The Alchemist (novel)

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The Alchemist  

1st edition cover
Author Paulo Coelho
Original title O Alquimista
Country Brazil
Language Portuguese
Genre(s) Psychological, Adventure, Novel, Drama
Publisher HarperTorch (Eng. trans)
Publication date 1988
Published in
Media type print (hardback, paperback and itunes)
Pages 167 pp (first English edition, hardback)
ISBN ISBN 0062502174 (first English edition, hardback)

The Alchemist (Portuguese: O Alquimista) is an allegorical novel by Paulo Coelho first published in 1988. It follows Santiago, a young Spanish shepherd, on a journey to fulfill his Personal Legend. It has been hailed as a modern classic.[1][2] The plot is inspired from Jorge Luis Borges' short story: Tale of two dreamers.[3]

The Alchemist was originally written in Portuguese and has since been translated into 67 languages, winning the Guiness World Record for most translated book by a living author.[4] It has sold more than 65 million copies in more than 150 countries, becoming one of the best-selling books in history.[5]


[edit] Background

In his 30's, Paulo Coelho had already made a career as a popular songwriter. However, in 1986, Coelho walked the 500-plus mile Road of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain, a turning point in his life.[6][7] Coelho described this autobiographically in The Pilgrimage, and it also had great influence on his next book, The Alchemist (Santiago, the novel's main character, derives his name from the Road of Santiago). In an interview, Coelho stated "The Alchemist is a metaphor of my own life. It was written in '88, and in that moment I was also very happy in the things I was doing. I was doing something that gave me food and water -- to use the metaphor in the book, I was working, I had a person who I loved, I had money, but I was not fulfilling my dream. My dream was, and still is, to be a writer."[8]

Coelho sold the book to a small Brazillian publishing house, who made an initial print run of 900 copies and decided not to reprint.[9] He subsequently found a bigger publishing house, and with the publication of his next book Brida, The Alchemist became a Brazillian bestseller.[9] In 1993, Harper Collins published 50,000 copies of the book, the largest American print run for a Brazillian author.[9] An executive at Harper Collins described that "reading the Alchemist was like getting up at dawn and seeing the sun rise while the rest of the world still slept."

[edit] Plot summary

Santiago, a boy living in Spain, leads a common life of travel through his trade of shepherding and entertains thoughts of marrying a merchant's daughter. One day, he has a dream in which a child tells him to go to the Egyptian pyramids, which will lead him to hidden treasure. He consults a gypsy to interpret his dream, who tells him that it is a dream in the language of the world, and he must go to the Pyramids. Santiago dismisses this and plans to continue on with his daily life. While he sits to read a book, an old man strikes up conversation with him. The old man reveals that he is Melchizedek, the King of Salem. The King tells Santiago that in exchange for one-tenth of his sheep, he'll tell him where to find the treasure. Santiago agrees and buys a ticket to Tangiers.

In Tangiers, Santiago is tricked by a thief and loses his money and possessions. Discouraged, he curses his fate. However, he is reminded of the old king and finds newfound resolve to continue his quest. In Tangiers, he works for a year with a crystal merchant, and after accumulating enough money, he travels to Egypt with a caravan. On his journey, he meets an Englishman who tells Santiago of an alchemist living in the Al-Fayoum Oasis who has discovered the Elixir of Life and can transform metal into gold.

Due to a threat of tribal war, the caravan has to wait for a month in the oasis, which is a place of neutrality. While there, he falls in love with a girl named Fatima, whom he promises to marry after he returns from his journey. On a walk in the desert, Santiago has a vision of an army riding into the oasis. He tells the tribal chieftens of his vision, who agree to break the oasis's neutrality and have armed men on the lookout for an army. However, if no army comes by the end of the the next sunset, Santiago will be killed. After this exchange, the boy meets the alchemist, who tells Santiago to find him if he is still alive by the next sunset. The next day, an army tries to attack the oasis, but they are decimated by the oasis's two thousand armed men.

Santiago finds the alchemist and they travel towards the pyramids. On the way there, they are stopped by soldiers and accused of being spies. After giving the chief all of the boy's gold, the alchemist promises that in three days, the boy will turn himself into the wind or they will present him with their lives. Three days pass, and the chief summons Santiago. Santiago converses in the Language of the World with the desert, the wind, and the sun and summons a powerful wind that almost destroys the military camp. The general allows the boy and the alchemist to leave, providing them with an escort party.

When Santiago finally reaches the Pyramids, he sees an omen in the form of a scarab and begins to dig in the dunes. He is attacked by two refugees of the tribal war and has to admit that he is searching for treasure there. One of them laughs and reveals that on that very spot, he had a dream about finding treasure in the church where Santiago first had the dream. Santiago returns to the church and finds the treasure. After finding the treasure and placing the two stones he had received from the King, he proceeds to return to Fatima.

[edit] The "Personal Legend"

Central to the novel is the concept of a Personal Legend. Santiago first learns of one's Personal Legend from The King of Salem, who tells him "It's what you have always wanted to accomplish. Everyone, when they are young, knows what their Personal Legend is."[10] He expounds on this saying "...there is one great truth on this planet: whoever you are, or whatever it is that you do, when you really want something, it's because that desire originated in the soul of the universe. It's your mission on earth."[10] The King also tells Santiago of the importance of following the omens on the journey to realizing one's personal legend. Coelho follows this advice himself; he will only start writing a book after finding a white feather.[11]

[edit] Inspiration

The novel's central plot of two dreamers dreaming of treasure is inspired from Jorge Luis Borges' short story: Tale of two dreamers, from the 1935 collection A Universal History of Infamy.[12] However the concept of dreamers who seek treasure abroad only to find it at home has been quite common in literature and folk tales. Other examples of similar plots can be found in:

An interpretation of "The treasure under the bridge" by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov is given as "The meaning of the parable is this: The fear of God is a buried treasure concealed in the heart of every one of us, but one has to journey to the Tzaddik to discover it."[25] This interpretation is similar to Jalal al-Din Rumi's universality, as shown in another of Rumi's poems:-

I searched for God among the Christians and on the Cross and therein I found Him not.
I went into the ancient temples of idolatry; no trace of Him was there.
I entered the mountain cave of Hira and then went very far but God I found not.
Then I directed my search to the Kaaba, the resort of old and young; God was not there.
Finally, I looked into my own heart and there I saw Him; He was nowhere else.[26]

[edit] Reception and Cultural Influence

The Advertiser, an Australian newspaper, published one of the first reviews of The Alchemist in 1993 saying "of books that I can recommend with the unshakable confidence of having read them and been entranced, impressed, entertained or moved, the universal gift is perhaps a limpid little fable called The Alchemist... In hauntingly spare prose, translated from the Spanish, it follows a young Andalusian shepherd into the desert on his quest for a dream and the fulfilment of his destiny."[27] Since then, the novel has received nearly universal praise, making it to the top spot on best seller lists in 74 countries and winning prestigious awards in Germany and Italy.[4][28][9] It has been called a "charming story," "a brilliant, simple narrative," and "a wonderful tale, a metaphor of life," from people in places as diverse as South Africa, Finland, and Turkey.[29] It has been praised by public figures like Will Smith, Joe Jonas[not in citation given], Bill Clinton[not in citation given], Madonna[not in citation given], Russell Crowe, Julia Roberts, and Nobel Prize winner Kenzaburō Ōe[not in citation given].[30][31][32]

[edit] File Sharing

Paulo Coelho is a strong advocate of spreading his books through peer-to-peer file sharing networks. He put his own books on file-sharing networks like BitTorrent, and noted that The Alchemist received a boost in sales due to this.[33] He stated that "I do think that when a reader has the possibility to read some chapters, he or she can always decide to buy the book later."[33] Currently, chapters from The Alchemist can be found on Google Books and Coelho's agency Sant Jordi Associoados.[34][35] Entire copies of his books, including translations, can also be found on Pirate Coelho, a blog which Coelho has endorsed.[36]

[edit] Adaptations

In 2003, Warner Bros. bought the rights to the film adaptation of The Alchemist. The project stalled and the movie never materialized, reportedly for problems with the script.[37] At one point, the script had a battle sequence with 10,000 soldiers, which was "not what the book is about."[38]

At the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, Harvey Weinstein announced that he had bought the rights to the film and will serve as its producer. Laurence Fishburne is set to direct, and to play the eponymous character. It will have a reported budget of $60 million. Weinstein, who rarely personally produces movies, stated that "My loyalty is not to Laurence [Fishburne], my loyalty is not to me, my loyalty is not to anyone other than Paulo Coelho."[39] Coelho added "I am very happy that my book will be filmed in the way I intended it to be and I hope the spirit and simplicity of my work will be preserved. I am excited my friend Laurence Fishburne and Harvey Weinstein will be working together."[28]

A theatrical adaptation of The Alchemist has been produced and performed by the Cornish Theatre Collective, which is their most successful production to date.[40]

[edit] Anniversary

The 20th anniversary of the novel's publication was celebrated in the Theatre Palacio Valdés of Avilés, Asturias (Spain), with Coelho in attendance. The event was transmitted through the Internet.

Paulo Coelho signing books at the entrance of the Palacio Vadlés Theatre, 1999

[edit] References

  1. ^ The Alchemist - 10th Anniversary Edition Books Christian.
  2. ^ Paulo Coelho HarperCollins Publisher. "In celebration of its 20th Anniversary, Paulo Coelho's modern classic The Alchemist is now available in a special edition."
  3. ^ The Writers Almanac
  4. ^ a b Paulo Coelho Biography on
  5. ^ Film to be made of Coelho's 'Alchemist AFP. May 19, 2008.
  6. ^ Everybody is a Magus: Interview with Paulo Coelho Life Positive. July 2000.
  7. ^ Teacher's Guide to The Alchemist Harper Collins Publisher.
  8. ^ Interview with Paulo Coelho BBC World Service Book Club. December 2004.
  9. ^ a b c d A Brief History of the Book Saint Jordi Asociados
  10. ^ a b Coelho, Paulo. The Alchemist ppg 21-22. New York: HarperCollins, 1993.
  11. ^ Day, Elizabeth A mystery even to himself The Daily Telegraph. June 14, 2005.
  12. ^ The Writers Almanac
  13. ^ The Essential Rumi, transl. Coleman Barks, New York: HarperCollins, 1995
  14. ^ The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, (The Man Who Became Rich through a Dream) translated by Richard F. Burton (London: The Burton Club, 1885), vol. 4, pp. 289-90. Translation revised by D. L. Ashliman
  15. ^ Told in the Coffee House: Turkish Tales; By Cyrus Adler, Allan Ramsay; Published by Macmillan Co., 1898; link to text
  16. ^ The Pedlar of Swaffham
  17. ^ The Vale of Mowbray: A Historical and Topographical Account of Thirsk and Its Neighbourhood; By William Grainge, John Gilbert Baker; Published by Simpkin, Marshall, and co., 1859; link to text
  18. ^ The popular rhymes of Scotland, with illustr.; p. 236-238; collected by R. Chambers; By Robert Chambers; Published 1870; link to text
  19. ^ Manx Fairy Tales; Sophia Morrison; Published London: David Nutt, 1911; link to text
  20. ^ Visions and beliefs in the west of Ireland; p.36-37; By Gregory, William Butler Yeats; Compiled by Gregory; Published by G. P. Putnam's sons, 1920; to text
  21. ^ Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Traum vom Schatz auf der Brücke, Deutsche Sagen (1816/1818), vol. 1, no. 212; link to text
  22. ^ Ignaz D. Zingerle, Sagen aus Tirol (Innsbruck: Verlag der Wagner'schen Universitäts-Buchhandlung, 1891), no. 624, pp. 353-54; link to text
  23. ^ Stories by Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav: The Treasure
  24. ^ By Night Under the Stone Bridge By Leo Perutz; (First published in 1953); Published by Arcade Pub., 1990 ISBN 1559700556
  25. ^ Stories by Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav: The Treasure
  26. ^
  27. ^ Guy, Bill. "BOOKS OF THE YEAR." The Advertiser. December 4, 1993.
  28. ^ a b The Weinstein Company to Bring 'The Alchemist' to the Big Screen Zoom In Online: Film & TV.
  29. ^ The Alchemist: Reviews on Sant Jordi Associados.
  30. ^ Interview with a Gladiator
  31. ^ Will Smith Interview Tavis Smiley on PBS. December 13, 2007.
  32. ^ Julia Roberts Biography IMDB.
  33. ^ a b Best-Selling Author Turns Piracy into Profit TorrentFreak. May 12, 2008.
  34. ^ The Alchemist Book Preview Google Books.
  35. ^ Extract from The Alchemist Sant Jordi Associados.
  36. ^ Pirate Coelho
  37. ^ Fishburne to direct The Alchemist The Guardian. June 27, 2007.
  38. ^ Doland, Angela 'The Alchemist' to be made into movie USA Today. May 18, 2008.
  39. ^ Weinstein to produce 'Alchemist' film adaptation News. May 18, 2008.
  40. ^ The Cornish Theatre Collective The Alchemist.

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