Book Review: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

I have only had two encounters with alchemy during my lifetime. One was during Harry Potter and The Sorcerers Stone. J.K. Rowling displays a very basic representation of alchemy, in that the final products are briefly mentioned but the actual process is not mentioned at all. My second encounter was on the show Full Metal Alchemist (yes I am an anime geek). On the show alchemy is displayed as a mixture of science and magic. Science is the basis of all alchemy, but the actual execution is very visually reliant (lots of lightning and wind). Coelho’s interpretation is very different in that alchemy is more of a spiritual journey than it is magic or science.

The first thing that surprised me is that the actual alchemist  has a short presence in the story. The main character is a shepherd who decides to leave everything he knows behind in search of a treasure. This journey is repeatedly referred to as his Personal Legend, and there are many important lessons to be gleaned from watching the shepherd boy attempt to achieve this.

The first lesson is to aim high and never give up. This may seem like a cliche but it is super apparent throughout the boys entire journey. As the boy embarks upon his personal legend, his “beginners luck” leads to some unfortunate encounters. The boy had every chance to give up and return to his comfortable life, but he continued on his journey and with the guidance of The Alchemist and others found his way to enlightenment.

The second major lesson that I found was that the journey is more important than the destination. Another cliche, but I have never seen this lesson more beautifully represented than by Coelho. Sometimes the destination is close to where you began, but if you don’t take the long way around, you won’t learn anything. The boy’s personal legend is about coming full circle, and becoming one with the world around him.

This book was a spiritual journey for me. I have never been a super religious person, but it has really opened my eyes to the power of belief. Several religions are displayed throughout the book and there is a sense of unity created by the interactions between Coelho’s characters. With the guidance of The Alchemist, the boy learns that everything in the world is connected. The desert, the wind, and the sun all take on their own personalities and become complex characters through interaction with the boy. Nature itself discovers it’s limitations and embraces mankind as partner in a journey for betterment.

This is a book that has forced me to take a step back in examination of my own life. I have spent much of my free time contemplating what my own personal legend might be. Though it is yet unclear to me, I now know that it is time for me to pay attention to the world around me so that nature itself can present omens to guide me to my own sense of enlightenment.

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