and painted me a picture of one of Piccadilly’s ancestors popping his head out from a rag pile.

    “I don’t know, maybe they mistook you for someone they knew. Let me see now, what was his name? Oh yeah, that’s it! Grumpy! Ha, ha, ha!”

    Then he gets spotted by Bunter who chases him into a mousehole.


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