“THE ALCHEMIST” By Paulo Coelho
The Alchemist is not just a spiritual journey as its author Paulo Coelho would like to describe his masterpiece of which over 65 million copies were sold in last three decades. It is lucid story telling at its best.
Coelho had once said in an interview on Futurist Radio Hour about this short semiautobiographical fable: “In a certain way I try to share with my readers my inner quest, which is basically my spiritual quest.” Of course he knows the best but he is right only to a certain extent. Coelho has achieved much more through powerful symbols that raised his narrative to an ethereal level. This is his biggest success. His is the tale of transcendence, supernatural experience, and insight about the Divine.
In the Ancient Mystery tradition, symbolism is the language of Nature! Hence the language of alchemy had to be symbolism so that its meaning could range from the obvious (exoteric) to the arcane (esoteric) with occult lying somewhere in between these two extremes. After all, there could never be just one simple elucidation of mystery associated with the ancient art of alchemy. Hence in The Alchemist, one mystical force connects everything, linking people even to inanimate objects and elements like metal.
The Alchemist is about the journey of a shepherd boy, Santiago. Coelho’s own experiences are mirrored in Santiago’s journey to find his Personal Legend. 16-year-old Santiago leaves the monastery against his father’s wishes to seek his true dream of traveling. Like Santiago, Coelho had left his Jesuit schooling and Roman Catholicism in favour of his own journey of writing. Santiago travels to Egypt, to the Pyramids and we know that the black land of Khem (Egypt) is where this black art of alchemy was once faithfully practiced.
The Alchemist keeps reminding its readers that those who are willing to pursue their Personal Legends enjoy material success and also feel more satisfied with their lives. For Coelho, material wealth and spiritual purity go hand-in-hand. This is a belief that is different from many traditional spiritual belief systems.
Like many other writers before and after him, Coelho was inspired by the short tale “The Ruined Man Who Became Rich Again Through a Dream” from the classic fifteenth century Arabic short-story cycle, The Thousand and One Nights. Coelho adapted the four principles from the tale — the personal quest, the awareness of omens, the soul of the world, and the idea of listening to one’s heart as a guide. As he weaved them together into a fine narrative, he indeed cast a magic through The Alchemist. The end result is that this “beautiful book about magic, dreams and the treasures we seek elsewhere and then find on our doorstep”, has indeed had a “life enhancing impact on millions of people”. No wonder that it is already translated into over 65 languages today.