Popular Culture Review 29.1 (Spring 2018) - Page 145

his Roman equivalent, also has his workshop under Mount Etna. In Norse mythology, the dwarves who fashion Odin’s spear and Thor’s hammer live underground in their realm of Svartalfheim. Neil Gaiman, in his amusing retelling of the story “The Treasures of the Gods,” recounts how Loki, because he has stolen the golden hair of the goddess Sif, must visit the sons of Ivaldi and the brothers Eitri and Brokk, both to find a way to replace Sif’s hair and to placate Thor (Sif’s husband), Odin, and Frey. The dwarves present not only Odin with his spear and Thor with his famous hammer, Mjollnir, but also Frey with a ship that folds into a pocket handkerchief, and a bristling golden boar to pull his chariot. And of course, they bring new hair for Sif. Out of this central image spring the two main storylines surrounding the Blacksmith. The first storyline may have him on a quest to transform baser materials to gold. This goal is the life’s work of the alchemist, perhaps most famously achieved by Nicholas Flamel with his philosopher’s stone, which turns all metals into gold and grants immortality. The legends of Flamel have influenced popular works such as Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and Michael Scott’s bestselling series The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel. The image of the philosopher’s stone may derive from one of humankind’s most important tools—the flintstone. For millennia, the flintstone was a prime method by which humankind ignited fire, and thus it was considered to have magical properties. In one Russian fairy tale, for example, a flintstone contains a steed that helps the hero on his quest (Propp, loc. 1057-62). Because the flintstone can produce something so at odds with itself—flame out of rock, living fire out of dead matter—it represents, in some cultures, divinity appearing on earth (von Franz 291). Western alchemists spoke of the stone as having a spirit in it, a spirit they magnified in their quest for the philosopher’s stone, which also has spiritual power (291). The lead-to-gold story, however, may appear in a displaced form—and perhaps with an outcome unforeseen by the protagonist. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “The Birthmark,” for example, has a scientist becoming increasingly obsessed with the hand-shaped birthmark on his wife’s face. He works unceasingly to remove the birthmark, and even convinces his wife to assist him. Yet when he succeeds, he loses her, the birthmark proving to be the tie between her \][\K[\XܞHY\\[H[H8'[\[[['HH]BX[\X\]و\H[H܈\H]\\YYX]\X[]H[][ H]BX[[\%]][X[H]HXHو\\ܛۂ[HXY\]YY[]H[ ]\H\X]YقM