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The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
So this is how it is: we're reading Paulo Coelho's adventure/fantasy novel, The Alchemist, right? And emotional hopeless romantic books are to be expected in every English class but this one is different. The books in English classes are typical full length highly detailed novels that have been used for English classes since the dawning of time. These books just seem to get in English teachers' heads and so they think that they must use them in their class room. And since these get type-casted as “English Class Books” it's rare to see them in the book/magazine section of a Target or Wal-Mart. But not The Alchemist.
The Alchemist is different. It's not like the pain-stakingly boring, To Kill A Mockingbird or the strange and disturbed Lord of the Flies. This book is much more optimistic then those other typical English class books. This one tells of chasing dreams, following the heart, falling in love, and believing in yourself. This book makes me feel as I did as a child, with a full soft heart that was optimistic and believed that miracles could happen; this book can give the beauty of adolescences to a grown man and make him better. Even more of a reason it won't be in most high school classe rooms.
If at a young age (or possibly any age) you learn that you enjoy reading and try to make it a constant thing, your reading habits and likes and dislikes are going to evolve and change with time. You may go from classics, to spy thrillers, to true crime mysteries, to comedy, to political thrillers, or many readers at at some point will go over a period of time when they read unusual, artsy, and unorthodox novels. These books can be a shock to some because of the content that some of these stories can contain but others will love them because those people can find the deeply hidden themes within the books. These books will rarely be found in a literature class. But these are the ones you love because they've changed your life forever.
One author for example, to write such a genre is a man named Bret Easton Ellis. This man's most famous for two books, one entitled Less Than Zero and the other American Psycho. Only a few of this man's books have been made into film but they have captured many. Another author is Chuck Palahniuk, he is responsible for the cult classic movie Fight Club. Many do not know that Fight Club was first a ground breaking artsy novel in the early 1990's. And another book, by personal preference, is called I Am The Messenger by Mark Zusak. How do any of these books, with quite dark themes, relate to The Alchemist? Because these are all stories that people can't read without having it effect their life in someway or another.
A novel is a story. It's very simple but that's mostly all we see them as. And sitting in a classroom setting the teacher, might make you look deeper into the book and find and analyze the themes but once the course is over the books have no lasting effect on us. The type of book that is going to change you forever is almost never going to be in an English class. The books that I listed before can all be seen as unusual and a bit bizarre. But sometimes it takes a drastic change in whats traditional for someone to learn something valuable and real that they'll carry on their soul from that point on. The Alchemist did this for me.
As a child you have no perception of what the world really is or what it's capable of. Your mind is new, unshaped, and unexposed. “Everyone, when they are young knows their Personal Legend...At that point in their lives, everything is clear and everything is possible. They are not afraid to dream...” (21) says the King of Salem in Coelho's novel. All we've ever seen is the love of our parents and the couple of teachers that we've had, we have yet to know evil or injustice. For some of us we learn of it quickly and for others we may never see or accept it. But with America holding records for the amount of violence and other grotesque elements on its television screens, it's hard for someone not to become accustom and even numb to just evils that the world is capable of. And when the exposure comes you come to an ultimatum, either you accept the wrongdoing and grow callused to it or you can deny it's there and decide to see the few good that is in people. Many that I know and what I've been trained to do, is to grow the callous and harden the heart. With all the evil, deception, lying, selfishness, and cheating you learn to depend on yourself and only yourself. Your views and vision is changed.
You start to analyze everything. You begin to think realistically and a lot of the time pessimistically. You only ever see the bad and also try to find the angle to every situation. Someone does a good deed and your trying to believe that they only did it for their own good. Someone says they want to do good or make a change and you try to think about all the lies they've told to get where they are and all the lies they'll tell to reach their goals. You learn to believe in yourself and doubt all others. The world is evil and so is everything else that inhabits it. Anything your heart wants to achieve you can't and you must have a safety net. Anything you want to try you won't because of fear of failure. You'll tell yourself it's thinking logically when all it truly is, is a hurt heart or a strong hidden fear. But Santiago, our young and naive protagonist of The Alchemist, learns how to break this mold by taking a leap of faith.
Santiago is given a big wake up call on what direction to take his life in by the King of Salem. Now this is a drastic version of something that can turn your life around. The smallest thing can turn it around. But it doesn't matter what it is; all that matters is that your faith in humanity and your hope is restored. It can be something as simple as watching a friend of yours work hard towards something they love and then finally achieving it. Or it can be hearing the old simple story about the two mice: two mice fall into a tub of milk. One mice tries to swim out but gets tired and drowns. The other mice struggles so hard that he eventually turns the milk into butter and walks his way out. But no matter what it is that starts to melt your heart the King of Salem says, “Because there is a force that wants you to realize your Personal Legend; it whets your appetite with a taste of success” (29).
Once this miraculous event happens in your life you start to have small but inspirational revelations. You start realizing that doubt in one's self is the ultimate enemy. You start seeing that you can achieve something if you just give 110%. And you may even start to see the people that care enough to give you a little push every now and then. You begin to gain self-respect. But most importantly you begin to see the love thats hidden within this world. You see that everything has it's purpose and that you need to love something enough to reach out for it. And if your not willing to do that then your not in love. Santiago begins to see the real raw details about this loving world. No longer is everything so simple and black and white to him anymore but everything is now strong and yet fragile at the same time. There is evil but there is also love. There is doubt but there is also strength. You start to remember what the world used to be to you.
A child doesn't see limitations. A child reaches out for a step even though he knows he may fall. But he only makes it to the step because he doesn't allow himself to think of the pain of falling. A child believes he can be whatever they wants to be. They believe they can achieve whatever they want to achieve. Many might see this adolescence as foolish but what's more foolish and which is more fulfilling, failing or never have even tried? Don't be afraid. Regret brings a man death but failure brings a boy fulfillment.
The boy or the man will see the evil again. The evil isn't leaving, your choosing to see more than just the evil. Yes, it's still their. But it's up to you to see it, accept it, and move on. Because of all we ever do is focus on the negative then we'll always be held back and never achieve anything. Before the King tells Santiago how to reach his destiny and treasure he requires that Santiago give him one tenth of his sheep but “an old man, with a breastplate of gold, wouldn't have lied just to acquire six sheep” (34). No the King knew that, unless Santiago took a change and took a risk he would never be able to gain the strength or learn about the world. The grass is always greener on the other side but sometimes we don't know it until we get over the hill.
The Alchemist did all of this for me. This novel's attempt is to restore the child in you, to make you believe in miracles once again, and to give you a little fire in your soul. This book was written by a man who had a good portion to life figured out. We can all learn something from this author and from his book. Because a book is never just a book. A book is a story of life, non-fiction or not. A book holds lives in it and life lessons. And if we give the right book the right opportunity then we may just be able to allow it to better ourselves. And we may just be able to love again.