Santiago, a shepherd boy from a small Andalusian town, is the protagonist of The Alchemist. He is determined, headstrong, and curious to learn all he can about the world. As a result, he resisted his parent’s desires that he become a priest and chose instead to work as a shepherd so that he would have the opportunity to travel throughout the country. Despite his natural adventurousness, Santiago remains conservative and self-satisfied in many ways until he dreams of uncovering a treasure hidden near the pyramids in Egypt. Santiago hesitates to pursue his dream until he meets Melchizedek, a mysterious old man who claims to be the king of Salem. After Melchizedek reveals to him the magical powers of nature, Santiago becomes a willing spiritual seeker and sets off to fulfill his Personal Legend, the innate dream each person has of accomplishing their greatest desire.

As the story progresses and Santiago comes closer to the treasure, he becomes more focused on his growing understanding of the mystical force that imbues everything, called the Soul of the World. The time he spends crossing the desert on his way to the pyramids teaches him to pay attention to the world around him and to see all of creation in his surroundings, even in a single grain of sand. The knowledge he gains from the desert allows him to recognize nature as a single, unified whole. His greatest spiritual advancement, however, comes after he meets the alchemist, who helps him to understand himself and to read the omens in his environment. Santiago ultimately learns to communicate with the wind and the sun and the Hand That Wrote All, a force evidently synonymous with God or Allah.

Read about the Little Prince, another character who journeys on a quest for fulfillment, in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince.