The Alchemist

“infobox Book “
name The Alchemist
original title O Alquimista
image caption Original Brazilian publication
author Paulo Coelho
country Brazil
language Original: Portuguese
Translation: English
genre(s) Fantasy and Adventure
publisher HarperTorch
release date 1987
media type Hardback and Paperback
pages 163-208
isbn 0062502174

When Santiago, a young shepherd boy from the Spanish countryside of Andalusia, has a dream that reveals the location of a hidden treasure buried at the Egyptian Pyramids, his simple life is suddenly torn in two. Part of him wants to take the chance to go searching for it and the other part of him wants to continue his easy life as a shepherd.

A mysterious king named the King of Salem in Tarifa convinces Santiago that he has succeeded in discovering his Personal Legend. The old king tells Santiago that following his Personal Legend to its conclusion is a person’s only real obligation in life.

Santiago listens to his heart and decides to go on a dangerous search for the treasure. He sells his flock of sheep and heads to Africa, where he is quickly robbed of all his gold and left despondent on the streets. He decides that he was foolish to believe in his dreams and quickly gets a job with a crystal merchant in order to save up enough money to go back home.

After almost a year working for the merchant, Santiago has made a success of the shop and has plenty of money to do whatever he wants. As he’s walking the streets to go back home he suddenly decides to take a chance and continue his search for the buried treasure.

He joins a caravan to make the dangerous crossing across the desert and as he rides the long, slow days away he begins to listen to his heart and to the desert. He begins to understand what the Soul of the World is, and how he fits in.

When the caravan makes it to the oasis, Santiago meets a girl he falls in love with the moment he sees her. The local alchemist, a mysterious man who reminds Santiago of the old king, helps Santiago continue his journey across the desert and teaches him more important life lessons along the way. Although Santiago does not know it, he is becoming wise, and a master in the art of living to the fullest no matter what. Although he has left his true love back at the oasis, he is resolved to follow his dream to its end.

After many adventures, dangers, and important life lessons Santiago finally reaches the Pyramids. His joy at finally being at journey’s end overwhelms him, and he is grateful that he got the chance to follow his dream.

He begins to dig deep into the sand looking for treasure, but before he can get far a pack of thieves shows up, beating and robbing him. They force him to continue digging, and then leave when no treasure is found. One of the thieves, as destiny would have it, tells Santiago an important clue and when they’re gone Santiago can’t help but laugh, because now he knows where his treasure truly lies.

The treasure ends up being right back where his journey began, under the very tree where he had the prophetic dream years before. He digs and finds a beautiful chest full of gold and gems. His next and last journey will be back to the desert to be reunited with the woman he loves.

Character List


Santiago is the main character in “The Alchemist”. He is a young shepherd boy who has a dream about buried treasure in Egypt. Instead of passing it off as “just a dream” Santiago decides to follow his heart and go in search of the treasure. Along the way he begins to grow up and become wise in the ways of the world.

Melchizedek, the old king

The old king comes to Santiago the day after his prophetic dream and tells him that he has succeeded in discovering his Personal Legend. He assists Santiago in making the decision to go searching for his treasure, and although Santiago does not know it the old king is a god.

The Crystal Merchant

The Crystal Merchant hires Santiago after he is robbed in Africa. Santiago has given up on his treasure and begins to transform the crystal shop. The merchant is a kindly man who is fair to Santiago, and even though he is afraid of change he takes Santiago’s advice about the shop. The money begins pouring in, and the shopkeeper is very grateful to Santiago.

The Englishman

Santiago meets the Englishman on the caravan across the desert. The Englishman has spent many years and many fortunes in pursuit of his own Personal Legend to learn alchemy, and is not on his way to find an alchemist at an oasis in the desert. He and Santiago strike up a friendship on the way.


Fatima is a young girl at the oasis. She is very beautiful, and as soon as Santiago sees her he loves her, and never wants to leave the oasis. She loves Santiago as well, and convinces him that he needs to go searching for his treasure, that she will wait for him to come back.

The Alchemist

The Alchemist is a wizard at the oasis who helps Santiago on the second-half of his journey across the desert. He helps teach Santiago about the Soul of the World, and also tells the boy that right before he’s about to discover his treasure he will be tested hardest. He also performs alchemy for Santiago just to show him it’s possible to turn minerals into gold.


Part 1

Santiago lives a life many would envy. As a shepherd, he roams the countryside with his flock, traveling on new roads and seeing new things. It’s the life he always wanted, and he is happy.

Sleeping under the stars one night with his flock he has a dream that a child transports him to the Egyptian Pyramids and tells him he’ll find a buried treasure there. Santiago is willing to take a chance and decides to pay a Gypsy in the next town to interpret his dream. She tells him that his dream is in the language of the world, and if he goes to the Pyramids he’ll find a great treasure there.

The boy is irritated and decides he’s not going to believe in dreams anymore. He didn’t need to waste his time on the Gypsy with a lousy interpretation. Later that day he’s in town reading and trying to forget he even had a dream when an old man begins to speak with him. Santiago tries to ignore him but the man just won’t let up. Finally the man tells him that if the boy will give him one-tenth of his sheep, he’ll tell him how to find the hidden treasure.

Of course Santiago is amazed at this, since he never mentioned his dream to the man. The man tells Santiago that he has succeeded in discovering his Personal Legend, and he must decide if he’s brave enough to follow through on it. The man tells him that discovering one’s true purpose is a person’s only real obligation in this world.

Santiago has a real decision on his hands. Does he give up his flock, his life of stability, to go searching for his treasure? It seems like a crazy thing to do, but in his heart Santiago wants to go on this adventure.

Taking the biggest risk of his life, he decides to do it. He gives one-tenth of his sheep to the man and sells the rest. The man, who is a king, tells him he must follow the omens to find his treasure. He gives Santiago two rocks, Urim and Thumim, which will help him make decisions when he’s really stuck while on his path. The king wishes him luck, and then Santiago is on his way.

When Santiago gets to Africa he’s surprised he forgot that only Arabic is spoken. The city is strange, and the boy is a bit afraid of all the new people. He’s relieved when he meets a man in a bar that speaks his language, and the man quickly promises to help him cross the Sahara. In no time the man has disappeared with all of Santiago’s money and Santiago is left penniless. Santiago wants to cry he’s so upset, but he quickly decides to look at the situation differently. Yes, he’s left penniless, but he’s on a quest for his Personal Legend. He can do this.

As Santiago is walking around the city he happens across a crystal merchant who has a shop at the top of a large hill. Needing food, he offers to clean up the crystal glasses for the merchant so that people will want to buy them. As he’s cleaning them, the merchant sells two glasses, and perceives that as a good omen. He offers Santiago a job, and the boy tells the merchant about going to find his treasure in the desert. He says he can only work for today because he has to cross the desert the next day.

The merchant laughs, and tells him it would take years for the boy to save up enough to cross the desert because it’s thousands of kilometers away. Santiago’s world falls completely silent, and then he agrees to go to work for the man. He tells him he has to use the money to buy some sheep.

Part 2

Santiago has been working in the crystal shop for a month, and he’s not very happy. He tries very hard not to think of his treasure, or the Pyramids, at all. He’s only working to save enough money to get back home and buy some sheep.

Santiago gets an idea to build a display case outside to attract more customers. The merchant is not sure he wants to change the way things are, but the boy’s presence in the shop has been a good omen thus far. As they’re talking about dreams over lunch one day, the merchant reveals to the boy that he’s had a dream since childhood to travel to the holy city of Mecca. The merchant is different from the boy, he says, because he doesn’t want to really realize his dream. It’s the thought of going to Mecca that keeps him alive, and he wants to keep it a dream. The dream helps him get through his days at the crystal shop.

The merchant is now selling more crystal than ever, and he decides to take a risk with the display case.

Two months go by and Santiago feels better about his situation. Money is pouring into the shop and he estimates that in six more months he can go home with enough money to double the size of his flock. He has learned to speak Arabic and deal with crystal. He could be a rich man with all his new skills and all because he met up with a thief, which led him to the merchant. He feels this is his path now, to become an even bigger shepherd than before.

One day he gets another idea, and that is to sell tea to people in crystal glasses when they climb to the top of the hill, hot and thirsty. When he broaches the idea to the merchant, again the man is afraid. Already he’s making more money than he ever has, and if they start to sell the tea the man will have to expand and change his way of life. This, he says, he is afraid to do. After some careful thought, however, the merchant decides to sell the tea in the crystal glasses. He muses that sometimes you just can’t hold back the river.

The shop begins to get more business than ever as word gets around about their new idea. Their refreshing mint tea in crystal glasses is a hit with customers, and the merchant has to hire two more employees to handle the business.

It has been eleven months, and Santiago decides it is time to go. He has enough money to buy 120 sheep, and as he leaves he asks the merchant to give him his blessing. Santiago tells the man that now he has enough to realize his dream to go to Mecca, just as he has enough now to buy some sheep. The man looks at him knowingly and tells him that he’s not going to go to Mecca any more than the boy is going to go home and buy some sheep.

As the boy walks through town he thinks a long time about his future, and what his true path is. He decides to risk his journey again and go looking for his treasure. He reasons that if he fails again, he can always make more money to go back home. When he finally reaches this decision he’s tremendously happy, and goes off in search of a caravan to take him across the desert.

An Englishman sits in a dirty corral, flipping through a book on chemicals and thinking about his life. He’s spent fortunes and years of his life searching for the language of the universe, and the mysterious Philosopher’s Stone. He has studied and risked everything to find the answers to his questions. He’s now heard tell of an alchemist who may have the answers he’s looking for, and has decided to cross the desert to seek him out.

When Santiago enters the corral, the Englishman seems unfriendly so they don’t strike up a conversation at first. When the boy takes out Urim and Thummim, however, the Englishman explodes with excitement and pulls out two stones identical to the boy’s. The king had been to visit him as well. They quickly strike up a friendship and begin talking about their Personal Legends.

There are over 200 people in the caravan crossing the desert. As they make their way through the vast emptiness day by day, the boy begins to understand that realizing his Personal Legend is his only real reason for being, and it is the same with the Englishman and everyone else in the world. When you are on your True Path, the entire universe conspires to help you succeed.

The rumor of tribal wars elsewhere in the desert causes the caravan to move faster and quieter. The boy spends his days observing the people, and thinking about the desert and what it can teach him about life. The caravan travels day and night, and the silence of the desert grows deeper as time passes. Before he knows it, they’ve made it to the oasis.

Santiago can’t believe how big the oasis is. He’s very disappointed, however, when the caravan leader informs them all that they must stay here until the tribal wars are over. The boy is frustrated by the delay but resolves to have patience and not be hasty. He knows if he pushes forward impulsively he’ll miss the omens leading to his treasure. When it’s time to move, it will be time to move, and that’s all there is to it.

The next day the Englishman enlists his help to find the alchemist that lives at the oasis. The boy, who speaks better Arabic than the Englishman, begins asking the villagers where the alchemist lives. No one wants to tell him, and finally he sees a young girl at the well who might help him. He hurries over to ask her, and it’s all over after that. One look into her eyes and the boy is lost. She smiles and he knows that it’s the omen he’s been looking for his entire life. There would never be anyone else after her, and as he looks at her he is amazed to realize she understands the same thing. Without speaking a word to each other, they have spoken the truest Language of the World.

The Englishman shakes him out of his reverie, and the boy finds out her name is Fatima. When he asks her about the alchemist, she points towards the south and then leaves.

The next day Santiago waits at the well for Fatima, and when she comes he tells her he loves her and wants to marry her. She has become more important to him than his treasure.

As the days pass he meets her at the well everyday and tells her all about being a shepherd, about the king, and the crystal shop, and his quest.

Fatima tells him one day that she wants him to continue on his quest to find his treasure. She wants him to wander free, and says that if she is truly part of his Personal Legend he will come back to her one day. She will wait proudly for him.

Santiago goes to find the Englishman so he can tell him all about Fatima, and he is surprised when he finds out the Englishman has built a furnace outside his tent. The alchemist told him that he must begin the process of separating the sulfur, so that is what he’s trying to do. He’s lost his fear of failure, and really believes that this time he will succeed.

As the boy wanders in the desert later that day he sees two hawks in the sky. Something about their movement intrigues him, and as he watches one of the hawks attacks the other. As soon as this happens Santiago sees a vision of an army riding into the oasis. He tries to forget about the vision after it’s gone but his heart won’t let him. He’s troubled, and goes to see the tribal chiefs.

He has to wait hours to see the chiefs. After much discussion, they tell them that they will heed his warning of an attack, but if it doesn’t happen then the boy will be killed at sunset the next day.

As he’s walking back to his tent he’s nearly attacked by a man in black on a gigantic white horse. The man demands to know how he read the flight of the hawks. Santiago tells him that the same hand that wrote the armies also wrote the birds, and that he was simply seeing what Allah wanted him to know. Santiago is calm, even though he knows that the man might kill him. He bows his head, waiting for the blow to fall. He realizes that if he has to die tonight, he can die happy knowing he risked everything to follow his dream, and that he got to love the desert and Fatima.

Suddenly the man withdraws his sword, and tells him that he had to test the boy’s courage. The man says that if the boy is still alive after sunset to come see him. As he rides away, the boy realizes that he just met the alchemist.

The next morning every man at the oasis is armed for battle. Before noon an army of 500 had tried to attack the oasis, and all but one were killed by the men. The chief of the oasis is very happy that so many lives were saved, and he asks the boy to become the counselor of the oasis.

That night Santiago heads to the desert for his meeting with the alchemist. As they talk in his tent, the alchemist says that he’s there to help the boy find his Personal Legend. The alchemist tells him that he must continue his search for the Pyramids, and instructs him to sell his camel and buy a horse.

The next night the alchemist presents a challenge to the boy. He tells him to go find life in the desert, because only those who can find life in the emptiness can find treasure. The boy doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t know how to find life, and the alchemist finally gives him a hint, telling him that life attracts life. The boy understands and lets the reins loose, allowing his horse to run freely through the desert. His horse leads him directly to a cobra snake.

The alchemist tells Santiago that this was the omen he needed and that he will lead him across the desert. Santiago’s heart is heavy because he does not want to leave Fatima. The alchemist tells him that she is a woman of the desert and understands that if she wants him to come back, she has to let him leave. The boy decides to go with the alchemist in search of his treasure, and his heart is at peace to finally be on the way again.

That night Santiago goes to find Fatima. He tells her that he loves her and is going to search for his treasure. She understands, and says that she will wait for him to return. The oasis is now an empty place for her, and she’ll look out to the desert for him everyday.

They ride deep into the desert’s silence for a week, speaking very little. Santiago finally tells the alchemist that he has told him nothing along the way, and the alchemist tells him that the only way to learn is through action. He tells Santiago that in order to understand the world he must listen to his heart, always. The heart came from the Soul of the World, and speaks the truth.

They continue on for two more days, being cautious because of the tribal wars. As they ride the boy tries to listen to his heart and learn its ways. He realizes that his heart is afraid of failing and wants to go back to the woman he loves. They ride for many more days and Santiago begins to learn the ways of his heart, its dodges and tricks and moods. He finally realizes one day that he is completely happy, and that the longing and fear has disappeared. He learns from the alchemist that every second of his search for his Personal Legend is a second spent in the company of God and eternity. The alchemist then teaches him the most important lesson of all: that the Soul of the World will test everything right before it’s time for Santiago to realize his dream. It doesn’t do this because it’s evil, only so that all the lessons that were learned along the way can be mastered. He warns the boy that it’s at this point that most people give up, when they’re so close. The proverb “the darkest hour of night comes just before dawn” rings true for the boy, and he resolves not to give up when he’s tested.

That evening Santiago’s heart warns him that they are in danger and suddenly over one hundred horsemen surround them. They’re taken to a nearby military camp, where the alchemist informs the tribe leader that he is merely a guide for his friend, who is an alchemist. The alchemist says that the boy could destroy the camp by simply turning himself into the wind. The chief laughs, and grants them 3 days to perform this feat. If they cannot do it, their lives are forfeit.

Santiago is terrified. He has no idea how to turn himself into the wind and quickly starts to panic. The alchemist gently tells him not to be afraid, that his heart has the answers he needs to do this.

The first day the boy wanders around camp, and comes no closer to figuring out how to turn himself into the wind. That night as he’s talking to the alchemist, he asks him why he is even bothering to feed his falcon when they might die. The alchemist smiles, and tells him “You might die. I already know how to turn myself into the wind.”

The second day the boy climbs to the top of a cliff, and listens to his heart. He does not learn how to turn himself into the wind.

On the third day, the chief and his men all gather on the cliff to watch the boy. He warns the crowd that it may take awhile, and they all say they are in no hurry. They sit down and wait. And then the desert begins to speak to Santiago.

He tells the desert that it’s holding the woman he loves, and the desert wants to know what love is. As the boy explains it, the desert says it can lend its sand to help the wind blow, but if he wants to know how to turn himself into the wind he must ask the wind itself. A breeze begins to kick up, and the alchemist smiles to himself.

The wind already knows of the boy’s conversation because the wind knows everything. It asks the boy how he knows the language of the world, and Santiago says he learned it from his heart. The wind tells him that he can’t turn himself into the wind no matter how much he wants to because a boy and the wind are two very different things.

Santiago tells the wind that they were both written by the same hand and that they’re really not that different. If the wind will only transform him for a little bit, they could have a wonderful conversation about all of this.

The wind’s curiosity is aroused, which has never really happened before. It begins to blow, but then quickly acknowledges that it doesn’t know how to transform the boy. The wind tells him that maybe he should ask heaven, and so Santiago asks the wind to blot out the sun so he can look towards heaven without blinding himself. The wind howls, kicking up sand so the boy can look upwards to ask his question.

The boy turns his head upwards and asks the sun if it knows about love and the Soul of the World. The sun says it does because it loves the earth and everything on it. As they talk, the boy tells the sun that when things strive to become better then everything around them becomes better too. He realizes that the sun doesn’t really know about love, or how to turn him into the wind, and he asks the sun who he can talk to so his question can be answered. The sun tells him that he needs to speak to the hand that wrote it all. The wind, who is enjoying the conversation, screams in delight and blows even harder. On the ground, the men are trying not to be blown away.

The boy turns to the hand that wrote it all and falls silent. In his heart he begins to pray without words. He begins to understand that the wind and the sun and the desert are all also trying to find their way and understand the signs that are written by the one hand. He begins to realize that his soul is the Soul of the World, which is the Soul of God. He sees that his soul is one and the same as God’s soul and that he can perform miracles.

When the wind ceases to blow, the boy is standing next to the chief, who realizes he just witnessed a miracle. The next day, he allows the boy and the alchemist to go free.

The next day they stop at a monastery. The alchemist tells Santiago that he is only 3 hours from the Pyramids and that he will be going the rest of the way alone. Before they part, however, the alchemist shows the boy that lead can indeed be turned into gold.

Hours later Santiago climbs a dune and beholds the Egyptian Pyramids. He weeps with happiness because he finally achieved his Personal Legend and saw it through to the end. As he looks down to where his tears hit the sand he sees a Scarab beetle, which in Egypt is a sign of God. He begins to dig deep into the sand, and is convinced this is where his treasure lies.

He digs all day, but suddenly is surrounded by a group of men who steal his money and then beat him severely. They force him to keep digging, and then when there’s no gold to be found in the ground they leave him. Before they go the leader tells Santiago that he’s not going to die, even though he feels like he might. He tells him that he shouldn’t be so stupid to follow his dreams, however. The thief says that 2 years ago right at this very spot he had a dream of his own, that he should travel to a ruined church in Spain where sheperds slept and dig deep at the roots of a big sycamore tree to find a treasure. The thief says that he didn’t do it because he’s not stupid enough to cross an entire desert over a recurrent dream.

After that, Santiago stands up and begins to laugh, because now he knows where his treasure is.


Santiago reaches the church just as night is falling. As he begins to dig, he remembers everything that led him to this very moment. Hours later, he has before him a chest of gold Spanish coins and precious gemstones. He remembers he has to get to Tarifa so he can give one-tenth of his treasure to the old gypsy woman.

Suddenly the wind begins to blow from Africa and brings him the scent of a perfume he knows well, and the touch of a kiss.

He knows it is Fatima and he tells her he is coming.

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