The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 6

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Escape the bonds of Death and come forth.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: All right, all right, I take it back. Spittle is the genuine article. His qualifications are not faked and he knows what he is doing both as an apothecary and in your bona fide magic circle. A round of applause for Spittle the Magnificent, everybody. (Ugh, I can just imagine the smug look on his face.)

If the last two chapters might fall under ‘Birth’ in Jupiter’s biography, we now move on to ‘Early Life’ as our favourite stripy fluff-ball attends his first practical demonstration in the occult arts. I love the clever little touches which hark back to that infamous Blackheath ritual in The Dark Portal, but to me, Spittle’s necromancy almost reads like a dress-rehearsal of that.

His pedantic and distracted counting out of the ceremonial equipment and irate chuntering (not to mention Will’s long-suffering trepidation) kind of kill the evil glory of the scene, rendering it more like a humorous parody of a summoning than the real deal. When the demon appears, it’s even more like a deliberate send-up of the ‘occult horror’ subgenre; Spittle has essentially failed in his ritual and summoned the wrong thing by accident, a common mistake of amateur conjurors everywhere.

With Jupiter’s timely intervention, however, Spittle’s soul is saved from perdition and Magnus Zachaire’s is bottled for later. Here’s another character who I feel like I didn’t truly appreciate until now – Zachaire is fantastic in and of himself, but I also noticed how he’s a rather graceful herald for the Elizabethan world of Deathscent, which we’ll be looking at next year. For now, though, the year is 1664, the night is cold, and there’s a riddle waiting to be unravelled.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I don’t know about you, but this chapter takes me straight back to The Dark Portal and the grim scene in Blackheath. It’s the middle of the night, there are candles and circles and other paraphernalia and an unholy ritual that shouldn’t be done. With young Jupiter there to witness it all …

I can’t remember if I’ve said this on the blog before, but if there was a filmmaker I’d love to see have a crack at Jarvis, it’s James Wan (another fellow Aussie!) who directed the early Insidious and Conjuring movies. They don’t necessarily have complex plots, but when he wants you to jump out of your skin, he’ll get you to do it.

It’s these kinds of jump scares that I visualise with the demon that appeared in this chapter (and also that horrific bit a few chapters ago when Will was trying to pluck a hair from the corpse on the gallows). The book is still ultimately a YA dark fantasy, but there are just these horror moments in there which would work well in a film. It’s also a nice entrance for one of our new characters – the shade of Magnus Zachaire.

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

  1. I love love love Magnus Zachaire. The idea of a spirit disrupted from his slumber merely to be trapped in (what I will always picture as, I can’t remember if it’s canon) a jam jar is, ultimately, hilarious.

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    • One of the illustrations shows the bottle as a pear-shaped apothecary jar of some sort, but I like the jam jar idea better. It’s reasonable to assume that Spittle, having a sweet tooth, would probably have the 17th century equivalent of a jam jar lying around somewhere (though apparently until 1681, all preserved sugary fruit concoctions were known as ‘marmalades’). Anyway, poor Magnus!

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      • When the Robin Jarvis hipster cafe/hole-in-the-wall bar opens up, we can serve cocktails in Magnus jars.

        (That said, I just imagined pitching a business idea about a bar that’s themed around a children’s author, realised it sounds like I’m encouraging under-age drinking, and have now scrapped the idea…)

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  2. Magnus is a great character. It just occurred to me that you could draw a parallel with Jacob Marley of A Christmas Carol, as in life Magnus was very similar to Spittle and he tries to warn him not to go down the same destructive path he did. Of course, the difference is that Marley’s advice is actually heeded and Scrooge doesn’t imprison him in a bottle!

    It’s here that we are introduced to our other source of comic relief in this book – Magnus’ snarky comments at Spittle’s expense!

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  3. With directors that we’d have loved to see adapting Jarvis, I can’t say I agree on trusting any modern director to be up for the job. Not only is (IMO) most modern horror at odds with the content of his stories but even on a visual/tone level, I feel his work is more in line with the atmospheric & often weird horror films of the 60s/70s/80s. Somehow I feel Lucio Fulci woulda been a good match, at least in tone (very good cinematography and lighting coupled with absolutely icky gore) and his ‘Gates of Hell trilogy’ (City of the Living Dead, House by the Cemetery, The Beyond) all feature antagonists that bear resemblance to Zachaire’s here…especially Schweik from The Beyond (that will be very relevant later too). Comparing Jarvis to a director whose works often ended up on the ”Video Nasties’ list may be a stretch until you remember that goofy little ‘8’ age rating on his old site (which may still be there?).

    And on that note, I have to mention that this chapter really cemented which actor I’d always imagine Spittle being played as – Angus Scrimm, infamous for playing the Tall Man from the Phantasm films (…there was only TWO, okay). Not only did Scrimm have that aged but imposing appearance, but his voice woulda been a perfect match too, him booming out ‘boy’ in Phantasm would be easy to do here (but ‘dog’ instead). And the Tall Man was an (interdimensional) necromancer too (Scrimm did get typecast as an undertaker/necromancer character cos of that) and what is Spittle doing here (well, hes not going to send Zachaire to work on another planet…is he?)

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    • I wholeheartedly agree about Angus Scrimm, despite that my mental image of Spittle is closer to Leonid Gore’s cover than Robin’s illustrations. As a close second, I’d probably cast Phil Davis, if only because I remember him being marvellously grody and Spittleish in the BBC miniseries adaptation of Dickens’ ‘Bleak House’.

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      • It’s a fascinating discussion, once you get onto potential directors, etc. It’s perhaps almost a good thing that no adaptation has been made because a) all Jarvis’ readers see these as movies in their minds but b) we have subtle differences as well. I see hand-drawn animation for the Mice, Aufwader imagines stop-motion. (And Robin himself now tinkers with computer animation which does my head in a bit as well.)

        I’m wondering whether you wouldn’t run the risk, with any Jarvis adaptation, of having half his fans hate the finished product for not being what they imagine.

        That said, I have a belief that the important things to maintain are: a) the unique characterisations, b) the Jarvis sense of plotting where everything unfolds at a steady place and c) careful observations of his visualization and aural phenomena (the glows, the explosions, the lightning bolts, the sound effects).

        The trick would be finding a producer/director who is respectful of those things and how often does that happen in the movie world?

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    • @Matt Yeah its interesting alright, and to be quite fair I can easily imagine any dream scenarios being terrible if they ever happened. As for ideas of how they *should* be done, I like to think I’m more open to a variety of interpretations – I’ve always been more firm on what I *don’t* want than what I do, and I could easily imagine Deptford being either stopmo, or gnarly/kinda older 2D (I’m more thinking of stuff like the Rankin-Bass 2D films or Mouse & His Child…god knows I would not want a Disney wannabe version) but still, it would never get made faithfully today unless you found a totally maverick producer/director (like Martin Rosen was in his day – the man had worked with Ken Russell!! No wonder his adaptations of Richard Adams’ animal books were so against the grain) and there aint many of these around in the US or UK now

      I think my talk on directors coulda been the other way round, ie which films may or may not have had some sort of influence or at least parallel – last week I saw Rawhead Rex and that film had a LOT of similar cues to Jarvis’ works, especially Whitby Witches (the tone and church setting and uh, its ending) and Deptford Mice (a monstrous pagan god who’s a ‘rawhead’ who loves bloodshed and even skins his victims…). That film was written by Clive Barker whose works use a lot of the same myths as Jarvis (Hellraiser, Barker’s most famous work, also stars a ‘bloodybones’ antagonist), so its a bit…ironic that the rat’s god Bauchan took the form of a ‘Barker’ in Final Reckoning. Its probably a huge sidetracking but IMO the tone of Jarvis books is inseparable from the trends of horror in the 70s and 80s, which he must have been familiar with to a degree growing up in that decade? Who knows.

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  4. The main problem with adapting The Deptford Mice and Histories in particular into a film or TV series is, I think, finding a target audience. The books are aimed at children and teenagers, and can get away with that because the violence is described instead of shown, but if brought to the screen you’d have basically what is the equivalent of a gory horror film for mature audiences (just imagine the death scenes from Thomas in animated form!). The trouble there is that instead of humans, the characters are mostly cute rodents which naturally appeal to children. As much as I believe the stories would make awesome movies, realistically they would be a tough sell… to mainstream filmmakers, at least.

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    • If there was any hope it would have to be via an independent studio, and for what its worth, probably a foreign one too – Spain seems to have made quite a few…’non typical’ animated films in recent years (shout-out to ‘O Apostolo’ especially…ain’t many animated Gothic horror films that have convicts as the protagonists).

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