Santiago is an Andalusian boy who spent 16 years in seminary before earning his father’s blessing to become a shepherd so that he could travel. As he sets out, his father tells him to “travel the world until you see that our castle is the greatest, and our women the most beautiful.” He twice has a dream about a treasure, but cannot see the end of the dream. He decides that he must follow his dream and seek the treasure. His quest takes him to the markets of Tangier and across the Egyptian desert. Along the way, he consults a Gypsy fortune teller, is swindled in the Tangier marketplace, falls in love, and a man who calls himself King Salem gives him two omens. Eventually, he has a fateful encounter with the alchemist.
Santiago finds treasures along the way and learns about the essential wisdom of listening to one’s heart, being aware of and reading the omens strewn along life’s path and, above all, following one’s dreams.
Author Paulo Coehlo relates that it was “an old dream of mine to have The Alchemist as a graphic novel.” Originally published in 1987, The Alchemist has sold over 40 million copies to date, having been translated into 71 different languages.
The message of The Alchemist is a familiar one. As Dorothy Gale discovered that there is no place like home in The Wizard of Oz, Santiago, the 18-year-old shepherd suffering from wanderlust, learns that his quest for treasure did not have to take all the way from the hills of Spain to Egypt. But Santiago’s journey is, in Coehlo’s capable hands, an adventure worth experiencing, either through the full text of the novel or in the new graphic version.
The illustrations are lovely. Colorful, vivid and detailed, the characters spring to life from the pages. And they are intriguing: As Santiago wanders from place to place, it is fun to turn the page and literally see what fate next awaits him. In an homage to Coehlo, the illustrators created King Salem in his likeness.
Coehlo is a Brazilian author, born in 1947 in Rio de Janeiro. He worked as a theater director, actor, lyricist, and journalist before focusing on writing. A Roman Catholic, Coehlo has long been interested in spiritual matters. To me, his religious roots are plainly reflected in the story. As I experienced Santiago’s journey, I could not get one a Biblical passage that has had great meaning in my own life out of my head:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.
But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;
for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
Thus, Coehlo has put his own stamp upon a timeless, universal theme: Following one’s dreams leads to fulfillment, satisfaction, and the discovery of treasure, but when searching for your treasure, don’t look too far or you might miss what is right before you. King Salem tells Santiago that “when you really want something to happen, the whole universe conspires so that your wish comes true.” On his journey to find his “Personal Legend,” Santiago learns about the power of the omens, the signs he should heed along the way. Ultimately, he discovers that the treasure he sought was always within his own grasp.
Full of symbolism, metaphors, exotic locations, and mystical, eccentric characters, The Alchemist is a perfect read for the holiday season. The spiritual themes interwoven in the story focus upon faith, nonconformity, courage, and the source of all wisdom and power. Coehlo writes, “Every happy person carries God within him,” and explores the concepts of destiny and the level of control we each have to control our fate. The story itself is short and simple, but its meanings complex and thought-provoking — the potential interpretations, founded upon individual experiences, perceptions, and spiritual beliefs, myriad. Thus, it would make a wonderful book club selection because the various spiritual aspects of the story easily lend themselves to discussion and reflection. It is easy to see why the novel — which I plan to read so that I can experience the tale in its lush entirety — has become a worldwide favorite.