Amazon Exclusive: Michael Scott on Nicholas Flamel and The Codex
At the heart of The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel is the ancient book, The Codex, the Book of Abraham. The story begins with the theft of the pages from the book and, as the story progresses, it becomes clear that not only have the Flamels and Doctor John Dee fought over the book for centuries, but that the entire adventure really began centuries ago, when Nicholas bought the book from a mysterious one-handed stranger.
Fantasy fiction is filled with magical books and scrolls, most famously, The Necronomicon in the works of H.P. Lovecraft. The extraordinary and shamefully neglected Clark Ashton Smith created The Book of Eibon, while Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan, used the Unaussprechlichen Kulten when he wrote about the Cthulhu Mythos. These are all fictional books--but the Book of Abraham is different. It really existed.
Like everyone else in the series (with the exception of the twins), Nicholas Flamel was a real man and we know quite a bit about him. He was a poor bookseller and a scrivener. He would have bought and sold manuscripts and also made a little extra money writing letters for people who could neither read nor write. In his own diaries, he tells how he bought a 21-page metal-bound book from a mysterious stranger. We even know the price he paid for the book: two florens, and Nicholas leave us a very clear description of it. "It was not made of paper or parchment, as other books are, but of admirable rinds (as it seemed to me) of young trees."
Nicholas goes on to give a very detailed description of each page. The book was written in a language he could not understand, so he and Perenelle, his wife, set out on a journey across Europe looking for someone who could help them translate the mysterious text. According to Flamel's own account, in the south of Spain he met a man called Master Canches who helped him begin the process of translation. Canches explained that this book contained the secret of alchemy and that if Nicholas and Perenelle were prepared to spend the rest of their lives studying it, then it would reveal wonders to them.
What is clear is that by the time the poor bookseller and his wife returned to Paris, they had become phenomenally wealthy. The Flamels put their money to good use and established churches, hospitals and schools and were so well known and beloved in Paris that there are streets named after them both. The streets exist to this day.
The original of the Book of Abraham is now missing--Cardinal Richelieu is supposed to have had a copy, and in the Flamel's will there is a suggestion that it passed to a nephew, but Nicholas made copies, and these still exist.
Legend has it that The Codex was a book of alchemical formulae--a sort of chemistry text book. And of course it reputedly contained the great secret of alchemy: how to create a lapis philosophorum--a philosopher's stone (which was more of a white or red powder or sometimes a purple glass, rather than a stone). This powder could turn ordinary metal into gold and help to prolong life, making the alchemist virtually immortal.
Did it make the Flamels immortal? Shortly after they died, their graves were opened by grave robbers looking for jewels and fine clothes. The graves were empty. And of course, there are reports of the Flamels appearing all across Europe for many years after their deaths.
I spent many years working as a dealer in rare and antique books--and I loved the idea of not only making a bookseller the hero of a story, but making the story about an antique book. And, before you ask: no, I do not have The Codex.