The Alchemist

The Alchemist I am apparently the last person on the planet to read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. A good friend of mine sent it to me as a surprise birthday present, and suggested that I read it tonight…

Have you ever questioned, in the context of your life:

  • What it is that you should be doing?
  • Have you ever had a dream that you’ve never pursued?
  • Have you debated taking that first scary step?
  • Have you made life choices that have gone against conventional wisdom on little more than what your saner friends deride as “wishful thinking?”

Yes, yes, and yes? This book is quite possibly the story of your life.

The Alchemist is a fable about a Spanish shepherd boy who chose that humble life to find something more meaningful about life first-hand. In his shepherding duties he meets someone who tells him that he’s poised to fulfill his “Personal Legend”, a personal destiny of fulfillment that everyone possesses, if they have courage and determination to persevere. What follows is an entertaining story about following one’s dreams, being in sync with one’s surroundings, and making the best of the situation in the face of apparent setbacks. I found it an insightful and fascinating read. The closest book in my limited reading repetoire is T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone; The Alchemist is similar in the themes of discovery through journey, but written in a sparser, yet more lyrical form, sort of like The Princess Bride without the humor.

It would be easy to dismiss The Alchemist as being nothing more than spiritual mumbo-jumbo, a fanciful tale spun from improbable events that fly in the face of our stressful day-to-day modern life. If someone had given me a plot outline of this book, I would have dismissed it without a second thought; my speak-softly-but-carry-a-big-stick, trust-but-verify, survival-starts-at-home side might have even tagged this as a dangerous book filled with delusional ideas, suitable only for small children and simple minds.

However…

The idea of the Personal Legend is something I deeply and truly believe in, and for years it had laid dormant. A year ago almost to this day, a chance encounter nudged it back to life. I didn’t know I could call it a Personal Legend until today, nor would I have guessed that someone had thought to write about it. There are important truths alluded to in this book, truths I have felt all my life but didn’t know how to express. I therefore assumed that they might not be real beyond the boundaries of my imagination; I am happy to see that I’m not alone.

The Alchemist is not a treasure map to life, which is how some critical reviewers on the Internet insist on judging it; there’s no 10 Steps to Finding Your Dream worksheets to fill out, no money-back guarantee should you not fulfill your dream in 30 days or less. I am considering the book as a sort of treasure mirror instead; hold the book up to your past and your present, squint a little, and you may see something of your future reflected back. You will get back what you can put in.

This is a book for people who still believe in love and magic, that there’s a legend you are meant to fulfill. It’s possible if you know how to listen to your heart, follow the signs, step onto the path before you and live the role. Too many of us falter. If that all sounds silly to you, Tony Robbins might be more your speed, and that guy Tom Clancy is still writing tales of modern heroism set in the comfortingly-abstract world of geopolitical intrigue…

As for me: call me a child and call me simple; I’ll be sleeping with this book tucked under my pillow, to dream.

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