The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Today I have mostly been reading The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo. I have to say I find his long descriptive passages very difficult to find interesting (There is one which describes Paris and goes on for at least ten pages without reference to a map so I really had no idea what he was talking about). Otherwise, it is well worth reading, especially if you are only familiar with the Disney version of the tale.

One thing which really leaps out of the page at me, however, is a huge number of references to an alchemist, dead at the time the book is set, called Nicholas Flamel.

Nicholas Flamel? Isn’t he the man in Harry Potter who created the Philospher’s Stone?

Honestly, I thought he was a fictional character. Nonetheless, a brief search on Wikipedia shows me that I was wrong – Nicholas Flamel, unlike (I presume) every other character in the Harry Potter series, actually existed!

I have been looking up a little bit of Wikipedia knowledge for you all, and the basic facts about Nicholas Flamel are these: he was posthumously connected with alchemy, and was definately a scrivener, French and a manuscript seller. The reason for his posthumous connection with alchemy appears to have been purely that his tombstone – which he designed himself – was covered in alchemical symbols. In 1613, a book on alchemy was published in Paris, and was attributed to him. From there, he became a legend of alchemy, and was even referred to (under the name Flammel) by Sir Isaac Newton.

On a side note, it appears (although it is difficult to be sure due to a lack of citations) that J.K. Rowling may have been slightly more accurate on some details than Victor Hugo. This is mostly with regards to Flamel’s wife, who is called Perenelle in both Harry Potter and Wikipedia, but whom M. Hugo has instead called Claude Pernelle. I’m not sure that they’re not both right, though, if she had several names and Wikipedia has only chosen one. Who knows what inaccuracies may occur in an article which states, without citation, “She was very humble.”

Another interesting lack of citations in Wikipedia means that J.K.Rowling may also have been correct about Flamel’s longevity. All it has to say about his death is “Flamel died in 1418 (citation needed)”. So it might be that he is still alive……

Or not.

In any case, I feel really quite ashamed at the tiny amount of historical knowlege I have for you today. When I get back to University I shall do some more investigating into this topic, but for now I hope you’ll be satisfied with the existence of a man about whom little seems to be known but that he had an interesting gravestone and a wife.

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