73 pages 2 hours read

Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1988

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Summary and Study Guide


The Alchemist, first published in 1988, is a novel by Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho and translated by Alan R. Clarke. It tells the story of Santiago, a shepherd from Andalusia who dreams of a treasure buried beside the pyramids in Egypt. Heavy with allegory and including many fantastical and magical elements, the novel delivers a strong message of powerful life lessons and encourages the characters (and the reader) to fulfill their own Personal Legend.

The novel begins with a brief prologue in which the alchemist picks up a book and reads the story of Narcissus, though the ending has been changed. In Andalusia, a shepherd named Santiago stays the night in an abandoned church with his flock of sheep. That night, he has a repeated dream of buried treasure. The next day, he leads his sheep to the village of Tarifa; he visits a Gypsy woman and asks her to interpret his dream. In return for a tenth of the treasure, the Gypsy woman tells him that this dream is a vision. Santiago soon meets an old man named Melchizedek who talks to him about fate and destiny, which he calls a Personal Legend. The man offers to tell Santiago the location of the treasure in exchange for a tenth of Santiago’s sheep, and he gives Santiago until the next day to decide.

The next day, Santiago returns. He has sold most of his flock and gives Melchizedek the rest. Melchizedek says that the treasure is in Egypt and that Santiago should follow the omens. When Melchizedek removes two supposedly magical stones named Urim and Thummim from a shiny breastplate, Santiago believes that Melchizedek might be a king. Melchizedek implores Santiago to follow his Personal Legend and blesses him.

Later, Santiago arrives in Africa. After a thief steals his money, Santiago starts working for a crystal merchant. Within 11 months, Santiago has learned Arabic and saved up enough money to return home; however, something unexpected happens. On a desert caravan, Santiago meets an intriguing Englishman whose passion for knowledge and relentless quest to uncover the secrets of alchemy inspire Santiago to pursue his own dream of finding his treasure. As the Englishman continues his search for a 200-year-old alchemist in the desert oasis, Santiago falls in love with a young woman, Fatima. Eventually, she tells him that he should pursue his Personal Legend and that she will wait for him if he has to leave. That night, Santiago sees two hawks fly above him and interprets this omen to mean that the oasis will be attacked. He reveals this to the chieftains, who trust him. Afterward, he meets the alchemist for the first time. If Santiago survives the battle, the alchemist says, then he should seek out the alchemist’s tent. The next day, 500 tribesmen attack the oasis, and they are ambushed by the locals. The leader is hanged from a dead palm tree. Santiago is richly rewarded.

With the help of the alchemist, Santiago completes the last leg of his journey, full of self-searching and profound discoveries. He finds the treasure he is looking for in the place where he least expected—in the abandoned church where Santiago began his journey. This is when he begins to understand his Personal Legend and the importance of searching for one’s own personal destiny. He understands what the old king Melchizedek meant long ago—when you truly want something, the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.