The Alchemist Review – Opinion
When you want something badly enough, the Universe conspires to help you get it. This is, in essence, the message of Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist.
This is my first post in the reviewing books category in this blog and I have chosen The Alchemist for one reason only: it ties in extremely well with a post I’m going to write about Madonna. Go figure!
I was thinking this morning (good exercise, I tell you) that I don’t agree at all with that view of the Universe that Madonna has and often talks about. In fact, she has used different versions of the classic phrase “When you want something badly enough, the Universe conspires to help you achieve your dream” many, many times.
Did I say classic? I meant boringly overused.
Yes, that sentence has been used ad nauseam and it’s getting old already. Please, stop. Find another one that at least has a truer meaning.
The Alchemist: The Story
In The Alchemist, an Andalusian shepherd boy by the name of Santiago travels all the way to the Egyptian Pyramids in search of a treasure. Turns out that he sets out on such a journey because he has a dream.
Before he gets to the Pyramids, Santiago meets a wizard who tells him that everyone on earth has a treasure that awaits him. Most of us don’t find it, though, because nowadays we have no real interest.
The Alchemist: Background
How the book is presented, its preface and prologue talk about alchemy and it’s a good way to understand what’s coming. The story is dynamic, of a simple structure, easy to read and it kind of grabs you. Also on the plus side, it’s quite short, so you’ll be done with it in no time (thank F).
I must confess that when I read the book, back in 1999, I must have been in a more receptive kind of mood for this type of books, and yes, I did like it. Perhaps I felt myself reflected in Santiago, in search of my own little treasure. I don’t know.
Soon after I read The Alchemist, I started reading Veronica decides to die. As soon as I got to the second chapter I stopped reading and gave the book away to a charity shop. I just couldn’t bear the thought of reading the same messages over and over again. Paulo Coelho hit the jackpot with The Alchemist and started to write in mass production the same stuff with different titles.
The thing is, I read The Alchemist again many years after that, when I got into coaching and personal development. The second time around I found it was bollocks.
It’s not that I have become more sceptical with the years. The reason behind it is that, due to my new profession as a life coach, I felt the need to read a lot of literature on self-discovery, self-improvement, auto-realisation, motivation, psychology, philosophy, social studies, and of course… self-help and New Thought stuff. I don’t feel the right to judge movements like the New Thought and New Age or books that I haven’t actually read.
So, in that process, I read many books of this kind and they all predicate the same idyllic, magical messages that seem aimed to people who are in a fragile period of their lives and desperate for quick and easy solutions. It’s just another way of taking advantage of vulnerable people.
The Alchemist is, basically, full of pseudo-philosophy bullshit.
Crammed with pompous, bucolic sentences, its pastoral message leads the reader to the idyllic and oversimplified idea that to get what you want, you just need to want it badly enough. The Universe will take care of the rest.
The Alchemist is full of the most simplistic stereotypes of self-help and the New Thought. In my opinion, it has little literary, zero philosophical value, despite its pretensions. On the contrary, I find it rather arrogant and patronising. And that’s an understatement. It seems as if Paulo Coelho deliberately set out to indoctrinate a bunch of stupid pupils, rather than to guide the readers in a journey where it should be us who make the questions and find the answers. You just need to compare a real didactic novel like The Little Prince with this one.
I find The Alchemist one of the most expendable, most overrated novels of all time. In the same way, I find Paulo Coelho the most overrated author of all time. If there is a soul out there who can really say, hand on heart, that they have achieved happiness (your very own treasure) only by following Coelho’s indications, please come forward.
Of course, I respect those who have found The Alchemist or any of Paulo Coelho’s books a good read or feel that it helped them in any way at the time they read it. One thing is liking or finding something helpful at a particular time. Another thing altogether is considering that something good or extraordinary.
Generally, bestsellers are of little literary value, whether you like it or not. Good literature is not as easy to read and it generally opens your mind. Good literature doesn’t talk to you about good omens, vibrations of peace, finding your treasure or speaking the language of the world. Read more Erich Fromm (The Art of Loving, Fear of Freedom), Simone de Beauvoir (The Second Sex, The Ethics of Ambiguity), or Abraham Maslow (Toward a Psychology of Being, Motivation and Personality) and less Coelho, Rhonda Byrne and Wayne Dyer.
If I think, more often than not, that bestsellers are the worse kind of literature, this one does take the biscuit.
Sadly, every time we enter a bookstore or browse the internet, we are bombarded with the titles THEY want us to buy. This is what happens nowadays. The “other” literature, the one that could open, really open, our eyes and mind, help us think for ourselves, is not as readily available.
Last word about the story around The Alchemist
What I do dig in The Alchemist is the overall message, bullshit aside. I dig the importance of going after your dreams, and trying to realise them.
I do believe in dreams and setting a roadmap to get them. But following your heart, trying to achieve what you want, is no easy ride. And this is what pisses me off about these types of books and thinking.
Wanting something badly is not enough. The Universe doesn’t conspire with you to get it. It is you who needs to be constantly opening up new possibilities, going down many roads, trying, failing, trying again. The more paths and options, the higher the number of probabilities to get what you want. Wanting is not enough. Design a plan and stick to it.
Alternative to The Alchemist
The obvious answer is The Little Prince.
So, have you read The Alchemist and, like me the first time, you liked it? What is it that you love about it? Are you more in the side of those who have come to eliminate it from their bookshelves?
I would love to read your comments.