Title: The Alchemist
Author: Paulo Coelho
Page Count: 197
Publication Date: 1988
Category/Genre: Fiction, Classics, Fantasy, Inspirational, Philosophy, Mysticism
Good Reads Rating: ★★★★☆ (3.85)
Paulo Coelho’s masterpiece tells the mystical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of a worldly treasure. His quest will lead him to riches far different—and far more satisfying—than he ever imagined. Santiago’s journey teaches us about the essential wisdom of listening to our hearts, of recognizing opportunity and learning to read the omens strewn along life’s path, and, most importantly, to follow our dreams.
*Questions are a mix from Rabbit Hole Blogger and the publisher. Questions may contain spoilers.
1. At the start of his journey, when Santiago asks a gypsy woman to interpret his dream about a treasure in the Egyptian pyramids, she asks for one tenth of the treasure in return. When Santiago asks the old man to show him the path to the treasure, the old man requests one tenth of his flock as “payment.” Both payments represent a different price we have to pay to fulfill a dream; however, only one will yield a true result. Which payment represents false hope? Can you think of examples from your own life when you had to give up something to meet a goal and found the price too high?
2. When have you had to make a choice or pay a price to fulfill your dream? Give two examples from your experiences in life where the “price” was too high or it was
3. Paulo Coelho once said that alchemy is all about pursuing our spiritual quest in the physical world as it was given to us. It is the art of transmuting the reality into something sacred, of mixing the sacred and the profane. With this in mind, can you define your Personal Legend? At what time in your life were you first able to act on it? What was your “beginner’s luck”? What obstacles did you have to overcome? What resources, including personal qualities, did you need to help you continue on your way?
4. Early in the novel, the King tells the boy that his book says what most other books say: “It describes people’s inability to choose their own Personal Legends. And it ends up saying that everyone believes the world’s greatest lie. . . that at a certain point, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate” (p. 18). And yet throughout The Alchemist, the concept of Maktub—the idea that our destiny is already written—is endorsed by many characters. What is the difference between being controlled by fate and discovering one’s “Personal Legend” or destiny?
5. One of the first major diversions from Santiago’s journey was the theft of his money in Tangiers, which forced him into taking a menial job with the crystal merchant. There, Santiago learned many lessons on everything from the art of business to the art of patience. Of all these, which lessons were the most crucial to the pursuit of his Personal Legend? What lessons have you learned on your journey and which have been the most important?
6. When he talked about the pilgrimage to Mecca, the crystal merchant argued that having a dream is more important than fulfilling it, which is what Santiago was trying to do. Do you agree with Santiago’s rationale or crystal merchant’s?
7. The Englishman, whom Santiago meets when he joins the caravan to the Egyptian pyramids, is searching for “a universal language, understood by everybody.” What is that language? According to the Englishman, what are the parallels between reading and alchemy? How does the Englishman’s search for the alchemist compare to Santiago’s search for a treasure? How did the Englishman and Santiago feel about each other?
8.The alchemist says that “people become fascinated by pictures and words, and wind up forgetting the language of the world.” How is it different than ordinary language? Is it spoken or expressed in some other way? Why would a fascination with words and pictures make people forget it?
9. The alchemist tells Santiago “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.” With this in mind, why do you think the alchemist chose to befriend Santiago, though he knew that the Englishman was the one looking for him? What is the meaning of two dead hawks and the falcon in the oasis? At one point the alchemist explains to Santiago the secret of successfully turning metal into gold. How does this process compare to finding a Personal Legend?
10. In The Alchemist, how is the practice of alchemy a metaphor for Santiago’s journey?
11. Why did Santiago have to go through the dangers of tribal wars on the outskirts of the oasis in order to reach the pyramids? At the very end of the journey, why did the alchemist leave Santiago alone to complete it?
12. In The Alchemist, Santiago arrives at the pyramids only to discover his treasure is in Andalusia, not Egypt. Why does Coelho make this plot choice?
13. Earlier in the story, the alchemist told Santiago “when you possess great treasures within you, and try to tell others of them, seldom are you believed.” At the end of the story, how did this simple lesson save Santiago’s life? How did it lead him back to the treasure he was looking for?
14. Consider how The Alchemist is like a self-help book.