History of Potter: Nicolas Flamel, the Sorcerer’s Stone, and the Quest for Immortality

Harry Potter fans only know the  Nicolas Flamel—both a real life 14th century French scribe and a fixture of the Wizarding World’s vast history—through reputation alone.

The famous wizard and close friend of Albus Dumbledore was the sole alchemist to ever create the Sorcerer’s Stone, and from it he made the Elixir of Life, which let him live for hundreds and hundreds of year. But in Fantastic Beast: The Crimes of Grindelwald the legend will finally step out from the shadows, and his presence points to him playing a far more important role in defeating the two darkest chapters of the Wizarding World than the history books have told us about.

The very real Flamel, who J.K. Rowling based her character on, was born sometime around 1330 near Paris, and he was married to a woman named Perenelle—two facts he lent to his Harry Potter counterpart. The couple was wealthy and gave generously to France’s Catholic church, but after Flamel died in 1418, stories about him faking his death became popular. Even grander were the tales that he had in fact cheated death entirely after he deciphered a book of alchemy he had been given under mysterious circumstances. It was said the book’s secret formulas allowed him to live for hundreds of years, and these legends ( and a vivid dream) were the inspiration for Rowling’s fictional Flamel.

We only know the broad strokes of the life of the wizard Flamel. He met his wife as a student at Beauxbatons Academy of Magic, where a fountain was named for them after they made significant donations to the school’s castle and grounds. It’s not known if they gained their wealth from their ability to turn any metal into gold, an ability they harnessed after becoming the only alchemists to ever master the secret of making the legendary and elusive Sorcerer’s Stone.

The reddish, artificial rock—long considered the height of perfection in the world of alchemy—not only gives its wielders the golden touch, but a form of immortality because it can also be used to create the Elixir of Life potion. So long as its users continue to drink the Elixir, they can extend their lifespan, which is just what Nicolas Flamel and his wife did for over 650 mostly quiet and secluded years, until they agreed to destroy the stone after Voldemort almost stole it in an attempt to regain a physical form.

And that’s all we know about one of the most famous wizards ever, other than the fact he worked closely enough with Albus Dumbledore and that their partnership was notable enough to warrant inclusion in the brief paragraph on the back of Dumbledore’s Chocolate Frog Card, which mentioned “his work on alchemy with his partner, Nicolas Flamel.”

Since the entire premise of the first Harry Potter novel was Voldemort’s attempt to secure the Sorcerer’s Stone, that factoid could have been chalked up to nothing more than clever foreshadowing. Now that we know Nicolas Flamel will appear in The Crimes of Grindelwald, that note has taken on an entirely new meaning, especially when we view it in the context of what we know about Grindelwald, Dumbledore, and Voldemort.

Voldemort didn’t rise to power until decades after Dumbledore defeated Grindelwald in 1945 (almost certainly the ending spot for the Fantastic Beasts franchise), but Tom Riddle’s quest for immortality began in 1942 when he was a student at Hogwarts, where he first enrolled in 1938 shortly after being told by Dumbledore he was a wizard. The most infamous Dark Wizard’s formative years took place entirely during Grindelwald’s quest for world domination, which Voldemort definitely studied and learned from. But there was a major difference between what Grindelwald wanted and Voldemort’s ultimate goal, and that difference that might very well explain why Nicolas Flamel’s role in Fantastic Beast will prove so important.

Grindelwald wanted to rule the entire world, both magical and Muggle alike, as a benevolent ruler—the dream he had talked about as a young man with his dear friend Dumbledore. As teenagers the pair was also obsessed with the Deathly Hallows and its promise of immortality, which Grindelwald would get one third of the way to achieving when he acquired the Elder Wand.

While Grindelwald believed his violent means would justify the peaceful world he would rule in the end, Voldemort’s twisted vision had no room for Muggles or “Mudblood” wizards. He wanted to lead a world of only pureblood magical creatures, a grotesque escalation of Grindelwald’s already sinister plan.

So how does this connect to Nicolas Flamel and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which Voldemort would one day know enough about to turn to in hopes of getting his body back? Imagine a young wizard who, like Gellert Grindewald, dreams of power and immortality. That impressionable teenager then sees the Dark Wizard fail in his quest. What lessons would he take from that? We know one of them, that Tom Riddle would have no room for “others” the way Grindelwald had planned, but what else did Grindelwald fail to do? He aimed too low in his other great ambition–to cheat death.

If Voldemort made the Deathly Hallows his mission, it’s not hard to surmise he did so exactly because Grindelwald didn’t—the stone would allow a wizard to cheat death for a time, but the Deathly Hallows would allow a wizard to defeat it for good. If Grindelwald’s ambition was less than Voldemort’s, that points to Grindelwald only trying to secure the Sorcerer’s Stone. That leads us to Flamel and presumably why he stepped out from his quiet life into the midst of a worldwide wizarding war.

Nicolas Flamel did the impossible and created an invaluable item that extended the life of anyone who drank it. Its appeal to a power-hungry, ruthless Dark Wizard who believes the ends justify even the worst means is obvious. Yet it seems as though history, much like the way the most famous alchemist ever lived his life, has kept the his role mostly in the shadows.

Why? It looks like we’re about to find out, but until we do it’s fair to ask if it has something to do with his close friend, the wizard who was vital in defeating both Gellert Grindelwald and Lord Voldemort decades apart. You know, Albus Dumbledore, who lived at least 115 years.

Hey, how do you suppose he lived that long?

What do you think? What role will Nicolas Flamel play in the Fantastic Beasts franchise? Apparate into our comments below with your thoughts.

Images: Warner Bros.

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