Monday, February 18, 2008

The Alchemist

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

This is a beautiful story about a young lad from Spain embarking on the journey of life. After completing his formal education, he chooses to become a shepherd in order to help see more of the world. He learns the ways of shepherds and sheep for several years then has a dream about treasure near the pyramids in Egypt. He sells his sheep and travels to Africa where, upon arrival, all his money is stolen by a thief. Back to nothing, he doesn't lose heart but is industrious and trades cleaning services at a crystal shop for lunch. The shop owner offers him a job and he helps grow the business over the next year.

At the end of the year, he has enough money to return to his home and purchase twice as many sheep if he so desired. This however, is not his calling or "Personal Legend" as the book describes it. He instead hooks up with a caravan traveling to Egypt. On the journey, the caravan stops at a town in an oasis. While there, the boy sees an omen warning the town of an attack.

An alchemist subsequently approaches the boy and plays teacher and sage to the boy in his quest to find the treasure. The alchemist helps him see beyond the physical desires of man and go much deeper to the elemental core of man's true desire. He helps him see that sometimes choices involve taking a chance. Though one's current position in life may be comfortable and relatively safe, it can fall short of his or her dreams and Personal Legend.

The boy eventually arrives at the pyramids where he begins digging and is promptly robbed in the process. The evil doers ask him why he's digging and he tells them he had a dream that treasure was buried there. One of them says he also had a dream that treasure was buried under a tree at an abandoned church in Spain but that traveling across the desert would be too long and foolish to follow such a lark. The boy recognizes the church's description and returns to ultimately claim the treasure. His great gain was not in finding the treasure but in developing character and experience through the journey he embarked upon.

Religious elements from the major world religions are woven throughout the story. The boy had training in Christian studies so this is his base but he then works with and interacts with many Muslims so learns about their faith. Also ever present are the philosophies and teachings of Buddhism which seems to be the predominant current running through the book.

Even setting aside the religious elements, the story is a great lesson in seeking out goals and dreams and not settling for the status quo.

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