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Free Study Guide for The Alchemist by Paul Coelho

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FOREWARD - Ten Years On


The foreward was written by the author, Paulo Coelho, ten years after he had published The Alchemist. Because the book had been such a huge success over those ten years, the author was asked, “What is the secret behind such a huge success?” He tells us that he honestly doesn’t know. All he knows is that like Santiago, the shepherd boy, we all need to be aware of our personal calling, or the path God has chosen for us.

He goes on to explain ideas that are extremely important in understanding The Alchemist. He begins by explaining that whenever we do something that fills us with enthusiasm, we are following our legend. However, we don’t all have the courage to confront out own dream because of four obstacles: first, we are told from childhood onward that everything we want to do is impossible and so the layers of fear, prejudice, and guilt often bury the dream very deeply. Second, if we have the courage to disinter the dream, we are then faced by the obstacle of love. We know what we want to do, but we don’t want to hurt anyone around us by pursuing the dream. We must come to realize that those who love us genuinely want us to be happy and are prepared to accompany us on our journey in whatever capacity. Once we accept that love can be a stimulus to the dream, the third obstacle crops up: fear of the defeats we will meet on the path of our journey.

The secret to conquering this fear is to understand that life is all about falling seven times and getting up eight. Once we get past these three obstacles, we meet the fourth: the fear of realizing the dream for which we have fought all our lives. Once we see what we can have, we are filled with guilt and forget all the previous obstacles we had to overcome to earn the dream. But if we believe ourselves worthy of that for which we have fought so hard, then we become the instruments of God, we help the Soul of the World, and we understand why we are here.


This foreward to the novel lays out the foundation of what Santiago will discover when he follows his dream. Knowing this in advance is helpful in understanding the philosophy of The Alchemist, but finding it out while reading about the shepherd boy’s adventures is so much more satisfying!



This opening part of the novel introduces us to the alchemist who has found a book left behind by someone in a caravan. He finds the story of Narcissus, the youth who daily knelt by a lake to contemplate his own beauty. He eventually fell in and drowned, but where he fell a flower was born called the narcissus. But the author of the book did not end the familiar story here as it is usually ended. Instead, he tells the reader that the goddesses of the forest appeared and found that the lake so mourned for him that its fresh water became salty.

The goddesses assume that the lake mourns, because it could contemplate his beauty close at hand. But the lake asks if Narcissus was beautiful. The goddesses are surprised at the question, because who could know the answer better than the lake? The lake is silent for a moment, and then explains that it never noticed Narcissus’ beauty, because it could see, in the depth of his eyes, its own beauty reflected. The goddesses respond, “What a lovely story.”


The prologue prepares us for what Santiago the shepherd will eventually learn in his travels: we are all joined one to the other in some way. Narcissus’ seeming egotistical behavior was actually a way for the lake to discover itself. We are all a part of the Soul of the World.


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Clapsaddle, Diane. "TheBestNotes on The Alchemist". . 09 May 2017