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The Alchemist

Paulo Coelho

Section 9

Section 8

Section 10

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.

The alchemist’s choice to make Santiago his protégé marks an important point in Santiago’s journey, and the fact that the alchemist chooses Santiago, despite the fact that Santiago is not interested in alchemy, reiterates the notion that all things are one to people in touch with the Soul of the World. When we first meet the alchemist, we learn that he awaits someone whom he will teach. Meanwhile, the Englishman, who studies alchemy, seeks the alchemist. Despite this apparent match, and the fact that Santiago does not study alchemy, we learn that the alchemist waits for Santiago, not the Englishman. In the world of the book, all pursuits resemble one another in that they involve perfecting a Personal Legend and discovering the Soul of the Word. Thus, even though the Englishman seems like the more appropriate pupil, the alchemist chooses Santiago because he is the more advanced student of the Language of the World. When the alchemist says the universe conspires to help people realize their dreams, Santiago recognizes the alchemist as another omen, directing him toward his Personal Legend. Santiago argues that he already has his treasure, including his money and Fatima, but the alchemist points out that none of these things come from the pyramids. Again, Santiago hesitates briefly to pursue his dream because he feels satisfied with the wealth he has. The alchemist, however, pushes him forward.

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