Paulo Coelho, the famous author of The Pilgrimage and Aleph, is a prime example of what happens when you don’t give up. Once upon a time, to overcome his procrastination, he swore he’d write a novel if he saw a white feather. The day he saw one in the window of a shop, he began writing. Fast-forward several years, and he’s published 30 books.
This month, we’ll be covering his most famous novel—The Alchemist, which is all about following your dreams. As cliche as it sounds, it’s life-changing and magically eye-opening. No other book can change your posture, and encourage self-improvement, quite like this.
First published in 1988, The Alchemist is translated from Portuguese. It’s been translated into approximately 70 languages. It is considered to be an allegorical novel, which makes sense, as it is about a boy following his dream.
A young Andalusian shepherd—Santiago—is quite content with his simple life, but a recurring dream bothers him. It is about a child who tells him of hidden treasure, tucked away in the Egyptian pyramids. This confuses Santiago, so he tells an old, local woman. She tells him it is prophetic, and that he must go “follow his dream.”
That is when Santiago meets Melchizedek, the King of Salem. This king gives Santiago two stones, Urim and Thummim, in order to interpret omens, and pursue his Personal Legend.
Taking this as a sure sign that he must seek out the treasure, Santiago makes it to Tangier, in northern Africa. His money is stolen and he almost gives up until he finds a crystal merchant willing to give him work in his shop.
After eleven months of hard work and money saving, Santiago joins a caravan to Egypt. That’s when he meets an Englishman who studies Alchemy—the process of turning any metal into gold. He claims to have learned it from the alchemist who resides in the pyramids.
A bit of time goes by, but Santiago eventually meets the alchemist himself. Majestic and powerful, he offers to cross the desert with Santiago, until it is time for him to continue on alone.
When Santiago finally makes it to the pyramids and digs, he finds nothing at all. Instead, thieves beat him and steal all his money—for the second time. After he tells them of his dream, one of the thieves tells Santiago of his own dream: a treasure hidden in an abandoned church.
Santiago eventually makes it back to Andalusia, and goes to the church. He digs right where he slept originally, when he first had the dream, and there it was—his treasure.
The Alchemist is one of those books that you simply don’t forget. You could read it in your teens, or at any point in your adult life, and the memory of it would still be there 20, 30 years later. What seems like a simple story is actually much more.
If readers were to put themselves in the place of Santiago, and substituted the treasure for a calling, or Personal Legend, the message of the novel would begin to show. The King of Salem, the Englishman and the alchemist himself are all mentors. They would be the connections made when first career building. The thieves? Obstacles, like hopelessness and financial difficulty.
All of these allegories, and the use of the common story every human being shares, even in some small way, makes The Alchemist a relatable story.
The method in which the novel begins is quite simple, with the use of simple language that’s easy to read. This is not a criticism for most, but readers used to complexity of text would be turned off. However, the use of this language can be traced back to two simple reasonings: 1) Santiago is a simple shepherd, so the text is meant to convey that simplicity, and 2) the book is meant to convey its complexity through meaning, rather than language.
Furthermore, it is a translated novel, so with that comes a certain limited use of detail that would be there in its original language. That being said, the story is not choppy, nor incomplete. In fact, it flows, reads well, and conveys its points effectively.
The Alchemist is a story of the ages, for all ages. It is a tale of turmoil, travel, self-exploration, and success. The objective is not to collect gold, it is to show the readers that gold comes in all forms. Each and every person has a dream they wish they could accomplish. Each and every person wants to pursue something or another.
Will you seek out your Personal Legend?