I’ve been wanting to go to Prague for 25 years – ever since I read The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera. Since reading that book in the late 1990s, I read other books that made me want to go even more. One book is The Lights of Prague, by Nicole Jarvis. It’s historical, supernatural fiction that takes place in Prague. The story immerses the reader into the magic of the city. Another book I want to mention is The Shadow of Night, by Deborah Harkness. It’s the second in the All Souls trilogy and, like The Lights of Prague, is historical, supernatural fiction. It’s also quite immersive.
I was finally able to see the city of a hundred spires this past October. As I got closer to the trip, I reread sections of The Shadow of Night. And. . . I took notes. The book put new places onto my itinerary, in particular ones linked to alchemy and to the story itself.
I made sure to look for certain symbols on the houses along Nerudova Street.
We passed the house of the Red Lion, the Golden Star, the Swan, and the Two Suns.The Shadow of Night
I sought out the building that was the inspiration for the house in the book (for the part of the story set in Prague).
When I went to Prague Castle, I found the Mihulka Powder Tower where Edward Kelley was one of the alchemists attempting to turn lead into gold.
I went to the Jewish Cemetery to see the gravestone of Rabbi Loew (Judah Loew ben Bezalel, also known as the Maharal).
Since reading The Shadow of Night, I’ve read a lot more fiction that is tied to alchemy, including the Accidental Alchemist series by Gigi Pandian. (I highly recommend the series.) Reading those books sparked a curiosity in the history of alchemy in Prague and added an additional layer to my interest in visiting the city.
I went to the Speculum Alchemiae Museum. The museum is a secret underground alchemy lab that was discovered in 2002.
I found a few other houses in the old town that, like on Nerudova Street, had alchemical symbols, such as the House of the Two Golden Bears and the House of the White Peacock.
I doubt I would have known to go to the museum or to look for any of the house symbols if I hadn’t read those books. I’m so glad I did. My trip was made much more special for it.
Have you ever traveled because of a book? Or maybe you, like me, added to your itinerary because of a book? Leave a comment. I would love to know.