Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Fairy Tales as Alchemical Stories?

Bess Livings

Alchemy is a topic I know virtually nothing about (unless you count Harry Potter, explained below), but a couple posts on other blogs have introduced me to a completely new way of thinking about/interpreting fairy tales.

A while back, Spinning Straw into Gold provided a link to this article, Snow White and the Philosopher's Stone, by John Patrick Pazdziora, which sheds light on the color symbolism in Snow White. Christie and her readers go on in the comments to consider the colors in Little Red Riding Hood as alchemical as well. From the article:

Arthur Rackham

"If you’ve read Harry Potter, you’ve encountered a great example of literary alchemy, though the tradition is hundreds of years old. Here’s a crash introduction.* Each color represents a different phase of the alchemical process, or Great Work as the alchemists called it. Black signifies the nigredo stage, where the lead or base metal is burned, to remove its impurities. White is the second stage, albedo, where the purified matter is washed repeatedly to transmute it into the final stage, rubedo, signified by (you guessed it) red and gold. The beginning of the rubedo is signified by the blossoming of streak of red on the white metal; the metal is put into a container, symbolised by burial or interment in a coffin, until the transmutation is complete. The elements in the metal that were in opposition—fluid and solid, female and male, life and death, and so on—become reconciled; this is called the alchemical marriage."

Eleanor Vere Boyle

Recently, reader Kelli Orazi of The Middle Page wrote an excellent post which looked at Beauty and the Beast as a potential alchemical tale.

As Christie and Kelli point out, this was not necesssarily the author's intentions when writing the tales, but something to consider, especially when looking at earlier versions of fairy tales. It would certainly help to explain why the colors black, white, red, and gold are so prevalent across stories from multiple cultures.


  1. Thanks for pointing me to Kelly's excellent essay.

  2. Thanks for reading my post and mentioning it! I'm so glad to have sparked your (already quite knowledgable and imaginative) mind!

  3. Hey! I (very stupidly) changed the url of my blog and wanted to update you so that your readers don't get a dead link. The url for my alchemical look into the Beauty and the Beast is

    (and my url for my site is