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The Alchemist (novel)

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Title: The Alchemist (novel)  
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The Alchemist (novel)

The Alchemist
First English edition cover
Author Paulo Coelho
Original title O Alquimista
Translator Margaret Jull Costa (introduction)
Country Brazil
Language Portuguese
Genre Quest, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy
Publisher HarperTorch (Eng. trans)
Publication date
Published in English
Media type Print (hardback, paperback and iTunes)
Pages 163 pp (first English edition, hardcover)
ISBN ISBN 0-06-250217-4 (first English edition, hardcover)
OCLC 26857452
Preceded by The Pilgrimage (1987)
Followed by Brida (1990)

The Alchemist (Portuguese: O Alquimista) is a novel by Paulo Coelho first published in the year 1988. Originally written in Portuguese by its Brazilian-born author, it has been translated into at least 56 languages as of September 2012.[1] An allegorical novel, The Alchemist follows a young Andalusian shepherd named Santiago in his journey to Egypt, after having a recurring dream of finding treasure there. The book is an international bestseller. According to AFP, it has sold more than 65 million copies in 56 different languages, becoming one of the best-selling books in history and setting the Guinness World Record for most translated book by a living author.[2]


The Alchemist follows the journey of an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago. Believing a recurring dream to be prophetic, Santiago decides to travel to a Romani fortune-teller in a nearby town to discover its meaning. A gypsy woman tells him that there is a treasure in the Pyramids in Egypt.

Early into his journey, he meets an old king, Melchizedek, who tells him to sell his sheep to travel to Egypt and introduces the idea of a Personal Legend (which is always capitalized in the book). Your Personal Legend "is what you have always wanted to accomplish. Everyone, when they are young, knows what their Personal Legend is".[3] He adds that "when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it". This is the core theme of the book.

Along the way, Santiago meets an Englishman and continues his travel with him. They travel through the Sahara desert and during his journey, Santiago meets and falls in love with a beautiful Arabian woman named Fatima. He asks Fatima to marry him, but she says she will only marry him after he finds his treasures. He is perplexed by this, but later learns that true love will not stop one's Personal Legend, and if it does, it is not true love.

Santiago then encounters a lone alchemist who also teaches him about Personal Legends. He says that people want to find only the treasure of their Personal Legends but not the Personal Legend itself. Santiago feels unsure about himself as he listens to the alchemist's teachings. The alchemist states, "Those who don't understand their Personal Legends will fail to comprehend its teachings". It is also stated that treasure is more worthy than gold.


Santiago is the protagonist of The Alchemist. Born in a small town in Andalusia, he attends the seminary as a boy but longs to travel the world. He finally gets the courage to ask his father for permission to become a shepherd so that he can travel the fields of Andalusia. One night, in an abandoned church, he dreams of a child telling him that if he goes to the Egyptian Pyramids, he will find a treasure. Later, he meets a mysterious man in the town of Tarifa, who sends him on a journey to the other side of Africa.

Santiago is a curious boy whose open mind makes him particularly suited to finding his Personal Legend. He also values his freedom very highly, which is why he becomes a shepherd and why he resists involvement in things that threaten his freedom. In the end, he realizes that playing it safe is often more threatening to his freedom than taking a risk.

Melchizedek is the king of Salem, a mysterious, far-off land. Melchizedek appears to Santiago in the town square of Tarifa, where he tells Santiago about the Soul of the World and his Personal Legend for the first time. Melchizedek always appears to people who are trying to live their Personal Legend, even if they don't know it. While he appears at first to be dressed in common Arab dress, at one point he pulls aside his cloak to reveal a gold breastplate encrusted with precious stones. He also gives Santiago the magical stones Urim and Thummim.

The Shopkeeper
Gives Santiago a job in Tangiers after he has been robbed. Santiago takes the job at the crystal shop and learns much about the shopkeeper's attitude toward life and the importance of dreaming. The shopkeeper, while generally afraid to take risks, is a very kind man and understands Santiago's quest — sometimes better than Santiago himself. This is the case when the shopkeeper tells Santiago that he will not return to Spain, since it is not his fate.

The Englishman
Santiago meets the Englishman on the caravan to al-Fayoum. The Englishman is trying to become a great alchemist and is traveling to al-Fayoum to study with a famous alchemist who is rumored to be over 200 years old and to have the ability to turn any metal into gold. Santiago learns much about alchemy from the Englishman, who lends Santiago his books while they travel across the Sahara.

A beautiful girl who lives at the al-Fayoum oasis. Santiago falls in love with her at the well, and they talk every day for several weeks. Santiago asks Fatima to marry him, but she insists that he seek out his Personal Legend before they marry. This perplexes Santiago, but the Alchemist teaches him that true love never gets in the way of fulfilling one's dreams. If it does, then it is not true love.

The Alchemist
A very powerful alchemist who lives at the al-Fayoum oasis in Egypt. Santiago hears about him through the Englishman, who wishes to study with the Alchemist, but Santiago is revealed to be the Alchemist's true disciple. The Alchemist dresses in all black and uses a falcon to hunt for game. The Alchemist is also in possession of the Elixir of Life and the Philosopher's Stone.

The Coptic Monk
A short yet very important piece in the writing. Santiago and the alchemist stop at the monastery, and the monk invites them in. This is a crucial plot point, as the Alchemist produces gold from a pan of lead the monk provides, and separates the disk into four parts, giving two to the monk,with instructions to give Santiago the other piece when he returns beaten and robbed of "his" gold, one to himself, and one to Santiago. The monk tries to refuse the offering, but the alchemist tells him that "life may be listening, and give [you] less the next time". Afterward, when Santiago crawls back beaten and elated from the Pyramids, the monk gives him the other part of the gold disk and helps him recover.

Inspiration for the story

Coelho wrote The Alchemist in only two weeks in 1987. He explained he was able to write at this pace because the story was "already written in [his] soul".[4] The basic story of The Alchemist appears in previous works. In 1935, the Argentine writer, Jorge Luis Borges, published a short story called Tale of Two Dreamers in which two men dream of the other's treasure. Another version appeared in E. W. Lane's translation of The Thousand and One Nights.[5] The story also appeared in Rumi's story, "In Baghdad, Dreaming of Cairo: In Cairo, Dreaming of Baghdad".[6]


The book's main theme is about finding one's destiny. According to The New York Times, The Alchemist is "more self-help than literature".[7] An old king tells Santiago, "when you really want something to happen, the whole universe conspires so that your wish comes true". This is the core of the novel's philosophy and a motif that plays all throughout Coelho's writing in The Alchemist.[8]


The Alchemist was first released by an obscure Brazilian publishing house. Albeit having sold "well", the publisher of the book told Coelho that it was never going to sell, and that "he could make more money in the stock exchange".[9]

Needing to "heal" himself from this setback, Coelho set out to leave Rio de Janeiro with his wife and spent 40 days in the Mojave Desert. Returning from the excursion, Coelho decided he had to keep on struggling.[9] Coelho was "so convinced it was a great book that [he] started knocking on doors".[4]


The Alchemist has been translated into 67 distinct different languages according to The New York Times. This gave Coelho the position as the world's most translated living author, according to the 2009 Guinness World Records.[7]

File sharing

Paulo Coelho is a strong advocate of spreading his books through peer-to-peer file sharing networks. He put his own books on file-sharing networks like BitTorrent, and noted that The Alchemist received a boost in sales due to this.[10] He stated that "I do think that when a reader has the possibility to read some chapters, he or she can always decide to buy the book later."[10] Currently, chapters from The Alchemist can be found on Google Books and Coelho's agency Sant Jordi Associados.[11][12]



Arash Hejazi, the Iranian publisher of Paulo Coelho, believes that The Alchemist is exceptional on several counts: he notes that the book has had a "longer than expected life-cycle… It was not supported by high marketing budgets in the first few years after its publication. It was not written in French or Spanish. It did not enjoy a film tie-in and was not recommended by positive reviews and the media, but it is still selling, only relying on the word of mouth as its main marketing tool".[19][20]

One of the chief complaints lodged against the book is that the story, praised for its fable-like simplicity, actually is a fable — a retelling of "The Ruined Man who Became Rich Again through a Dream" (Tale 14 from the collection One Thousand and One Nights).[21] Coelho, however, does not credit this source text anywhere in the book or in the preface, passing the story as an original work of fiction. Also the life story of Takkeci Ibrahim Aga who is believed to have lived in Istanbul during the 1500s, has the same plot. So too does the English folk tale, the "Pedlar of Swaffham".


The novel was not an instant bestseller. Published by a small publishing house, The Alchemist, like its predecessor, The Pilgrimage, sold "slowly" in Brazil. Its commercial success took off in France when it became an "unexpected" bestseller early in the 1990s.[22]

The Alchemist has sold 65 million copies worldwide.[7] As of the week ending May 25, 2014, the novel reached its 303rd consecutive week on The New York Times '​ bestseller list.[23] Its paperback edition remains a fixture on bookstore shelves.[24]

Cultural influence

Film adaptations

Coelho said he has been reluctant in selling rights to his books. He believed that a book has a "life of its own inside the reader's mind", and seldom did he find an adaptation that lived up to the book. Despite this, with time, Coelho decided to open up the possibility.[9]

In 2003, Warner Bros. bought the rights to the film adaptation of The Alchemist. The project stalled and the movie never materialized, reportedly because of problems with the script.[25] At one point, the script had a battle sequence with 10,000 soldiers, which was "not what the book is about".[26] Reportedly, Coelho offered US$2 million to Warner Bros. to buy back the film rights to The Alchemist.[27]

During the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, Harvey Weinstein announced that he had bought the rights to the film and will serve as its producer. Laurence Fishburne is set to direct, and to play the eponymous character. It will have a reported budget of $60 million. Weinstein, who rarely personally produces movies, stated that "My loyalty is not to Laurence [Fishburne], my loyalty is not to me, my loyalty is not to anyone other than Paulo Coelho."[28] Coelho added, "I am very happy that my book will be filmed in the way I intended it to be and I hope the spirit and simplicity of my work will be preserved. I am excited my friend Laurence Fishburne and Harvey Weinstein will be working together."[16]

Other media

HarperOne, a HarperCollins imprint, produced an illustrated version of the novel, with paintings by the French artist Mœbius, but failed to convince Coelho "to consent to the full graphic-novel treatment".[29] In June 2010, HarperOne announced that it would publish a graphic-novel adaptation. The Alchemist: A Graphic Novel was published in 2010, adapted by Derek Ruiz and artwork by Daniel Sampere.

A theatrical adaptation of The Alchemist was produced and performed by the Cornish Collective, which is their most successful production to date.[30] It was staged for the first time in India by Ashvin Gidwani Productions.[31][32] Kajol and Karan Johar launched this book's theatrical adaptation in India.[33][34]

In music, The Alchemist has inspired numerous bands of the same name.[29] In September 2009, an orchestral performance was conducted at the Ansche Chesed Synagogue on the Upper West Side. Inspired by The Alchemist, "an orchestral performance" was composed by One World Symphony for composer and conductor Sung Jin Hong' wedding.[35]


  1. ^ Micah Mattix's blog (Sept 20, 2012)
  2. ^ AFP on The Alchemist: "Film mogul Harvey Weinstein on Sunday announced the screen adaptation of the novel, written 20 years ago and translated into 56 languages, with more than 65 million copies sold." (19 May 2008)
  3. ^ The Alchemist, HarperCollins paperback, 1998, p. 21
  4. ^ a b Pool, Hannah (2009-03-19). "Question time". The Guardian. Retrieved 2012-01-27. 
  5. ^ The Thousand and One Nights (Google Books)
  6. ^ Version of Rumi's story in English and Portuguese
  7. ^ a b c Cowles, Gregory (2009-10-08). "Inside the List". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-01-28. 
  8. ^ Flanagan, Mark. "The Alchemist". 
  9. ^ a b c "Interview with Paulo Coelho". March 2008. Retrieved 2012-01-27. 
  10. ^ a b Best-Selling Author Turns Piracy into Profit TorrentFreak. May 12, 2008.
  11. ^ The Alchemist Book Preview Google Books.
  12. ^ Extract from The Alchemist Sant Jordi Associados.
  13. ^ Guy, Bill. "Books of the Year". The Advertiser. December 4, 1993.
  14. ^ Paulo Coelho Biography on
  15. ^ A Brief History of the Book Saint Jordi Asociados
  16. ^ a b The Weinstein Company to Bring 'The Alchemist' to the Big Screen Zoom In Online: Film & TV.
  17. ^ The Alchemist: Reviews on Sant Jordi Associados.
  18. ^ Will Smith Interview Tavis Smiley on PBS. December 13, 2007.
  19. ^ "The Alchemy of the Alchemist: How Paulo Coelho became the most translated living author for the same book". Retrieved November 1, 2011. 
  20. ^ "The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho - Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, Lists". Retrieved November 1, 2011. 
  21. ^ "The Ruined Man Who Became Rich Again Through A Dream". Retrieved November 1, 2011. 
  22. ^ Riding, Alan (2005-08-30). "Paulo Coelho: Writing in a Global Language". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-01-29. 
  23. ^ "Best Sellers". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-05-17. 
  24. ^ Bosman, Julie (2011-09-26). "Best-Selling Author Gives Away His Work". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-01-28. 
  25. ^ Fishburne to direct The Alchemist The Guardian. June 27, 2007.
  26. ^ Doland, Angela 'The Alchemist' to be made into movie USA Today. May 18, 2008.
  27. ^ "Paulo Coelho". The Guardian. 2008-07-22. Retrieved 2012-01-28. 
  28. ^ Weinstein to produce 'Alchemist' film adaptation News. May 18, 2008.
  29. ^ a b Itzkoff, David (2010-07-06). "Graphic Novel of ‘The Alchemist’: Words Into Pictures". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-01-29. 
  30. ^ The Cornish Theatre Collective The Alchemist.
  31. ^ "The week gone by... (11 Images)". Retrieved 2012-01-20. 
  32. ^ "How The Alchemist came alive on theatre". Retrieved 2012-01-20. 
  33. ^ "The week gone by... (11 Images)". Retrieved 2012-01-20. 
  34. ^ "Kajol and Karan at the launch of The Alchemist". 2008-07-14. Retrieved 2012-01-20. 
  35. ^ Schweitzer, Vivien (2009-09-15). "Inspiration From Bjork, ‘The Alchemist’ and the Sea". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-01-30. 

External links

  • ReviewsThe Alchemist
  • A lengthy summary of the plot
  • IMDB Entry
  • The Alchemist Book Review
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