Real alchemy, in case you wondered, was just stirring things together and watching what happened. It was making what we would now call “chemical reactions.” But 400 years ago, before science as we know it was invented, what happened often looked like…magick.
Explosions! Showers of sparks! Clouds of toxic fumes! And other Harry Pottereque special effects! Those particular effects were not, alas, something I could do in a bookstore. But alchemy also had its moments of quieter magick.
The audience saw glasses of purple cabbage water ***transformed!!*** into various other colors by the addition of myseriously lableled alchemical ingredients.
Other bits of quiet magic included the crystals that grow in a glass jar when you mix ordinary washing soda (available in grocery stores) with warm water.
I talked, too, about what happens when you set a prism in a sunny windowsill. How colors appear here and there, and move across the room as the sun moves. (Isaac Newton called them “the ghosts of light.”)
It was great to sign this boy’s copy of Isaac the Alchemist, Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d and realize that he did actually want to read a book of nonfiction. And not for school…
I was also thrilled when an almost-six-year-old girl (not old enough to read Isaac the Alchemist, but old enough to look at the pictures) really wanted the prism she won as a prize. She took home a jar of washing soda, too.
[My thanks to the wonderful Don Losure and Laurie Stern for the photos!]