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The Alchemist

Paulo Coelho

Section 9

Section 8

Section 9, page 2

page 1 of 2

Summary

Santiago leaves the chieftains. Outside, a horseman in black carrying a sword knocks Santiago to the ground. The horseman asks who dared read the flight of the hawks. Santiago says he did and that he was able to see into the Soul of the World. The horseman asks Santiago why he defies Allah’s will, and Santiago replies that Allah willed his vision to occur. The horseman withdraws his sword and asks why Santiago is in the desert. When Santiago says he is following his Personal Legend, the horseman explains he needed to test Santiago’s courage, and that Santiago must not give up on his goal. The horseman tells Santiago to find him the next day after sunset if he survives the ensuing battle. Santiago asks the horseman where he lives, and the horseman simply points south before riding away. We learn that the mysterious horseman is the alchemist.

The next morning, two thousand armed men guard Al-Fayoum. Five hundred mounted troops arrive in the city pretending to be on a peaceful expedition, but when they arrive at the tent in the center of Al-Fayoum they all draw hidden swords and attack. The tent, however, is empty, and because the tribe is ready, the tribesmen defeat the attackers, killing everyone but the battalion’s commander. The chieftains question the commander about why he broke with tradition and attacked Al-Fayoum, and the commander replies that his men were starving and needed to take the oasis to continue with the war. The chieftains express pity, but condemns the commander to death by hanging. The old man who leads the chieftains rewards Santiago with fifty gold pieces and asks him to become the tribal counselor.

That night, Santiago wanders to the south of Al-Fayoum. He sees a tent that a group of passing Arabs says genies inhabit. Santiago waits beside the tent, and at midnight the alchemist appears on his horse carrying two dead hawks on his shoulder. The alchemist says Santiago should not be there unless his Personal Legend directed him to. He signals for Santiago to enter the tent. Inside, Santiago sees no traditional alchemy tools. The alchemist tells Santiago that he asked him to come to his tent because the omens told him Santiago would need help. Santiago tells the alchemist that the Englishman needs his help, but the alchemist replies that the Englishman has other things to do first. The alchemist says he needs to help direct Santiago to the treasure he seeks.

Santiago argues that he already has his treasure with his camel, money, and Fatima. The alchemist replies that Santiago has nothing from the pyramids. He proceeds to pour Santiago some wine, even though the rules of Al-Fayoum prohibit drinking alcohol. He tells Santiago to sell his camel and buy a horse.

Analysis

Santiago—and the reader—finally meets the alchemist in this section. The alchemist never actually calls himself “the alchemist,” but his identity becomes clear nonetheless. He appears to Santiago in dramatic fashion, dressed all in black, riding a white horse, and kicking up a cloud of dust so large it obscures the moon. This entrance reminds Santiago of Santiago Matamoros, otherwise known as Saint James the Greater, the apostle and Patron Saint of Spain. Initially, Santiago thinks the man on the horse may kill him, but he feels no fear because he would die in pursuit of his Personal Legend. Since he does not worry about death, Santiago confidently tells the man that he stands behind his vision. The man appears impressed. When he withdraws his sword, he talks about the Language of the World, and Santiago realizes the horseman is not a random enemy come to kill him. Santiago says the man reminds of him of Melchizedek, and as the man rides away the narrator informs us that Santiago had met the alchemist.

The fact that Santiago’s vision of the approaching army comes true the next day confirms that he has penetrated to the Soul of the World. As a result, the tribal chieftains gain a great deal of confidence in Santiago and his abilities, and they ask him to serve as a tribal counselor. Perhaps more importantly, Santiago gains more confidence in his abilities. When the alchemist questions Santiago with his sword drawn, this confidence allows Santiago to speak about his vision with courage. Santiago’s response impresses the alchemist, who says he needed to test Santiago’s bravery. He also says that courage is the quality most essential to understanding the Language of the World. With this additional confidence in himself, Santiago seems only likely to improve on his abilities.

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