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The Alchemist

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anita ghosh

on 17 June 2014

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Transcript of The Alchemist

Summary, Themes and Author Biography
Why did you choose this book?
What was the most successful aspect of this book?
The Alchemist
Connect the Focus Quote to the book
What was successful?
Overall Impact
What impact did this book have on you?
The Butterfly Effect
- My reason for choosing to read the book ‘The Alchemist’ for our group’s CU assignment was for the title.

- The title pecked my interest making me want to read the book

- After doing so research on the book and reading 1 or 2 reviews of book I without hesitation choose this book to read.

The way the author ‘Paulo Coelho’ created this effect was by using it as his main theme. The entirety of the book is based off fate, following the omens and discovering ones personal legend. This mostly spoken about in the beginning of the book and is later used as the protagonists main goal.
- “To realize one’s Personal Legend is a person’s only real objective” (pg 22)

- ’And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it’” (pg 22),

- “A mysterious force begins to convince them that it will be impossible to realize their personal legend” (pg 21)

- “Everyone, when they are young knows what their Personal Legend is” (pg 21)

This simple, yet eloquent parable celebrates the richness of the human spirit. A young Spanish shepherd seeking his destiny travels to Egypt where he learns many lessons, particularly from a wise old alchemist. The real alchemy here, however, is the transmuting of youthful idealism into mature wisdom. The blending of conventional ideas with an exotic setting makes old truths seem new again. This shepherd takes the advice Hamlet did not heed, learning to trust his heart and commune with it as a treasured friend. Enjoyable and easy to read, this timeless fantasy validates the aspirations and dreams of youth.

—Sabrina Fraunfelter, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Library Journal

The Nielsen Gold Book Award 2004 for its outstanding sales in the UK retail market.
The Corine International Award 2002 for the best fiction in Germany.
The Golden Book Award 1995 and 1996 in Yugoslavia.
The Super Grinzane Cavour Book Award and Flaiano International Award 1996 in Italy.
The Grand Prix Litteraire of Elle 1995 in France.

A recurring dream troubles Santiago, a young and adventurous Andalusian shepherd. He has the dream every time he sleeps under a sycamore tree that grows out of the ruins of a church. During the dream, a child tells him to seek treasure at the foot of the Egyptian pyramids. Santiago consults a gypsy woman to interpret the dream, and to his surprise she tells him to go to Egypt. A strange, magical old man named Melchizedek, who claims to be the King of Salem, echoes the gypsy’s advice and tells Santiago that it is his Personal Legend to journey to the pyramids. Melchizedek convinces Santiago to sell his flock and set off to Tangier. When Santiago arrives in Tangier, a thief robs him, forcing him to find work with a local crystal merchant. The conservative and kindly merchant teaches Santiago several lessons, and Santiago encourages the merchant to take risks with his business. The risks pay off, and Santiago becomes a rich man in just a year.
Santiago decides to cash in his earnings and continue pursuing his Personal Legend: to find treasure at the pyramids. He joins a caravan crossing the Sahara desert toward Egypt and meets an Englishman who is studying to become an alchemist. He learns a lot from the Englishman during the journey. For one, he learns that the secret of alchemy is written on a stone called the Emerald Tablet. The ultimate creation of alchemy is the Master Work, which consists of a solid called the Philosophers Stone that can turn lead to gold, and a liquid called the Elixir of Life that can cure all ills. Santiago learns the Englishman is traveling with the caravan to the Saharan oasis of Al-Fayoum, where a powerful, 200-year-old alchemist resides. The Englishman plans to ask the alchemist the secret of his trade.
As it turns out, the caravan must make an extended stop in Al-Fayoum in order to avoid increasingly violent tribal wars taking place in the desert. There, Santiago falls in love with Fatima, who lives at the oasis. During a walk in the desert, Santiago witnesses an omen that portends an attack on the historically neutral oasis. He warns the tribal chieftains of the attack, and as a result, Al-Fayoum successfully defends itself against the assault. The alchemist gets word of Santiago’s vision and invites Santiago on a trip into the desert, during which he teaches Santiago about the importance of listening to his heart and pursuing his Personal Legend. He convinces Santiago to leave Fatima and the caravan for the time to finish his journey to the pyramids, and he offers to accompany Santiago on the next leg of his trip.
While the alchemist and Santiago continue through the desert, the alchemist shares much of his wisdom about the Soul of the World. They are mere days away from the pyramids when a tribe of Arab soldiers captures them. In exchange for his life and the life of Santiago, the alchemist hands over to the tribe all of Santiago’s money and tells the soldiers that Santiago is a powerful alchemist who will turn into wind within three days. Santiago feels alarmed because he has no idea how to turn into the wind, and over the next three days he contemplates the desert. On the third day, he communicates with the wind and the sun and coaxes them to help him create a tremendous sandstorm. He prays to the Hand That Wrote All, and at the height of the storm he disappears. He reappears on the other side of the camp, and the tribesmen, awed by the power of the storm and by Santiago’s ability, let him and the alchemist go free.
The alchemist continues to travel with Santiago as far as a Coptic monastery several hours from the pyramids. There, he demonstrates to Santiago his ability to turn lead into gold using the Philosopher’s Stone. He gives Santiago gold and sends him off. Santiago begins digging for the treasure at the foot of the pyramids, but two men accost him and beat him. When Santiago speaks to them about his dream vision, they decide he must have no money and let him live. Before leaving, one of the men tries to illustrate the worthlessness of dreams by telling Santiago about his own dream. It concerns a treasure buried in an abandoned church in Spain where a sycamore tree grows. The church is the same one in which Santiago had his original dream, and he finally understands where his treasure is. He returns to Spain to find a chest of jewels and gold buried under the tree, and plans to return with it to Al-Fayoum, where he will reunite with Fatima, who awaits him.
Major Themes
According to The Alchemist, Personal Legends serve as the only means by which an individual can live a satisfying life. In fact, the universe can only achieve perfection if all natural things continuously undergo a cycle of achieving their Personal Legend, evolving into a higher being with a new Personal Legend, and then pursuing that new goal. This concept, that the individualistic pursuit of a Personal Legend exists as life’s dominant—perhaps only—spiritual demand, lies at the center of the unique theology of The Alchemist. As we see when Santiago must give up his flock and leave Fatima, material success and even love pose obstacles to Santiago achieving his Personal Legend and must be delayed or ignored altogether. Those who put off their Personal Legends, such as the crystal merchant, suffer regret and fail to experience the wealth and other favors that the universe bestows upon those who follow their Personal Legends. In the novel, even alchemy, the central symbol of the book, entails coaxing metal to achieve its own Personal Legend to turn into gold. As a result, the idea that all individuals should live in the singular pursuit of their individual dreams emerges as the primary theme of The Alchemist.

In The Alchemist, the spiritual unity represented by the Soul of the World binds together all of nature, from human beings to desert sand. This idea underlies the parallel we see in the novel between the alchemist purifying metal into gold and Santiago purifying himself into someone capable of achieving his Personal Legend. According to the novel, the Soul of the World has created an ultimate desire, or Personal Legend, for everything, whether Santiago or a piece of iron. To accomplish its Personal Legend, each thing must learn to tap into the Soul of the World, which purifies it. That continual purification ultimately leads to perfection. This notion of humans, metals, and all other things sharing the same goal demonstrates that all elements in nature are essentially different forms of a single spirit.
Furthermore, over and over again we see that Santiago must communicate with nature in what the novel calls the common language of the world. Santiago’s horse, for instance, communicates with him by showing him evidence of life in an apparently barren expanse of desert, and Santiago must employ the help of the desert, the wind, and the sun in order to turn into the wind. As the alchemist says when he leaves Santiago, everything from a grain of sand to God himself shares the same spiritual essence. This pantheistic view dominates The Alchemist, and along with the individual, evolutionary theology expressed in the theme of alchemy, it forms the book’s core spiritual message.

Fear persistently comes up throughout Santiago’s journey as the primary obstacle to Santiago’s successfully achieving his Personal Legend. Santiago experiences several forms of fear: a childhood fear of having the gypsy woman interpret his dream; a material fear of losing his wealth by departing to Tangier or by joining the desert caravan; the physical fear of dying in the battle at Al-Fayoum; and the spiritual fear that he will fail to turn himself into the wind when the alchemist forces him to try.
Santiago’s mentors, from Melchizedek to the alchemist, condemn fear by comparing it to materialism, and they describe it as a product of misunderstanding how the universe treats those pursuing their Personal Legends. Fear, they suggest, should become irrelevant, even in the face of death, if you faithfully pursue your dreams.
Just as those who disregard fear appear as enlightened figures, fear dominates The Alchemist’s weakest characters. The crystal merchant in particular represents someone who has allowed fear to rule his life. Although he wants to make the pilgrimage to Mecca required of every Muslim, he fears that once he’s made the trip he will have nothing else to live for. As a result, he remains deeply unhappy, reinforcing the notion that fear acts as an obstacle to a happy and fulfilled life.

Biography of the Author
Paulo Coelho was born on August 24, 1947, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He was a rebellious teenager and his parents committed him to an asylum three times. When Coelho was 38 years old, he had a spiritual awakening in Spain and wrote about it in his first book, The Pilgrimage. It was his second book, The Alchemist, which made him famous. He’s sold 35 million copies and now writes about one book every two years.

Writer Paulo Coelho was born on August 24, 1947, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Coelho attended Jesuit schools and was raised by devout Catholic parents. He determined early on that he wanted to be a writer but was discouraged by his parents, who saw no future in that profession in Brazil. Coelho's rebellious adolescence spurred his parents to commit him to a mental asylum three times, starting when he was 17. "I have forgiven," Coelho said. "It happens with love, all the time - when you have this love towards someone else, but you want this person to change, to be like you. And then love can be very destructive."
Coelho eventually got out of institutional care and enrolled in law school, but dropped out to indulge in the "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll" of hippie life in the 1970s. He wrote song lyrics for Brazilian musicians protesting the country's military rule. He was jailed three times for his political activism and subjected to torture in prison.

After drifting among several professions, Coelho changed his life's course while on a visit to Spain in 1986 at the age of 36. Coelho walked more than 500 miles along the Road to Santiago de Compostela, a site of Catholic pilgrimage. The walk and the spiritual awakening he experienced en route inspired him to write The Pilgrimage, an autobiographical account of the trek, in his native Portuguese. He quit his other jobs and devoted himself full-time to the craft of writing.

In 1987, Coelho wrote a new book, The Alchemist, over the course of one two-week spurt of creativity. The allegorical novel was about an Andalusian shepherd boy who follows a mystical trek in which he learns to speak the "Language of the World" and thus receives his heart's desire. The book attracted little attention at first, until a French-language translation suddenly leapt onto bestseller lists in France in the early 1990s. New translations followed, and soon The Alchemist became a worldwide phenomenon. The book has sold, by Coelho's count, roughly 35 million copies, and is now the most translated book in the world by any living author.
Since the publication of The Alchemist, Coelho has produced a new book at a rate of about one every two years. In a somewhat unusual scheduling ritual, he allows himself to begin the writing process for a new book only after he has found a white feather in the January of an odd year. As odd as that may sound, it seems to be working. His 26 books have sold more than 65 million copies in at least 59 languages.

Author’s connection to the book.

Before The Alchemist launched him to worldwide fame, Brazilian author Paulo Coelho experienced a bumpy writing career. As a teen, Coelho, who admits he was hostile and isolated at the time, told his parents he wanted to be a writer. The untraditional career path, coupled with his behavior, led his parents to commit Coelho to a mental hospital three separate times. After this period, he relented to his parent’s wishes and enrolled in law school, but dropped out after one year and became a globetrotting hippie through the 60s and 70s. During this time, Coelho published the unsuccessful Hell Archives (1982) and contributed to the Practical Manual of Vampirism (1985), but he mostly immersed himself in the drug culture and penned song lyrics for Brazilian pop stars such as Elis Regina, Rita Lee, and Raul Seixas. Despite his lack of success writing books, Coelho made good money as a lyricist. He could have easily made a career of his job, but a trip to Spain pointed him down a different path.
This turning point in Coelho’s writing career came in 1982, when he walked Spain’s road of Santiago de Compostela, or the Way of Saint James, an important medieval Christian pilgrimage route. During the walk, Coelho had a spiritual awakening that he chronicled in his second novel, The Pilgrimage (1987). The book had little impact, but Coelho became determined to make a career as a writer. Coelho found his concept for his next book,The Alchemist (1988) in a 1935 short story by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges called “Tale of Two Dreamers”. Like The Alchemist, Borges’ short story revolves around two dreamers in search of treasure. Coelho sold his book to a tiny Brazilian publishing house, which printed a miniscule first edition of 900 copies and decided not to reprint afterward.
The Alchemist achieved commercial success only after Coelho found a bigger publisher, Rocco, to publish his next book, Brida(1990). Brida received good press coverage in Brazil, and Coelho’s newfound popularity launched The Alchemist to the top of the Brazilian bestseller list. In 1993, U.S. publisher HarperCollins decided to print The Alchemist, starting with a print run of 50,000 copies. Though that number was significant at the time, it did not compare to the astounding success the book would eventually have. Since its U.S. publication, The Alchemist has won the Guinness World Record for the most translated book by a living author. It has been translated into 67 languages, has sold over 65 million copies throughout the world, and has won several international awards, including the United Kingdom’s 2004 Nielsen Gold Book Award, France’s Grand Prix Litteraire Elle in 1995, and Germany’s 2002 Corine International Award for fiction.
The unprecedented success of The Alchemist launched Coelho to international literary fame and, in some circles, notoriety. He has won celebrity fans from Bill Clinton, to Will Smith, to Madonna, and has written more than twenty commercially successful books since The Alchemist, many of which have been inspired by his own life experiences. Despite Coelho’s success, he has his fair share of detractors. Several writers and critics, including the Brazilian critic Mario Maestri, accuse him of producing mass-market self-help fables disguised as literature. Coelho has also distinguished himself by his willingness to share his books over the Internet for free. His American publisher caught him pirating his own books over several popular torrent sites and forced him to stop the practice. In return, the publisher allowed each of his new books to be available on its website for one month after being released in stores.
Clear connections exist between the story of The Alchemist and Coelho’s own life story. Just like Santiago, a comfortable shepherd who decided to abandon everything to pursue a dream, Coelho lived comfortably as a songwriter when he decided to give up everything to pursue his dream of writing. Just as Santiago suffered many setbacks and temptations during his journey to Egypt’s pyramids, Coelho suffered a number of setbacks, including the disappointing reception ofThe Pilgrimage and the initial failure of The Alchemist, and experienced material temptations arising from his financial success as a songwriter. Yet, just like Santiago, Coelho remained focused on his dream, eventually achieving literary success beyond his expectation. Interestingly, Coelho didn’t gain fame and financial success as an author until well after writing The Alchemist. Although Coelho’s subsequent success more than validates the lesson he communicates through the story of Santiago’s journey, success such as Santiago finds in The Alchemist was something Coelho had yet to attain at the time he wrote the book.
Focus Quote

Our focus quote for The Alchemist that we chosen is written by Salman Rushdie and the author stated that “It is literature which for me opened the mysterious and decisive doors of imagination and understanding. To see the way others see. To think the way others think. And above all, to feel.” meaning that literature represents an important meaning of life where it encourages individuals to become more creative and comprehensive. I think this quote should be our focus quote for the story because this quote can help readers understand the reasoning behind Santiago’s journey when he sells his sheep to travel to Egypt where he introduces the idea of Personal Legend, meaning what one always wanted to accomplish. The Personal Legend is something that everyone must have and should be able to discover and obtain to find their true meaning in life.
Our society only contains a limited amount of resources we are able to consume. Our focus quote greatly reflects on how to make the use of our scarce resources effectively and efficiently. In the story, one of the crucial quotes has been quoted, saying “It’s the simple things in life that are the most extraordinary” on page 15 meaning that the basic amenities in life are only required to enjoy life with such basic amenities such as food, water, clothing, shelter, friends and family.
Our focus quote also reflects on the Personal Legend where one must not give up regardless of unknown obstacles fallen in the way. The Personal Legend redefines how one’s hopes and dreams must not be shattered by an unexpected incident. For example, in the story when Santiago becomes perplexed after he falls in love with woman named Fatima and asks to marry later on but refuses until he finds the treasure. Santiago later on discovers that true love is non-existent if it stops his Personal Legend. Another point in the book also reflects further about the Personal Legend. The story reflects further into detail on how one’s desire must not be held back by challenges. The quote on page 39 “While I had my sheep, I was happy, and I made those around me happy. People saw me coming and welcomed me. But now I’m sad and alone. I’m going to become bitter and distrustful of people because one person betrayed me. I’m going to hate those who have found their treasure because I never found mine. And I’m going to hold on to what little I have, because I’m too insignificant to conquer the world.” tells us that even though Santiago has been facing the deprivation of his sheep, he chooses to make the best of the remaining resources that he carries.
Author Interview
By: Anita, Arman, Jason, Ahmad, Kendra
The Unity of Nature
The Danger of Fear

The Centrality of Personal Legends


Early Life
'The Alchemist'
& Kendra
The most successful aspects of the story include his story line, language and the characterization.

"In order to arrive you must follow the signs. God inscribed on the world the path that each man must follow. It is just a matter of reading the inscription he wrote for you." (34)
-The Alchemist

"You don't have to understand the desert: all you have to do is contemplate a simple grain of sand, and you will see in it all the marvels of creation." (26)
The Alchemist

The alchemist is urging simplicity. In Coelho's book, alchemy itself has become impossibly convoluted, when once upon a time the simplest of formulas could turn a common stone to gold.

Now, the alchemist considers a vast desert, from a visual standpoint, the simplest of terrains and argues to Santiago that all beauty, all marvel, all complexity can be found within a given speck of that terrain.

Author Interview quote:
By having an enemy and by launching yourself into fury towards that enemy you have a better feeling of who you are

The quote that Salman Rushdie mentioned in an interview is a relation to our focus quote because it represents one of the ways to find our true identities. By having an enemy you will have a better understanding of their advantages and disadvantages and competing against them encourages you to think the way they think as it is possible to find their strong and weak points of their strategies. Competing against enemies also encourages you to find strategic and creative paths to overcome your competitors. Competition is important because it encourages us individuals to become better at the things we do and to optimize our work to get better results.

- The impact ‘The Alchemist’ had on me was it got me to believe more in fate and to watch for and determine both bad and good omens.

- Another impact and quite possible the biggest impact ‘The Alchemist had one me was it got me wanting to figure out my personal legend.

What was most successful about this book?
What were the main themes?
How many languages was this book translated into?
Discussion Questions
What is a "Personal Legend?" How does one find their own Personal Legend?
What do you believe is your personal legend?
Question Time
The Alchemist talks about a "universal language" the language of the world. Do you believe we have a universal language?
Full transcript