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The Alchemist: by Paulo Coelho–a review


My first thought about The Alchemist was that it’s like The Secret for smart people; but then I thought that all those people who liked The Secret would be insulted at the perceived implication that they might not be smart, but then I thought that that would be their problem anyway, for thinking themselves not smart in the first place. And besides that, I’m not thinking of intelligence, specifically. I did read The Secret, thinking that there was maybe, hopefully, a secret that applied to everybody in achieving a life-long dream, or if not that, at least a financial wealth of Bill Gatesian proportions; and was disappointed in what I felt to be an over-simplification and superficiality. I found The Alchemist not that way. It dealt with the similar issue of following a dream, your dream, but at a deeper level in a way that I found more meaningful.

It is a story of parable, albeit a long one, and with the underling moral that one’s lifelong dream, or Personal Legend as Coelho calls it, is not necessarily that far removed from where one might currently be, but still is often not an easy path. I suppose that’s what seemed superficial about The Secret, that it was an easy path, only a few visualizations away, which wasn’t intuitive because you’d expect that it would be hard, that it isn’t readily available, that it takes trials, tribulations, and effort, conviction, etc. etc. In The Alchemist, achieving one’s Personal Legend seemed the exception rather than the rule; but still very possible, after exertion and with perseverance, which seems as it should be.

I wondered if my Personal Legend had already passed me by, like the crystal merchant selling tea at the top of the hill because I had not pursued my dream with as singular focus as the boy, and was now locked in a path not leading to  it. To some, the book might suggest the necessity of a long journey, preferably over a desert or across an ocean, or trekking the Way of St. James in Northwestern Spain as the author had done. I’m of the mind that this is not necessary, rather, simply the awareness that one is on a journey. For instance, my journey might be a non-ending succession of colonoscopies over the course of several years. I don’t think one need’s abandon anything or anyone to realize their Personal Legend, unless of course that anything or anyone is not constructive.

Alchemy is an ancient tradition in which successful practitioners hold great power, including the creation of a Sorcerer’s Stone which could turn baser metals into goal, and an Elixir of Life. The message of The Alchemist was that turning lead into gold was only possible for those of which that was their Personal Legend. Everyone’s Personal Legend is different, and I think possible because that what you want or dream of the most is something that you know that you at some level have the capacity for. Like, I wish I could sing such that others would fall silent at the beautiful tenor of my voice; but, I know that I have absolutely no capacity for that, and so, it not what I dream of most.

The Alchemist did provide me a spiritual breath that provided me with a motivation and renewed focus to work towards that which I’ve long wanted to but have let fall to the side of a too too busy life. It’s not that I couldn’t before–I just didn’t. I know it won’t be quick and it won’t be easy, and I may never reach the foot of the tree growing in the sacristy of the abandoned church; but, at least I’ll be traveling towards it.