Medieval Alchemy, Bees and Fantasy Fiction Talk Kicks Off Fall Colloquium Series

VIU English Professor Cynthea Masson will talk about her journey from academic to fantasy fiction writer on Friday, September 30, during the first presentation in VIU's Arts & Humanities Colloquium Series.

September 26, 2016 - 4:15pm

Free public lecture series hosted by VIU’s Faculty of Arts & Humanities in Malaspina Theatre starts September 30

How does researching medieval alchemy manuscripts translate into a series of fantasy fiction novels? Come to the first presentation in Vancouver Island University’s (VIU’s) Arts & Humanities Colloquium Series on September 30 to hear English Professor Cynthea Masson talk about her journey from academic to fantasy fiction writer.

“I’ll be talking a bit about the history of alchemy, and about how I integrate some of the concepts I explored in my research articles into my book, The Alchemists’ Council,” says Masson. “People won’t leave knowing how to turn lead into gold, but they might be interested in reading more.”

The first novel in a new fantasy trilogy, The Alchemists’ Council is set in a world where alchemists in Council dimension are tasked with maintaining elemental balance in the outside world. A new initiate, Jaden, begins to question Council practices. As bees disappear in large numbers from both the pages of ancient manuscripts in Council dimension and in the outside world, she struggles with an ethical dilemma involving the free will of all humanity.

Masson, who did a PhD focused on medieval mysticism and post-doctoral work with medieval alchemical manuscripts at the British Library, is also well-known for her work in television studies – she is a co-editor of the academic book Reading Joss Whedon. Her fiction work includes The Elijah Tree, published in 2009.

She hopes her presentation, as well as the others in the series of six free public lectures taking place between now and March 2017, will demonstrate how many different directions you can take in academia at VIU.

On October 21, First Nations Studies Professor Laura Cranmer will discuss her research focused on the challenges facing an adult heritage language learner in reclaiming her language, Kwak’wala. Her research uses photos taken by her grandmother as interview prompts to elicit spontaneous conversations between fluent Kwak’wala speakers to further advance her own understanding of the language. The study contributes both learning and teaching insights for other residential school survivors to reconnect with their heritage languages.

On November 25, English Professor Paul Watkins will discuss how Black Canadian writer, poet, DJ and historian Wayde Compton incorporates hip-hop and the turntable into his poetry. The presentation will mix images, sound and text and will include live music – bassist and music student Darin Nicolle will provide bass accompaniment to Watkins’ presentation.

In the spring Series, Music Professor James Mark will explore the concept of perfect pitch and whether it is a gift or curse on January 27. On February 17, History Professor Cheryl Warsh examines the letters women wrote to Dr. Frances Kelsey, the pharmacologist, after she refused to authorize the sale of the drug thalidomide, which was later discovered to cause birth defects.   In the final presentation on March 24, Media Studies Professor Debra Pentecost will talk about telling difficult stories beyond the boundaries of image and text.

Katharine Rollwagen, a VIU History Professor and Chair of The Arts & Humanities Colloquium Committee, says the scope of the research covered during the Colloquium Series is impressive.

“It is the best opportunity to see what our faculty are researching, and to celebrate their scholarly accomplishments,” she says. “It’s also a great social opportunity to meet others interested in the arts and humanities and engage with these ideas. The presentations are always very engaging, with the presenters communicating, in very innovative ways, the importance of the arts and humanities.”

The presentations all take place in the Malaspina Theatre (Building 310) from 10 – 11:30 am, and are followed by a discussion period where audience members are encouraged to ask questions. Courtesy parking is available in lot 5D off Fifth Street, and if people wish to drive right up to the Theatre to drop someone off, they can email Rollwagen at by September 29 and she will ensure the gate is open on the morning of the presentation.

For more information about the Colloquium Series, visit the event homepage.



Jenn McGarrigle, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University

P: 250.740.6288 | C: 250.619.6860 | E: | T: @VIUNews

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