The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Paulo Coelho. The Alchemist. San Fransisco: Harper Collins, 1993.


The Alchemist is an excellent book for people of all ages. This book would be especially meaningful in a high school setting because of the easy language and the compelling story that offers an abundance of wisdom through a very tangible means. The plot revolves around a young Spanish shepherd named Santiago. After being educated in a seminary, Santiago decides to abandon becoming a priest to be a shepherd. He longs to see the world and travels with his sheep through the countryside of Andalusia. His only hope in life is to marry a certain merchant’s daughter until he has two recurring dreams. The dreams are about a child who takes Santiago to the Egyptian pyramids. In both dreams the child is about to show him a hidden treasure right before he wakes up. It is after he has these dreams that the course of his life beings to change. Desperate to have the dreams interpreted, Santiago goes to a fortune teller, who makes him vow to give her one tenth of the treasure if he finds it. Relieved that he did not have to waste any of his money to pay the fortune teller, he dismisses the interpretation and continues on his way toward the town where the merchant’s daughter is. Before he gets to the town, he stops to exchange a book. It is when he begins to read his new book that an old man, who turns out to be an old king with the ability to change realities approaches him. The old king gives Santiago a correct interpretation of his dream and helps him realize his Personal Legend, which is “what someone has always wanted to accomplish” (21). It is after his exchange with the old king that Santiago gains direction in his quest to realize his Personal Legend. It is after his realization that the adventure to uncovering more realizations begins.

Paulo Coelho said in an interview, “I only know that I am alive and there is something that manifests in my life, that it is God and one day I am going to understand my life, probably the day that I die, or afterward. But I try to find good questions and not good answers.” In his book The Alchemist he asks many meaningful questions and even offers a few philosophical answers. A reoccurring statement, which was introduced by the old king, is, “when you want something, all the universe conspires to help you achieve it.” Another attempt at an answer to the meaning of life is, “the secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never forget the drops of oil on the spoon.” If the reader looks for answers to the questions that are raised, it is possible to find them through the philosophical statements that are woven into the story. In cessation, I would highly recommend the book to middle school, high school and adult readers. The quest for discovering one’s Personal Legend is something that every person is in the process of realizing. Like young Santiago, there is no better time to realize one’s Personal Legend than when one is young.

Recommendations for Teachers
The Alchemist gives a great plot line for teachers to introduce different literary elements to a classroom. The wordings and stories told throughout demonstrate elements of poetry and fables. These may be easily introduced to students of all ages. Teachers may assign the class to write a work of poetry, probably one of blank verse or free verse, designed to create a story or fable similar to those found in the novel that discusses their own personal views on Personal Legends. Perhaps students can use this poem to create and explain what their personal legend would be.

Furthermore, this novel can be either followed or preceded by Sarah Dessen's Dreamland (About Dreamland). Although the plots are extremely different, the idea of Personal Legends is found in both novels. In Dreamland, Caitlyn, the protagonist, follows a journey of self-discovery. She learns that, through trial and tribulation, she is solely responsible for her personal identity and creating who she wants to be, not letting anyone stand in her way. Similarly, Santiago realized that nothing should prevent him from continuing his journey because of how important it is to him. Students could write prompts comparing the novels and their concept of Personal Legend.

One area the teacher will need to be wary about is the theme of religion found in The Alchemist. It is a sensitive subject in many schools and should be heeded with caution when discussed.

About Paulo Coelho

Born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on August 24, 1947, Paul Coelho received his education from a Jesuit school. At a young age, Coelho expressed interest in literature and writing. Coelho's parents used extreme means to suppress his interest in literature by comitting their son to a mental institution where he received electroconvulsive therapy. Although he enrolled in law school, Coelho eventually dropped out and travelled around the world. Settling back down in Brazil, he was eventually arrested and tortured by the government for alleged involvement in leftist organizations. Although Coelho was composing lyrics during this time, he still wanted to be a writer. He had a vision where a man approached him at a cafe and told him that he should return to Catholicism, study magic, and take a pilgrimage. He published his first book, Hell Archives, in 1982 which received little response from the academic community. In 1987, he published The Alchemist which eventually became an international bestseller having sold over 65 million copies. Coelho has also written such novels as The Pilgrimage, The Valkyries, By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept, The Zahin, Warrior of Light, and Veronika Decides to Die as well as many others. Today, he spends his time between Brazil and Europe and is involved in several political and social organizations.

Taken from
And from "About the Author" from The Alchemist

Multimedia (Video or Audio)

Interview with Paulo Coelho on Luck, Coincidence, and Faith- The Alchemist

Additional Resources:
A link to Coelho's blog, explaining more about what a Personal Legend is
A use and history of Urim and Thummim explained
Who are the Moors? Encyclopedia Britannica definition
Detailed map of Sahara Desert
A suggestion on how to teach The Alchemist from a teacher in Australia
Paul Coelho's official page
A link to lesson plans and ideas for the classroom for the Alchemist
A blog from high school students on characters from the Alchemist
Quotes by Coelho
Q&A with Paulo Coelho
Youtube Video Alchemist Movie Preview

Carol B., Trisha Haak, Melanie Gasor