The Alchemist (1988)
After his trip to Egypt, Coelho wrote “The alchemist”. He saw alchemy as the soul of the world or of Jung’s collective unconscious, where a person connects with everything that is (Arias, 2001, p. 148). In the published interview with Arias (2001), Coelho stated that he was the character of the shepherd in “The alchemist” (Arias, 2001, p. 172): “In reality, I am all the characters in my books. The only person I am not is the alchemist.”
Coelho emphasised that he was the shepherd in “The alchemist”, the crystal merchant and even Fatima (Arias, 2001, p. 172). Coelho said that in “Beside the River Piedra I sat down and wept”, he was the main character called Pilar (Arias, 2001, p. 182). Coelho emphasised that in all the other books he was the main character, even in “Brida” (Arias, 2001, p. 173). He further explainsedthat in “The Valkyries” and in “The pilgrimage” he described himself. Therefore, he saw his books not as fiction, but as literary narratives based on his own experiences that are autobiographic in nature. They are autobiographical narratives, stories that tell parts of Coelho’s life, as much such as “Veronica decides to die” tells the story of Coelho’s time in the mental hospital.
“The alchemist” (Coelho, 2002b) is an allegorical novel about a young Andalusian shepherd called Santiago who starts a journey to Egypt, after having had a recurring dream of finding a treasure there. Accepting the dream as prophetic, the shepherd gets advice from a Romani woman in a nearby town to travel to Egypt to find a treasure in the Pyramids.
On his journey, Santiago, meets a king who tells him about familiarising himself with his “Personal Legend”, which is the core theme of the book (Coelho, 2002b, p. 30): “Because here is a force that wants you to realize your Personal Legend; it whets your appetite with a taste of success.”
The book is about the realization of one’s destiny and a person’s only obligation. It is about love and about the realization that true love does not stop a person from realizing his/her dreams and his/her heart’s desire. At the same time, the heart’s desire will always be supported by the universe (Coelho, 2002b, pp. 23-24): “Whoever you are, or whatever it is that you do, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
Twenty-five years after “The alchemist” was first published, Coelho (2014d) explained in his blog that the universe is an:
echo of our desires, regardless of whether they are constructive or destructive ones. One has to also keep in mind the difference between a dream and an obsession. I mention personal legend in The Alchemist, and I wrote a book about obsession, The Zahir. When you follow your personal legend, you walk your path and learn from it. The objective doesn’t blind you to the road that takes you there. On the other hand, obsession is what prevents you from admiring the teachings of life. It’s like trying to get to the objective without passing through the challenges. I realized that despite the fear and the bruises of life, one has to keep on fighting for one’s dream. As Borges said in his writings “there is no other virtue than being brave”. And one has to understand that being brave is not the absence of fear but rather the strength to keep on going forward despite the fear.
However, the book is not only about the dream and its realization, but also about faith and its expression, by using two major themes of mythology, the hero’s journey and the spiritual quest to find out about his true nature of being (Kremenik, 1996). It is about a positive outlook on life and a life’s journey on which Coelho takes the reader along by emphasising that if the reader takes the same journey as Santiago, humankind will become better and the world will become a better place (Kremenik, 1996). Coelho (2002b, p. 10), in the form of the shepherd, states: “I couldn’t have found God in the seminary, he thought, as he looked at the sunrise.” Coelho emphasises nature and the simple approach to life, which he embraces. Yuliani (2009) highlights that the story describes the personality development of the shepherd boy during his hunt for the treasure: in the beginning the main character is doubtful, pessimistic and insecure, but at the end of the story he has changed into an optimistic person who is enlightened, optimistic and confident. Coelho describes his personal way of moving from the Jesuit seminary towards a more spiritual and optimistic approach to God and his faith. Hart (2004) emphasises that the story of Paulo Coelho is fundamentally based on cultural hybridity, on magical realism and a magical language, which catches the reader’s intention while using a “literary cliche expertly’ (Hart, 2004, p. 304) and addressing what humans long for.
In 1988, Coelho received a new task from Jean, his master, which needed to be fulfilled: he was asked to spend 40 days with Cristina in the Californian Mojave Desert, practising the spiritual St Ignatius Loyola exercises. These spiritual exercises aim at discerning the soul and consist of meditations, prayers and contemplative practices, which are usually conducted within a 30-day period and based on the teachings of a Catholic saint who wanted to help people to deepen their relationship with God (The Autograph, 1914). The time in the desert in which Coelho conducted the exercises of St Ignatius led to the writing of the book “The Valkyries” (Coelho, 1992).
In 1989 Coelho moved to a new publisher, the Edition Rocco, and his books entered best-selling lists in different countries. His new agent, Monica, moved to Spain and started promoting his books in Europe. Coelho started becoming famous and rich through publishing his books (Aries, 2001; Morais, 2009).
Coelho had to follow a new task that he was given by his master, Jean. He was advised to travel the “Road to Rome” for 2 months. Coelho started his journey in Languedoc and travelled at the edge of the Pyrenees. While walking through the Pyrenees, Coelho lost his track and could not find the way back. He imagined how it would be if someone were to find his dead corpse the following summer on the mountainside. However, he finally found a path into a small mountain village and was saved (Coelho, 2006, p. 103). He travelled for a week with his agent, Monica, and reinforced his commitment to “follow your dream approach”. While Coelho was travelling, his friend and former counterpart, Raul Seixas, died on 21 August 1989. Coelho was shocked and sad (Morais, 2009). During this time, Coelho had an extraordinary spiritual experience. He met his guardian angel twice within 24 h and could have one wish fulfilled. He wished that his books would be read (Morais, 2009). On the same trip, Coelho met a young woman at the “ritual of fire”. This young woman would later become the main character of the book “Brida”.
After his trip on the Road to Rome, Coelho returned to Brazil and wrote the novel “Brida” in just 2 weeks. The book was printed and published in 1990 by Edition Rocco, with 100,000 copies in print for the first edition. The book was highly criticised, but Coelho stated: “my success is a ‘divine gift’” (Morais, 2009, p. 376).