The other night I had the awesome opportunity of completing the short novel, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, and my initial thoughts are: wow, just absolutely mesmerizing. This novel encapsulates everything I would want for a quest: the soul searching protagonist, the mysterious catalyst, a timely friend, and the all knowing guide. The Alchemist features a timeless message to its readers, one which is becoming more important as we progress from generation to generation. At a time where millennials are unsure of their future and what their purpose is, The Alchemist sheds a light on the questions we as the “new” generation have.
Our story begins with a young Shepherd boy tending to his sheep, making his way to a village in order to sell wool and hopefully return to an unmarried woman, this boy’s name was Santiago. As he relaxes within the old church, he remembers his meeting with the shopkeeper and his daughter a year ago and he expresses his excitement and doubt of his return. We learn about the boys past, why he chose to be a shepherd, how he got to where he is, and what he hopes to do in his life. He hopes to travel; just like many of us. But most importantly, we find out about a recurring dream he has. A dream of a young girl guiding him towards a treasure buried by the pyramids of Egypt; towards his personal legend. This dream gnaws at the Boy’s curiosity and begins to tug at his heart strings and he wants to know more.
Before he is to arrive at the village, he makes a stop in the city of Tarifa, a bustling city that offers travel to the plains of Africa. Once in Tarifa, the boy wishes to replenish his food and wine, get a haircut, buy a new book, and see the gypsies for answers to his recurring dream. The gypsy he speaks with only tells him what she can interpret, which isn’t a lot because his dream is a difficult dream, its his personal legend, his story, and that is hard to interpret. The gypsy suggests that the dream is in, “the language of the world.” Which is an important theme to the story. But the boy isn’t convinced, and leaves the gypsy feeling conned. Returning to the town square, he trades in his book and then finds a nice bench to sit upon and read. This is when the mysterious catalyst presents himself to the boy; he is an omen. However, let us discuss what omens are. Today, in popular culture, omens are considered bad things, evil messages sent to warn you of impending doom. But, in The Alchemist, omens are simply messages from the world. They are signs, good and bad, that simply look to inform you as to what will happen, and it is up to you to respond accordingly. Omens are good, and they are what help you reach your personal legend. If you can listen to the omens, you will find your way.
Santiago, at first, is hesitant to the Old Man. He is annoyed by his presence and his wish to converse. But the Old Man persists and eventually reveals his true self to the Boy: he is the King of Salem, Melchizedek. This peeks the Boy’s curiosity and, after being blinded by light, the King gains the boys trust by showing something only the boy knew. The King goes on to explain that Santiago has found his personal legend, and that he must go to the pyramids in Egypt and to find the treasure he has been looking for. The King explains to the Boy that there is such a thing as ‘The Soul of the World’ and that everything is one with each other. After listening to the King, Santiago is left with a decision; to go on being a shepherd taking care of his flock, or to drop everything and travel to the far land of Egypt, a place he had no true understanding of. So the King leaves him with his final words of wisdom, “God has prepared a path for everyone to follow. You just have to read the omens that he left for you.”
Ultimately the Boy decides to take a chance and go search for his treasure, if he didn’t we wouldn’t have a story now would we? Once traversing to Africa, the Boy encounters a language barrier and is unfortunately robbed of the gold he received for his flock of sheep. Down on his luck, Santiago stumbles upon a crystal glass merchant who befriends him, and over the course of a year they help each other create a successful shop, learn from each others lives, and both become stronger souls when their journey together comes to an end. After having saved money for the last year, Santiago was ready to return home and buy twice as many sheep as he once had. But, something stops him, and he decides to pursue his journey. After all, the way he sees it, he’s two hours closer to his treasure, being in Africa and not in Spain (which was two hours by boat).
Santiago’s plan was to join a caravan that would cross the thousand kilometres of desert that stood between him and his treasure. There he met an Englishman who was in search of alchemies secrets. They began a small friendship throughout the months of travel, and eventually stumbled upon an oasis called Al-Fayoum. Through threats of war, the caravan made it safely but was held up in the oasis for quite sometime because of the tribal wars that were still on-going. This was okay for the Englishman because his journey stopped in Al-Fayoum, he was in search of the Alchemist, the all-knowing guide. But the Alchemist was not waiting for the Englishman, but for Santiago. The Boy reads an Omen that saves the oasis from tribesmen warriors, meets the most beautiful girl he had ever met named Fatima, and gains a guide and a teacher through the Alchemist.
However, his Personal Legend doesn’t end here, he still needs to get to the Pyramids. And so, he and the Alchemist head out towards the pyramids. Encountering tribesmen who attempt to rob them, a valley of death where they are imprisoned and tasked with demonstrating their sorcery, well Santiago is asked to become the Wind, and a Monk Monastery where the Alchemist turns lead into gold. After leaving the monastery, the Alchemist and Santiago part ways, and the Boy starts the final leg of his journey. Finally, arriving at the pyramids, Santiago starts to dig, only to be interrupted by a gang of thieves who beat him up and leave him bloody. And this is where Santiago finds his treasure.
That was the best summary of the novel that I could write with as much detail as I could without spoiling the truly important parts. I love the quest for ones personal legend, the understanding of the language of the world, and the tapping of the soul of the world. All three of these things are important realizations that each of us as human beings need to come to. Many of us have given up our dreams because the world is made up so that we cannot pursue them. But that is what makes our personal legends so satisfying, that although its easy to give it up, its also worth it to fight on and ride out the storm. If we are able to achieve our personal legends, we are able to live life to its fullest because we will have listened to our hearts. As crazy of an idea as that is, it is true. We must never stop listening to our hearts because it will forever ache if we ignore it, making us constantly second guess our life’s choices and the path we took. It truly is unfortunate that so many people have given up on their journeys. Some come back to them when it is the ‘right’ time, but most give up and live with aching hearts. So I believe the important lessons that we can take away from The Alchemist are that we must first and foremost listen to our hearts, no matter what. Second would be to look for the omens the world gives us. Third is to understand the language of the world, luckily as a communicator I have already been working on this for quite some time, I like to frame it as: taking a step back, observing the situation, and formulating a thought based on what I’ve seen. Not what I have heard, but what I have observed. And fourth is understanding that the world has a soul, and that we are all a part of it, and most importantly that it is up to us to feed that soul with our hearts and our understandings and our experiences.
This is why I believe The Alchemist will remain relevant and important for centuries.
Well, if you’ve made it this far, I want you to know that I am proud of you. But I am also thankful that you took the time to read my review of this wonderful novel. I know this is a long post, and long blog posts don’t always go well. But I felt this was an important subject to discuss, and I wanted to get the gist of it out there. Its a story I am truly passionate about and that has inspired me to write my own quest for treasure. I could never live up to the incredible nature of this novel, but I hope to one day add my own insight into the subject of peoples personal legends and understanding the soul of the world. Because these are things I believe in and I just want people to be happy and live life the way their hearts tell them to, because listening to your heart is the first step to happiness. 🙂
- Sushami Pomerleau-Piquette