Exquisite Alchemical Literary Brew: The Alchemaster’s Apprentice by Walter Moers

I finished reading this book two weeks back. While I would not say that this is my absolute favorite Zamonian literature and it does not really fit our current bimonthly theme on Water Tales, I can not help but still be infatuated with Echo the Crat. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Moers’ fantastical universe, a Crat is essentially a feline creature (ok, a cat) who is gifted with the ability to communicate with humans, animals, and other Zamonian creatures (Ugglies, Toadmoss, Cooked Ghosts, Leathermice, Snow-White Widow, and old Tuwituwus with delightful spoonerisms).

Echo the Crat our multi-talented feline hero is near death from famine when Ghoolion – the cruel but brilliant, wicked yet confoundedly-charming Alchemaster found him in the back alleys of Malaisea, described to be the unhealthiest town in the whole of Zamonia. The cunning Ghoolion (gifted in the science and art of negotiation … among others) offered Echo the comforts of his creepy and foreboding castle and promised him the finest gastronomic delicacies he could ever hope to have – in exchange for his fat (read: his life) which Ghoolion needs to create a fusion of various essences (the alchemaster’s masterpiece and life work) that would render Ghoolion immortal. Despite the Alchemaster’s ruthlessness, Moers is able to communicate this darkness with so much lighthearted humor laced with tragedy, biting wit and wordplay edged with pain and bitterness – the mixture is a perfect alchemical brew indeed.

At its core, the novel deals with eternal love in its purest form (and how it can be transformed into something putrid, demented, and utterly mad), unlikely friendships and forged alliances in the most unusual of places and circumstances, and the overpowering will to survive with the promise of love and the slightest hint of romance in the foreseeable future.

This, of course, is packaged with the most exquisite of culinary aesthetics and gastronomic delight – and where ugly is beautiful, down is up, right is wrong. I could not help but think about our blogging friend Jama Rattigan (of Jama’s Alphabet Soup) as I was reading the novel with the delicious descriptions of food in its most grandiose elements: from conceptualization, preparation, the actual cooking and alchemical mix of ingredients, to the presentation and the ‘metamorphotic’ feel of the first savory bite of the most unusual of dishes. Here is an example, it’s quite long (as is Moers’ wont) but well worth the read:

The first course consisted of a tiny little dumpling afloat in a bowl of clear, orange-tinted broth. Echo, who had casually perched on the table, bent an inquisitive nose over the bowl as it was slid towards him.

‘Saffronised essence of tomato,’ Ghoolion said softly. ‘It’s obtained by skinning the finest sun-ripened tomatoes and placing them in a cloth suspended over a bowl. For the next three days, terrestrial gravity alone ensures that the tomato pulp deposits its liquor in the bowl, filtered through the clean linen drop by drop. That’s how one extracts the essential flavour – the very soul of the fruit. Then add some salt, a few grains of sugar and a dozen threads of saffron – precisely a dozen, mark you! – and simmer over a low flame for one whole day. The broth must never boil, or it will dissipate the soul of the tomato and taste of nothing at all. That’s the only way to obtain this orange shade.’ (p. 27)

And that’s just the soup, dear friends – we haven’t even talked about the dumpling yet. Or the main course. Don’t let me get started on the dessert.

The lines which moved me deeply, though, was between the Cyclopean Tuwituwu (with the linguistic oddities and the strangest of speech patterns as you will see in my quote below) named Theodore T. Theodore (otherwise known as Theo) and Echo. The context here is Theo’s attempts to teach Echo about the universe (uniserve in Theo’s quirky terminologies) and the galaxies (aka gaxalies) in the skies.

Echo sighed. ‘I know little enough about the world down here, but even less about the ones up there.’

‘First the holes,’ said Theodore. ‘They aren’t holes at all, they’re stars – suns like ours, but much further away. Got that?’

‘Suns,’ said Echo. ‘Got it.’

‘Good. Those are what exists in the uniserve: suns, platens, gaxalies – everything one can see and measure. Everything that exists.’

‘Everything that exists,’ Echo repeated.

‘And do you see what’s in between the stars?’ Theodore raised one wing and indicated the night sky with a sweeping gesture.

‘The black stuff? Yes, I see it.’

‘But it’s nothing at all, so how can you see it?’

‘I don’t know…’ Echo replied uncertainly. ‘I just can.’

‘Exactly. It’s nothing, but you can see it just the same. That’s what might exist in the uniserve – what can’t be measured. There are lots of words for it. Fate. Love. Death…’ (p. 92)

Whether or not Echo was able to get around this life-and-death pact sealed under the moonlit skies, I shall leave for you to discover.

Here’s to your finding those black spaces in the uniserve dear friends – the space between the stars and parallel universes and discovering divinity within .. and love in its most elusive guise and absolute perfection.

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

3 comments on “Exquisite Alchemical Literary Brew: The Alchemaster’s Apprentice by Walter Moers

  1. I like the illustrations!


  2. Pingback: End of Year Book Survey 2012: The Myra Edition «

  3. Pingback: A Knight-Errant’s Strange Evening in Moers’ A Wild Ride Through the Night |

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