- “Well, there is only one piece of advice I can give you,” said the wisest of wise men. “The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon.” (p. 32)
After giving Santiago two stones for his journey, Melchizedek tells him the story of the wisest man in the world, who asked a visitor to his beautiful palace to carry a teaspoon of oil throughout the grounds. Upon the boy’s return, he asked what he had seen, but the boy had been too focused on not spilling the oil that he had failed to notice any of the marvels around him. Both wise men, Melchizedek and the man in his story, encourage the young men they meet to learn to balance the big picture and small details of their lives, enjoying their surroundings while accomplishing their specific goals.
- “But the sheep had taught him something even more important: that there was a universal language in the world that everyone understood, a language the boy had used throughout the time that he was trying to improve things at the shop. It was the language of enthusiasm, of things accomplished with love and purpose, and as part of a search for something believed in and desired. Tangier was no longer a strange city, and he felt that, just as he had conquered this place, he could conquer the world.” (p. 62)
As Santiago prepares to leave the crystal merchant’s shop to pursue his quest, he sees the old shepherd’s pouch. He picks it up and the two stones, Urim and Thummim, fall to the floor, reminding him of the old king who had given them to him a year ago. He decides to return to Spain and to the life of a shepherd he knew so well, remembering how much he had learned from the sheep. He thinks about how all living things can communicate, and as he recalls the fluency he has attained in this universal language he gains confidence that he can succeed at more tasks. Renewed, he is ready to set out for other unknown corners of Africa.
- “I learned that the world has a soul, and that whoever understands that soul can also understand the language of things. I learned that many alchemists realized their Personal Legends, and wound up discovering the Soul of the World, the Philosopher’s Stone, and the Elixir of Life. But, above all, I learned that these things are all so simple that they could be written on the surface of an emerald.” (p. 83)
The Englishman has been studying old texts in his search for the Philosopher’s Stone, and piques Santiago’s curiosity. The boy reads the books eagerly, and when the Englishman asks what he has learned, he replies that all human history, philosophy, psychology and other sciences can be summarized in the beauty of a gemstone. Researching the lives and works of the alchemists of the past has led him to conclude that the complexities of life can be reduced to a single simple truth.
- “The boy went back to contemplating the silence of the desert, and the sand raised by the animals. ‘Everyone has his or her own way of learning things,’ he said to himself. ‘His way isn’t the same as mine, nor mine as his. But we’re both in search of our Personal Legends, and I respect him for that.” (p. 84)
The Englishman, after lending Santiago his books and asking what he learned from them, tells the boy to do as the alchemist had instructed him and watch the caravan. As Santiago looks across the desert, his thoughts differ from those of the older man. He appreciates their different approaches to life and recognizes that their sole point of similarity, that they are determined to pursue their quests for something meaningful to them personally, is reason enough to respect the Englishman.
- “You have told me about your dreams, about the old king and your treasure. And you’ve told me about omens. So now, I fear nothing, because it was those omens that brought you to me. And I am part of your dream, a part of your Personal Legend, as you call it. That’s why I want you to continue toward your goal. If you have to wait until the war is over, then wait. But if you have to go before then, go on in pursuit of your dream. The dunes are changed by the wind, but the desert never changes. That’s the way it will be with our love for each other. Maktub,” she said. “If I am really a part of your dream, you’ll come back one day.” (p. 97)
Fatima shows her understanding of the boy and of the world by encouraging him to pursue his dream rather than stay with her waiting for the war to end. She believes, as he does, that their destinies have been written, and if they are meant to be together, they will be. Thus there is nothing to fear in separating now, for as the word “maktub” is translated, it is written, and if fate will unveil itself, they will reunite.
- “Yes, that’s what love is. It’s what makes the game become the falcon, the falcon become man, and man, in his turn, the desert. It’s what turns lead into gold, and makes the gold return to the earth.” (p. 145)
Santiago asks the desert to turn him into the wind so he can return to Fatima, and in return the desert asks him to define love. He replies that it is the falcon’s flight over desert sands, that it is the very force that takes a part of the desert with it as it flies across the earth. Love is the thread through living things, connecting all beings created by the same hand in a web that extends across space and time. The boy describes his love for the girl awaiting his return in a way he thinks the desert will understand, but the desert is confused, and Santiago addresses the wind to request being transformed, having realized that many things shift and change to take on the form of what they most desire.
- “I learned the alchemist’s secrets in my travels. I have inside me the winds, the deserts, the oceans, the stars, and everything created in the universe. We were all made by the same hand, and we have the same soul. I want to be like you, able to reach every corner of the world, cross the seas, blow away the sands that cover my treasure, and carry the voice of the woman I love.” (p. 146)
Santiago, after speaking with the desert, addresses the wind, asking that he be transformed into wind himself for just a few moments. But the wind did not know how to do this, nor did it know anything about love. It nevertheless was willing and able to blow a sandstorm that would block the sun’s powerful rays so Santiago could address heaven with his request. He spoke with the sun and with the hand that wrote all, and his prayer brought him peace and confidence in his ability to perform miracles, connected as he was to the Soul of the World.
- “From where I am,” the sun said, “I can see the Soul of the World. It communicates with my soul, and together we cause the plants to grow and the sheep to seek out shade. From where I am – and I’m a long way from the earth – I learned how to love. I know that if I came even a little bit closer to the earth, everything there would die, and the Soul of the World would no longer exist. So we contemplate each other, and I give it life and warmth, and it gives me my reason for living.” (p. 149)
The sun tells the boy about the role he plays in a balanced universe, and that out of love he keeps his distance from the earth to maintain a fragile balance to permit and sustain life. Understanding that his powerful heat in excess could kill the plants, animals and even the planet he cares so deeply about, he is careful to maintain an adequate distance to keep the world alive.
- “This is why alchemy exists,” the boy said. “So that everyone will search for his treasure, find it, and then want to be better than he was in his former life. Lead will play its role until the world has no further need for lead; and then lead will have to turn itself into gold. That’s what alchemists do. They show that, when we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too.” (p. 150)
Santiago lives his life like lead ready to be turned into gold. At the novel’s opening, he is reasonably satisfied by the simple life of a shepherd, but also believes deep within himself in following his dreams even if they lead him to unfamiliar pastures. He is therefore poised to make the leap of faith and follow the advice of the stranger who refers to himself as the “King of Salem,” selling his flock to travel to distant Egypt where he believes treasure awaits him. Like the alchemist he befriends there, Santiago appreciates the importance of internal transformations, and he speaks these words to the sun while the men who have captured the pair await their transformation into the wind. The boy is unsure how to perform such a miracle, but enlists the aid of the elements around him, one by one consulting with the desert, the wind and the sun until his prayers reach “the hand that wrote all” and created human beings as creatures capable of change.
- “The boy stood up shakily, and looked once more at the Pyramids. They seemed to laugh at him, and he laughed back, his heart bursting with joy. Because now he knew where his treasure was.” (p. 162)
Having traveled so long and so far, having lost so much and gained so much in return, after being beaten nearly to the point of losing consciousness, the boy understands his life better than ever before. The refugees who attack him laugh that he is digging for gold, and leave him commenting that only fools follow such silly dreams. The end of the story returns to the beginning, to the church where the boy first dreamed of the Pyramids and the treasure awaiting him, and he knows his destiny is to return home, a changed man from the boy he was when he first set out on his quest to understand the world and himself.
The Alchemist (Coelho): Top Ten Quotes