The Alchemist (novel)
The Alchemist (Portuguese: O Alquimista) is a novel by Brazilian author Paulo Coelho which was first published in 1988. Originally written in Portuguese, it became an international bestseller translated into some 70 languages as of 2016. An allegorical novel, The Alchemist follows a young Andalusian shepherd in his journey to Egypt, after having a recurring dream of finding treasure there.
First English edition cover
|Original title||O Alquimista|
|Genre||Quest, adventure, fantasy|
|Publisher||HarperTorch (English translation)|
Published in English
|Media type||Print (hardback, paperback and iTunes)|
|Pages||163 pp (first English edition, hardcover), 208 pages(25th Anniversary Edition)|
|ISBN||0-06-250217-4 (first English edition, hardcover)|
|Preceded by||The Pilgrimage (1987)|
|Followed by||Brida (1990)|
The story is a modern variant of the type The Man Who Became Rich Through a Dream (Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 1645). Over the years there have been film and theatrical adaptations of the work and musical interpretations of it.
The Alchemist follows the journey of an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago. Believing a recurring dream to be prophetic, he asks a Romani fortune-teller in a nearby town about its meaning. The woman interprets the dream as a prophecy telling the boy that he will discover a treasure at the Egyptian pyramids.
Early into his journey, he meets an old king named Melchizedek or the king of Salem, who tells him to sell his sheep so as to travel to Egypt and introduces the idea of a Personal Legend. Your Personal Legend "is what you have always wanted to accomplish. Everyone, when they are young, knows what their Personal Legend is." 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, the boy meets an Englishman who has come in search of an Alchemist and continues his travels with him. When they reach an oasis, Santiago meets and falls in love with an Arabian girl named Fatima, whom he asks to marry him. She promises to do so only after he completes his journey. He is frustrated by this, but later learns that true love will not stop nor must one sacrifice to it one's personal destiny, since to do so robs it of truth.
The boy then encounters a wise alchemist who also teaches him to realize his true self. Finally they risk a journey through the territory of warring tribes, where the boy is forced to demonstrate his oneness with "The Soul of the World" by turning himself into a simoom before he is allowed to proceed. When he begins digging within sight of the pyramids, he is robbed but learns accidentally from the leader of the thieves that the treasure he seeks was all the time in the ruined church where he had his original dream.
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."
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." An old king tells Santiago that, "when you really want something to happen, the whole universe will conspire 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.
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."
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. Coelho was "so convinced it was a great book that [he] started knocking on doors."
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. 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." Currently, chapters from The Alchemist can be found on Google Books and Coelho's agency Sant Jordi Associados.
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.
The Advertiser, an Australian newspaper, published one of the first English-language reviews of The Alchemist in 1993, saying, "of books that I can recommend with the unshakable confidence of having read them and been entranced, impressed, entertained or moved, the universal gift is perhaps a limpid little fable called The Alchemist... In hauntingly spare prose, translated from the Brazilian original in Portuguese, it follows a young Andalusian shepherd into the desert on his quest for a dream and the fulfillment of his destiny." Since then, the novel has received much praise, making it to the top spot on best-seller lists in 74 countries and winning prestigious awards in Germany and Italy. It has been called a "charming story", "a brilliant, simple narrative" and "a wonderful tale, a metaphor of life", from people in places as diverse as South Africa, Finland and Turkey. It has been praised by public figures like Will Smith and Jorge Garcia. 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."
Coelho said he has been reluctant to sell 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.
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. At one point, the script had a battle sequence with 10,000 soldiers, which was "not what the book is about." Reportedly, Coelho offered US$2 million to Warner Bros. to buy back the film rights to The Alchemist.
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." 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." In June 2015, it was reported that Idris Elba was set to play the protagonist and that Fishburne would direct the movie instead.
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." 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. It was staged for the first time in India by Ashvin Gidwani Productions. Kajol and Karan Johar launched this book's theatrical adaptation in India.
In music, The Alchemist has inspired numerous bands of the same name. 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's wedding.
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