Santiago has now been working for the crystal merchant for almost a month. It is not the kind of job that makes him happy, but he sticks with it because the merchant treats him fairly. Santiago calculates that if he continues to work for the merchant, it will take a whole year to earn the money to buy a flock of sheep. He then comes to the crystal merchant with an idea. He proposes building a display case for the crystal that could be placed outside to attract the attention of people passing by. The merchant worries that the case will get bumped and the crystal will get broken.
Santiago is not satisfied with working for the crystal merchant and the slow pace of income. He is naturally a curious and innovative person, as evidenced by his willingness make a drastic life change and his desire to travel and see new things. The crystal merchant, by contrast, maintains his stubborn commitment to how he has always done things—he is clearly unsatisfied in terms of his Personal Legend.
The crystal merchant tells Santiago that business has improved, and soon Santiago will be able to return to his sheep. Why, he wonders, would Santiago ask any more from life? Santiago says that they must follow omens. The merchant understands what the boy is saying, because Santiago's very presence in the shop is an omen. The crystal merchant asks Santiago why he wants to get to the pyramids. Santiago says only that he wanted to visit because he's heard so much about them. He tells the crystal merchant that he must have never had dreams of travel.
The crystal merchant works as a character foil for Santiago, showing the pitfalls of hanging onto the past and not moving forward. Santiago is innovative and restless for change here, but he has also been sidetracked from his own Personal Legend. He is unwilling to admit his interest in the pyramids to the merchant, which shows that he is unwilling to admit their importance to himself.
Two days later, the crystal merchant speaks to Santiago about the display. He says that he does not like change. He asks Santiago why he thinks they should build the display. Santiago says that he wants to get back to his sheep faster and that they should take advantage of the situation, as luck is on their side. He calls that the “principle of favorability,” or beginner’s luck. The crystal merchant tells Santiago that, in the Koran, God gave every person just five obligations to satisfy. They are: believing in God, praying five times a day, fasting during Ramadan, and being charitable to the poor. Tears come to the crystal merchant’s eyes as he speaks about the Prophet (Muhammad, but unnamed here).
The crystal merchant doesn’t like change, and he knows that Santiago’s ideas will change his business and disrupt what has become the norm for him. Santiago now starts quoting Melchizedek and passing on his words to others (here discussing the “principle of favorability”). The crystal merchant is clearly a devout Muslim and passionate about his faith, as he cries just talking about the Prophet Muhammad.
Santiago asks what the fifth obligation is. The crystal merchant says that the fifth obligation is a pilgrimage to Mecca. He says that when he was young, all he wanted was to make enough money so that he could travel to Mecca. While he has been working in his shop, he has met travelers on the way to Mecca, and some are much poorer than he.
The fifth obligation of Islam presents a problem for the merchant, and we see why he purposefully left it off his list. The merchant now reveals what seems to be his own Personal Legend (traveling to Mecca), while also admitting that he could pursue it, but hasn’t yet.
Santiago wonders why the crystal merchant does not go to Mecca now. The crystal merchant explains that it's the thought of Mecca that keeps him alive. He is afraid that if his dream is realized, he’ll have no reason to go on living. He says that he just wants to dream about Mecca, and not actually achieve his dream. He is afraid it would be a disappointment to reach the holy city, and therefore prefers to simply dream. But he gives Santiago permission to build the outdoor display.
The idea of Mecca has become such a key force in the merchant’s life that he is afraid of removing its influence by actually fulfilling his dream. This anxiety about fulfilling a dream and worrying that it won’t meet his expectations is preventing the merchant from realizing his Personal Legend.
Two more months pass and the display brings many people into the crystal shop. Santiago estimates that if he works for six more months he can return to Spain and by sixty sheep. Now Egypt is just a distant dream for him, and he has become happy in his work. He remembers that Melchizedek said you must always know what it is you want, and Santiago feels that he knows what he wants and is working toward it. He's proud of himself: he has learned how to deal with crystal, he has learned about a language that transcends words, and he has learned about omens.
The shop is more successful with Santiago’s innovation, but Santiago still focuses his dreams for the future on buying more sheep and returning home. He also twists Melchizedek’s advice in his mind to support his new desires and justify his actions to himself.
One day, Santiago overhears a man in the street complaining that it is impossible to find a decent place to get something to drink after the steep climb up the hill. The boy sees this as an omen, and he tells the crystal merchant that they should also sell tea in their shop. They could sell the tea in the crystal glasses so that people would buy the tea, and also be encouraged to buy the glasses.
Although Santiago has strayed from his Personal Legend, he has learned from Melchizedek how to value omens. He realizes that speech or a person can present an omen—not just a dream or a physical sign. Santiago’s intuition and creativity continue to benefit the crystal shop.
The crystal merchant tells Santiago that he's had the shop for so long that he knows what will happen if they start to serve tea: the shop will expand and it will change the crystal merchant’s way of life. Santiago thinks this must be a good thing, but the crystal merchant disagrees, because he is used to the way things are. The crystal merchant tells Santiago that he has been a real blessing to him, but now he has also realized that every blessing, when it is ignored, becomes a curse. In this way, Santiago has become a curse because he has presented the crystal merchant with new possibilities. Now the crystal merchant knows the things he should be able to accomplish, even though he doesn't want to do these things.
Again, Santiago meets resistance from the merchant when he tries to change the way the shop works. Santiago’s role as both blessing and curse shows the problem with holding onto the past and fearing change. The merchant was content in feeling like he had no control over his life, but when he is given clear proof that he does have control, and then he still refuses to change, he cannot return to that state of contentment again. The merchant sees his own potential reflected in Santiago, and thus sees only wasted potential in himself.
The crystal merchant completes their conversation with the word “maktub.” Santiago asks him what this means. The crystal merchant translates it as "it is written.” He tells the boy that they can start selling tea in the crystal glasses. Sometimes there is no way to stop change when it is coming.
The word “maktub” appears throughout the novel, and acknowledges the theme of omens and divine intervention. It also brings up the idea of fate and free will, which for Coelho are not contradictory concepts. One’s fate might be “written” by God, but each person still has the freedom to either choose or reject that fate.
Customers climb the hill and are tired when they reach the top. They see a crystal shop which offers fresh mint tea. When they drink the tea from the beautiful crystal glasses, they are impressed and buy some crystal. Before long the news spreads, and many people climb the hill just to visit the shop that sells both crystal and tea.
The move of selling tea in the crystal shop is the perfect marketing ploy, reflecting the importance of observing the world around you and listening to “omens.” This is one of the lessons repeated throughout the book.
The crystal merchant hires two other employees to keep up with growing demand. The months pass. One day Santiago awakes before dawn. It has been more than eleven months since he came to Africa. He dresses for the day in Arabian clothing. He smokes and drinks his morning tea in silence, and when he is finished, he reaches into his pocket and withdraws a bundle of money. It is enough money to buy one hundred and twenty sheep, plus a return ticket to his homeland and a license to import African products into his own country.
Nothing is different about the day when Santiago chooses to leave his job at the crystal shop, but he feels it is the right time. He has not lost his introspective nature or his closeness to the world around him. Santiago has more than enough money to return home and buy sheep, and this fact suggests that he has been putting off that journey as well—perhaps still unwilling to abandon the pyramids.
When the crystal merchant wakes up and comes into the shop, Santiago tells him that he is leaving that day. They both have enough money to fulfill their dreams. Santiago asks the crystal merchant for his blessing. The crystal merchant says that he is proud of Santiago, but he says that he is not going to Mecca, just as Santiago is not going to buy back his sheep. Santiago is startled, and wonders who told the merchant this. “Maktub,” the crystal merchant replies.
The crystal merchant sees the truth about Santiago before Santiago has acknowledged it to himself. Just as he knows his own character and that he won’t go to Mecca, he knows Santiago’s character and that the young man won’t give up on his original dream. The merchant believes Santiago’s quest is the will of God.
Santiago goes to his room and packs his belongings, and as he's leaving he find his old shepherd’s pouch. As he removes his jacket from the pouch, the stones Urim and Thummim fall to the ground, The stones make Santiago remember Melchizedek, and he is startled by how long it has been since he has thought of the old king, and his reminder to never stop dreaming. Santiago picks up the stones and has a strange feeling, as if the old king is nearby. He reflects that his sheep taught him something very important: that there was a language in the world that everyone understands.
It seems like an omen in itself that at this moment Santiago finds the fortune-telling stones Urim and Thummim—the symbols of letting something other than oneself decide one’s fate. Melchizedek had said that he appears when someone is about to give up on his or her Personal Legend, so the fact that Santiago suddenly feels his presence means that Santiago is at a crossroads.
Santiago remembers that Melchizedek told him that when you want something, the universe conspires to help you achieve it, but he hadn't said anything about the hardships that Santiago would face. Santiago picks up his pouch and puts it with his other packed belongings. Downstairs, he finds the crystal merchant helping a foreign couple. For the first time, he reflects on the similarities between the crystal merchant and the old king. He leaves without saying goodbye, because he does not want to cry in front of the clients. He is going to miss the shop and the things that he learned there.
Santiago has partly lost faith in his Personal Legend because of the hardships he has endured through losing his money, and because not everything is as easy as Melchizedek had first made it out to be. Santiago and the crystal merchant share more than the usual boss-employee relationship. The fact that Santiago leaves without saying goodbye suggests a mutual respect and shared understanding more than a lack of concern or emotion.
Santiago tells himself that he is going to return to the fields he knows and to his flock, but he is not happy with this decision. He wonders if it is better to be like the crystal merchant and never go to Mecca, or to go through life trying to realize one’s dream, but failing. But Umin and Thummim have now reminded him of the old king, and Santiago convinces himself that he should go to the pyramids in Egypt, because he may never have another chance. Although he is only two hours from home and a desert away from the pyramids, he decides to think of this in terms of being two hours closer to his treasure.
Santiago feels torn between his two dreams, a return to the past, or seeking a different future. He wonders if the crystal merchant’s situation is potentially more desirable than trying to follow your Personal Legend and failing. Now fear of failure holds Santiago back, but he overcomes his fear and decides to focus instead on the positives—the progress he has made towards his goal.
Santiago decides to pursue his treasure, and suddenly feels tremendously happy. He reminds himself that he can always go back to being a shepherd, or that he can become a crystal salesman again. He seeks out a caravan crossing the desert and he holds Urim and Thummim in his hand as he does so. He remembers the old king telling him that he is always nearby whenever someone wants to realize his Personal Legend.
Santiago’s relief and happiness at making this tough decision shows that he has made the right one. His Personal Legend is, after all, something he desires and wants to achieve, and supposedly something that God wants him to achieve as well. He made his decision without Urim and Thummim, but keeps them near him to remember Melchizedek.
Meanwhile, an Englishman is sitting on a bench in a warehouse. As he leafs through his chemical journal, he tells himself that he thought he would never end up in a place like this. He believes in omens, and he's working on finding the one true language of the universe. First he studied Esperanto, then world religions, and most recently alchemy. He feels that although he has discovered important truths about alchemy, he is not yet an alchemist. He hopes to find an alchemist to serve as his mentor.
The Englishman’s introduction reveals his character and priorities. He seems to be on a similar quest to Santiago, or at least is learning about similar ideas (like the universal language). He is reading a chemical journal, reflecting his new focus on alchemy. His intensive studies show that he believes in learning, but primarily in book learning. He doesn’t yet try to learn just by observing the world around him.
The Englishman has spent much of his family's fortune seeking the Philosopher’s Stone, which is the Master Work of all alchemists. Through his research, he learned of a famous alchemist who is said to have discovered the Philosopher’s Stone and the Elixir of Life. He learned that this alchemist lives in the desert, at the Al-Fayoum oasis, so he decided to go in search of the alchemist.
The Englishman’s quest for the alchemist reintroduces the key character and namesake of the novel. It is clear already that Santiago’s path will also cross Al-Fayoum and the world of the alchemist as he journeys to Egypt. The principles of alchemy, first introduced here, will be important throughout the novel.
As the Englishman is waiting for the caravan, a young Arab arrives. The Arab boy asks the Englishman where he is headed. The Englishman does not want to talk, so the boy takes out a book and begins to read. The Englishman notices that the boy’s book is written in Spanish, and he is relieved, because his Spanish is better than his Arabic.
Here we again see Santiago through the eyes of another—he has lived in Morocco long enough that he looks like a typical Arab boy. Santiago can recognize the Englishman’s introverted nature, and immediately proves himself a kindred spirit by taking out a book of his own instead of pursuing a conversation.
Santiago is trying to read the burial scene at the beginning of his book. He realizes that he has never been able to read past the first few pages of this book. Instead of reading, Santiago reflects that when he had decided to seek out his treasure, he actually ended up working in the crystal shop. Now he has decided to join a desert caravan, but the next step of this journey is a mystery to him. Nearby, the Englishman is also reading.
Reading has not been at the top of Santiago’s list of priorities recently, and he is still reading the first pages of the book he’d had when Melchizedek first interrupted him. Coelho is oddly dismissive of reading, especially as a writer himself. He seems to value observation and personal experience above book learning. Santiago matures in accepting that the future will be a mystery to him, and he will just have to accept it when it comes.
Santiago puts away his book and takes out Urim and Thummim. The Englishman recognizes the stones, and Santiago immediately returns them into his pocket. “They're not for sale,” he tells the Englishman, who laughingly says that they're not worth much, but that those who know about such things would immediately have recognized them. Santiago tells him that a king gave the stones to him as a present. The Englishman takes a matching pair of stones out of his pocket.
Urim and Thummim bridge the gap between Santiago and the Englishman. Both have the stones, and understand their uses. Santiago’s initial desire to protect his stones shows that he learned his lesson with the thief and is not inclined to flaunt his possessions. It’s suggested that the Englishman has also encountered Melchizedek, in one form or another.
Santiago says that the Englishman must not believe a king would talk to someone like him, a simple shepherd. The Englishmen says that shepherds were the first to recognize a king when the rest of the world did not, so it's not surprising that any king would talk to shepherds. He tells Santiago that this story is in the Bible, and that the Bible is the same book that taught him about Urim and Thummim. In the Bible, priests would carry these stones embedded in their golden breastplates.
It seems strange that Santiago was raised in a Christian society and once studied to become a priest, but he doesn’t know one of the most basic and famous stories of the Bible: the story of Jesus’s birth. This might be an oversight on Coelho’s part, or just another way of showing how vague and universal Santiago’s faith is—it’s not attached to any particular doctrine.
The Englishman tells Santiago that there is a universal language already understood by everybody. He says he is in search of that language, and hopes to find an alchemist in the desert who can teach him more.
The idea of universal language appears throughout this novel. Santiago has already observed the existence of this language, and witnessed its potential. He and the Englishman are on similar quests.
The warehouse boss arrives, interrupting Santiago and the Englishman’s conversation. He tells them that there's a caravan leaving today for Al-Fayoum. The Englishman says that this must be a good luck omen. He feels it was no coincidence that he met Santiago, who also had Urim and Thummim with him. Santiago tells the Englishman that he is looking for a treasure. The Englishman responds that in a certain way, he is doing the same. Santiago admits to the Englishman that he doesn't know what alchemy is.
The Englishman also speaks of omens, a sign that Santiago’s preparation for this quest—receiving Urim and Thummim, learning about omens—aligns closely with the teachings of alchemy. Santiago willingly tells the Englishman the truth about his quest, which shows that he believes in it once more.
The leader of the caravan introduces himself to the people who will be accompanying him across the desert. There are about two hundred people and four hundred animals. The leader of the caravan says that there are a lot of different people accompanying the caravan, and they believe in many different forms of God. He tells his followers that the only God he serves is Allah, and he swears on Allah that he will do everything possible to protect the people in his caravan. But he wants the people to swear by their Gods that they will follow his instructions, because in the desert, disobedience means death.
This scene again emphasizes the importance of religion in the novel. Religion is often a divisive force in the world, but here Coelho suggests that it can also serve to bring people together—particularly in a harsh environment like the desert. The people in the caravan may follow different gods, but the novel never focuses on any particular religion, instead portraying a vague God as the “Hand That Wrote All” and/or the “Soul of the World.”
Santiago swears to Jesus, but the Englishman says nothing. Santiago and the Englishman have both bought camels to ride. The Englishman continues his conversation with Santiago as the pair starts on their journey. The caravan begins to move, and it’s impossible to hear what the Englishman is saying. However, Santiago knows what he is trying to say, because he too has been led to the desert by a chain of connected events. The closer one gets to one’s Personal Legend, the more the Personal Legend defines one’s reason for being. The caravan travels toward the east, and Santiago spends his time silently observing the progress of the animals and people. In the desert the only sound is the wind and the movements of the animals.
The Englishman does not have faith in any god, yet he believes in omens (and seemingly knows the Bible better than the supposedly Christian Santiago). Santiago understands the Englishman’s feeling of being led on a path of connected events. This shows that the Englishman, like Santiago, knows what his Personal Legend is and has been seeking it with conviction. Santiago observes the desert and the caravan, and is able to learn from this form of study, just as he used to learn by observing his sheep.
One night Santiago talks to a camel driver, who tells him that, despite how many times he has crossed the desert, the infinite size of the desert still makes him feel small. Santiago understands what he means, although he has never visited the desert before. He reflects that he's learned things from his sheep and from working with crystal, and he should be able to learn something from the desert, too. He thinks of his sheep, but reminds himself that they're not his sheep anymore. He is glad that they have probably forgotten him. They are used to traveling, and therefore know how to move on.
The camel driver will be another influential character on Santiago’s journey. Santiago realizes that his sheep entirely live in the moment, and therefore are able to be happy with each new place and new turn of events. Everything on his journey seems to be working together to teach Santiago new lessons.
Santiago also thinks about the merchant’s daughter, and feels certain that she has married someone else. He feels that his intuitive understanding of the camel driver’s comment about the desert means that he might be learning some of the universal language that connects all people. His mother used to refer to this as "hunches.” He thinks of the crystal merchant and says, “maktub.”
The idea of a universal language, related to the interconnectedness of all things, has repeatedly appeared in Santiago’s life. It will continue to be an important part of the book, especially as it is connected to the principles of alchemy.
Sometimes as it travels, the caravan has to go around a boulder or rocky area, but whenever they make a major detour they still continue in generally the same direction. The Englishman is unaware of this, because he is focused on reading his books. Santiago also has his book, but he finds it more interesting to observe the caravan in the desert. He becomes friends with the camel driver, and at night as they sit around the fire together. Santiago tells him about being a shepherd, and the camel driver tells Santiago about himself. He had a happy life as a farmer, and had made at the pilgrimage to Mecca with his family. One day, there was an earthquake, and the Nile River overflowed its banks. The camel driver had never imagined that this was something that could happen to him. The land was ruined, and so he had to seek out another form of income.
The caravan’s ability to head toward a destination despite any obstacles serves as a metaphor for Santiago’s journey. At times, he has been sidetracked or diverted, but he continues to move toward his goal. The camel driver’s path to his current profession seems to have been part choice and part fate, it seems. He lost everything from his previous life through no fault of his own—a fact that seems to contradict Coelho’s claim about the “greatest lie in the world.” The concepts of fate and free will need not be contradictory, though. The camel driver had no control over his loss, but he was able to choose what to make of his new life after this loss.
The camel driver says that disaster taught him to understand that people need not fear the unknown if they're capable of achieving their needs and wants. He says that he sees how many people are afraid of losing what they have, but this fear is no longer relevant when they understand that human lives were written by the same hand that created the world.
The camel driver learned from his experience that it is pointless to fear loss because there is no real “loss”—everything has been written, so any “loss” is just another step on his journey, one written by the God who made the world.
Occasionally, the caravan encounters another group traveling in the desert. Sometimes men appear and share information about thieves and warring tribes. There is a sense of fear in the air when there is discussion of the tribal wars, even though no one comments on it. Santiago realizes that this awareness of shared fear is another aspect of the universal language without words.
Gossip about the desert wars foreshadows the threat these wars will pose later in the novel. The fear of attack connects the people, Santiago sees, because it is communicated from person to person without words.
The Englishman asks the camel driver if they're in danger from the tribal wars. The camel driver says that in the desert there's no going back, and so they must move forward through danger. “Maktub,” he says. Santiago tells the Englishman that he should pay more attention to the caravan. In turn, the Englishman tells Santiago that he should read more.
The camel driver has the same perspective on the tribal wars as he did on the loss of his previous life. He believes that whatever happens is meant to be. Santiago and the Englishman can each learn from the other’s learning style, balancing reading with observation.
The caravan begins to travel faster, and the days and nights are passed in silence. One night the Englishman is unable to sleep, and he and Santiago go for a walk. Santiago tells the Englishman about his life, and the Englishman is fascinated with the progress Santiago was able to make with his innovative ideas in the crystal shop. He tells Santiago that there's a common principle that connects all things, which he refers to as the Soul of the World. Desiring something with all your heart brings you close to the Soul of the World. The Englishman says that everything, including animals, plants, and objects, has a soul. Therefore, in the crystal shop, even the glass may have been helping Santiago succeed.
The Englishman and Santiago maintain their friendship despite their different understandings of ways of learning. The Englishman explains some ideas of alchemy, and it’s clear that Santiago has already encountered these very concepts in his quest. The Soul of World shows that everything is connected, which Santiago has already sensed through the idea of the universal language. The Englishman possesses the terminology of alchemy, but the ideas are not unfamiliar to Santiago.
Santiago says that he has observed the caravan carefully, and that the caravan and the desert speak the same language. It is this unity that will allow them to reach the oasis. He recognizes that if either of them had joined the caravan without an awareness of the universal language, the journey would have been much more difficult for them. The boy says he has seen how the guides read the signs of the desert, and how the desert and the caravan speak to each other. The Englishman admits that he should pay more attention to the caravan, and Santiago says that he would like to read the Englishman's books.
Santiago sees the desert and the caravan as two entities communicating and speaking the same language—and able to work together. Both Santiago and the Englishman know about the Universal Language, but the Englishman has not been paying attention to its use in the desert. He realizes that Santiago is right and that he is not using his understanding of alchemy to its fullest potential. In turn, Santiago wants to read more about alchemy.
The Englishman's books teach many strange ideas. In one book, Santiago learns that the most important item in alchemy is the Emerald Tablet. Santiago wonders why, if this single text explains everything about the study of alchemy, do alchemists need so many books about their subject? The Englishman says that all the other books help them to understand the few lines that are inscribed on the Emerald Tablet. Santiago enjoys reading the stories of the most famous alchemists. They worked on purifying metals in their laboratories, and tried to discover the Master Work, which required them to understand the universal language.
Through reading the Englishman’s books, Santiago learns about the Emerald Tablet, one of the key symbols in the novel. The Emerald Tablet symbolizes the value of simplicity, which is an important theme in the book. All the secrets of alchemy were simple enough to be contained on a single tablet, but men like the Englishman prize complexity and do not see the value of this. Santiago, on the other hand, immediately questions the need for so much other reading about the topic.
Santiago asks the Englishman if observing the world is sufficient for learning to understand the universal language. The Englishman responds that Santiago is obsessed with simplifying everything. He feels that the many steps of alchemy are important. The two parts of the Master Work are the creation of the Elixir of Life, and the creation of the Philosopher’s Stone. The Elixir of Life keeps the maker from growing old, and the Philosopher’s Stone can turn other metals into gold. The Englishmen says that in the process of purifying metals, the alchemists purified themselves.
Santiago’s focus on simplicity and on learning from pure observation of the world is lost on the Englishman, who values the complexity and element of study in his subject. The processes of alchemy allow a person to change himself, and this takes time and many steps. As soon as we are introduced to the details of alchemy, it is already being used as an extended metaphor for life and one’s spiritual journey.
Santiago realizes that the crystal merchant had a similar understanding of his work, because he said it was a good thing to clean crystal in order to free oneself from negative thoughts. Santiago begins to believe that one can learn alchemy in everyday life. Santiago is particularly interested in the Philosopher’s Stone, but whenever he tries to learn how to achieve the Master Work, he becomes completely overwhelmed by the obscure texts.
Santiago applies the Englishman’s argument for the value of the process of alchemy to the process of cleaning crystal. Santiago likes to make connections and draw wisdom from everything he has seen or experienced, and each new connection emphasizes the theme of interconnectedness and the universal language.
Santiago asks the Englishman why the alchemists of the past have made the processes of alchemy so complicated. The Englishman replies that the complexity allows only those with enough responsibility to understand, as not just anyone should be able to transform lead into gold. Only those who are willing to study deeply achieve the Master Work. The Englishman doesn't respond to all of Santiago’s questions, but instead shares that he has been observing the caravan, and has only noticed the increasing talk of war.
The Englishman sees complexity as a necessary gatekeeper to the secrets of alchemy. The responsibility of studying weeds out those who are too irresponsible or otherwise somehow unworthy of alchemical knowledge. The Englishman’s inability to learn from the caravan shows his fixation on the idea of knowledge as something complex and exclusive, rather than intuitive and universal.
Santiago returns the alchemy books to the Englishman. The Englishman asks him what he has earned. Santiago says that he learned about the Soul of the World, and that many alchemists realize their Personal Legends by discovering the Soul of the World. Most importantly, however, he learned that all these things were so simple they could be inscribed in a few lines on the surface of the Emerald Tablet.
Santiago has already learned more about simplicity and interconnectedness, two themes of the novel, through this brief study of alchemy. The Englishman, however, has learned nearly the opposite lesson from studying the exact same texts, showing the importance of character and perspective in learning.
The Englishman is disappointed, because none of the complexity and years of research involved in alchemy have made an impression on Santiago. He tells Santiago to go back to watching the caravan, saying that that activity did didn't teach him anything either. Santiago returns to his contemplation, reflecting that everyone has his own way of learning things, and he respects the Englishman for pursuing his Personal Legend.
The Englishman does not value Santiago’s interpretation of alchemy because it is different from his own, and perhaps he also feels that Santiago hasn’t proven his “worthiness” by studying for years. Santiago feels that there are different ways of learning, and respects the Englishman’s approach. He sees that they are both following their Personal Legends, despite their differences.
The caravan travels day and night, and the animals are exhausted from being pushed at a faster pace. Only the camel driver seems unconcerned by the threat of war. He tells Santiago that he focuses on the activity that he is doing in the moment, and on the fact that he is alive. He doesn't live in his past or his future. He says that if you can concentrate on the present, you'll be happy. Two nights, later he points out the oasis on the horizon. Santiago asks why they don't hurry there, and the camel driver responds, "because we have to sleep."
More wisdom from the camel driver helps calm Santiago’s concern about the threat of the war, and teaches him to do each thing in its own time. The camel driver achieves peace of mind by living in the moment (like Santiago’s sheep) and focusing only on the present. This concept also brings other world religions into the novel, although only vaguely. In Hinduism and Buddhism, the practice of meditation is often based in the idea of living in the moment and detaching from anxiety or fear connected to the past and future.
Santiago awakes with the sunrise and can see the date palms of the oasis. The Englishman exclaims happily, but Santiago is quiet and content to look at the trees of the oasis. He recognizes that he still has a long way to go to reach the pyramids. But now he has learned from the camel driver, and he wants to live in the moment. In this moment, the presence of the date palms signifies shade, water, and refuge from danger.
Santiago’s feelings about arriving at the oasis are tempered by his awareness of the long journey beyond this haven. But he checks this feeling, having learned from the camel driver to enjoy the moment of success and security as it is achieved rather than worrying about the future.
At the oasis, the alchemist is watching the caravan arrive. All types of new activity stir up dust, and the children of the oasis excitedly greet the new arrivals. None of this energy matters to the alchemist, as he has seen so many people come and go, and in all that time, the desert that holds them has not changed.
The story now shifts to the alchemist and follows his perspective. He is an entirely mysterious figure for now, one who seems both wise and detached from the fleeting world of humanity.
This time, however, the alchemist knows that in the caravan there is a man to whom he can teach some of his secrets. Omens have revealed this to him, and he believes he will know the man when he sees him. He reflects that the secrets of alchemy need to be transmitted by word-of-mouth. His only explanation for this is that the truths that he will teach are of a kind that cannot be captured in pictures or words. Pictures and words can distract people from the Language of the World.
Like Melchizedek, the alchemist seems to have supernatural knowledge, and he knows that a potential new student will arrive with this caravan because the omens have indicated it. This foreshadowing leaves open the identity of the pupil—and the question of whether it will be the Englishman or Santiago.
Santiago is surprised to see that the oasis is larger than many towns in Spain. The Englishman observes that it looks like something out of One Thousand and One Nights. Curious children surround them, and men and women ask about the fighting and the products that they've brought over the desert. The camel driver has explained to Santiago that the oases are considered neutral territories, because most of the inhabitants are women and children. When the tribes fight, they leave the oases as places of refuge.
The oasis is considered a neutral territory even in the desert wars. It is a haven for women and children, and at a more essential level, it is necessary for life itself—no matter which side you might be fighting for, all humans need water and shelter in the desert. The oasis as neutral territory will be challenged in the novel, but its portrayal as a haven and site of common human decency persists.
The leader of the caravan calls his people together and gives them instructions. They plan to stay at the oasis until the conflict between the tribes is over. He asks everyone to hand over any weapons that they might be carrying, because in the neutral zone of the oases no one is allowed to carry weapons. Santiago is surprised to see that the Englishman has a revolver. He says that carrying a revolver helped him “to trust in people.”
The decision to stay at the oasis makes sense for others, but it is now another barricade on Santiago’s path towards his Personal Legend. The Englishman further reveals his distrustful and self-focused nature with his explanation of the revolver. He keeps himself separate from the others, with the exception of Santiago.
Santiago realizes that the closer he gets to his treasure, the more difficult pursuing it has become. He does not want to push forward impulsively and ignore omens from God. He thinks of the camel driver, and reminds himself to do everything in its own time. On their first day in the oasis, the travelers sleep. Santiago is assigned to a tent with other young men, and he tells them about his life as a shepherd and about working in the crystal shop. The Englishman comes into the tent while Santiago is sharing his story, and says that he's been looking for him. He wants Santiago to help him find where the alchemist lives. The two search for the alchemist, and discover that the oasis is larger than they could have imagined.
Santiago reflects on the further problem of the caravan staying indefinitely at the oasis, but because of the camel driver’s teaching, Santiago tries to see this “delay” as just another part of the journey, unlike his time with the crystal merchant in Tangier, which nearly derailed him from his quest. The Englishman seems to trust Santiago alone and no one else in the oasis. The Englishman is less willing to embrace the world, preferring to separate himself from others and to learn from books.
The Englishman frets that they've wasted an entire day in their search, and Santiago says that they need to ask for help. They sit down near the wells and the Englishman says that Santiago, who speaks better Arabic, should ask people about the alchemist. Santiago approaches a woman who has come to the well for water, but the woman says she has never heard of the alchemist, and quickly hurries away. Before she does so, she tells Santiago that it is against their custom for him to converse with a married woman. The Englishman is disappointed, because he fears that he has come all this way for nothing. Santiago points out that he had never heard of alchemy, so maybe others in the oasis simply don't know the alchemist by that title. The Englishman agrees, and decides to ask for the person who cures illnesses.
Santiago and the Englishman’s plan to question people at the well backfires, as married woman are shocked to be approached by strange men, and most people are not familiar with alchemy in the first place. This presentation of cultural differences regarding women shows that Santiago and the Englishman are now truly in an environment that is foreign to them, and they are faced with other ways of thinking than those they’re familiar with. The two men find ways to work around this, however, demonstrating the possibility of human connections across borders and cultures.
They ask a man who comes to the well, and he wonders why they want to find that person. The man reflects that perhaps they are asking about a certain powerful man, whom not even the tribal chieftains are able to see when they wish to. He warns them to wait for the end of the war, and then leave with the caravan. Despite this word of warning, the Englishman is excited to hear that they are on the right track.
Here we are presented with another seemingly cultural difference between the two characters and the people of the oasis: the people of the oasis do not value the alchemist, but instead fear him. And yet it’s also clear that the alchemist is famously powerful, as tribal chieftains want to see him, and he can even deny them an audience without facing consequences.
A young woman appears at the well, and is not dressed in black like the married woman. Santiago approaches her to ask about the alchemist, and suddenly he feels the life of the Soul of the World. Immediately he realizes that the language that everyone on earth can understand is love. The young woman smiles, and Santiago sees that as a good omen. Even though his family told him to meet and get to know a girl before committing himself to her, he knows in that moment that he is in love. He feels that she has been waiting for him in the desert. Only that present moment matters, and Santiago is suddenly certain that everything that exists was written by the same hand, and with great love. "Maktub," he thinks.
Santiago is overwhelmed by love as he approaches a young woman at the well. His wholehearted commitment seems sudden, and he himself acknowledges this in the face of the advice he received from his family. However, the language of this passage ties Santiago’s love to the ideas of “maktub” and the Soul of World. He is in love with this woman so suddenly because the pair is somehow connected by fate. This love is presented as beyond Santiago’s control, and written by the Hand That Wrote All. While much of the novel is presented as a kind of parable or even “self-help” book for the reader, this idea of love at first sight seems less applicable to real life.
Santiago asks the girl her name, and she says it is Fatima. The Englishman prods Santiago to ask about a man who cures illnesses. Fatima says that there is a man who knows all the secrets of the world, and who communicates with genies of the desert. She points in the direction of where the man lives. Then, filling her vessel with water, she leaves the well. The Englishman leaves in the direction that Fatima pointed, but Santiago sits at the well for a long time. He realizes that he loved Fatima even before he knew her.
Fatima tells Santiago and the Englishman about a man who seems to be the alchemist, but the way she describes him makes him seem more like someone practicing witchcraft than alchemy. Santiago immediately accepts the idea that he and Fatima are meant to be together—but we don’t see Fatima’s side of the story yet.
The next day Santiago returns to the well, hoping to see Fatima. She is not there, but the Englishman is. He tells Santiago that he encountered the alchemist, and told him of his goal. The alchemist then asked him if he had ever transformed lead into gold, and the Englishman responded that he has come to the oasis to learn how to do so. The alchemist responded that he should try his hand at this on his own first. The Englishman says that he is going to try, and he's going to start this very day.
The Englishman is changed even by his brief encounter with the alchemist. He has seemingly overcome his fear and accepted that he must learn by doing, rather just than by reading and overly complicating the process of alchemy. He is not discouraged by the alchemist’s rebuff, but encouraged to try the Masterwork for himself.
The Englishman leaves, and Fatima arrives at the well. Santiago tells her that he loves her and wishes to marry her. He tells her that he has come into the desert in search of a treasure near the pyramids. He thought of the war as a curse, but now he sees it as a blessing, because it has brought him to the oasis and to Fatima. Fatima points out that the war is going to end someday. Santiago feels in his heart that Fatima is more important than his treasure. Fatima says that the tribesmen are always in search of treasure, and that the women of the desert are proud of them. She fills her vessel with water and leaves.
Despite their very brief acquaintance, Santiago immediately declares himself to Fatima and tells her the truth about his quest, which shows that he trusts her. Her statement about the women being proud of the questing men suggests that she wants Santiago to continue on his journey, rather than staying at the oasis for her sake. It’s also notable that Fatima herself seems to have no agency in the matter—it’s assumed that she loves Santiago, and the conflict immediately moves back to whether or not Santiago should be “distracted” by her or not.
Santiago goes to the well every day to meet Fatima. He tells her about his life as a shepherd, his encounter with Melchizedek, and his work in the crystal shop. The two become friends. Santiago tells Fatima that the leader of the caravan called a meeting, and told those traveling with the caravan that he didn't know when the war would end and allow the caravan to continue its journey. Fatima says that she has learned from Santiago about the universal language and the Soul of the World. She says that she has now become a part of Santiago and his quest.
Unlike Santiago’s courtship of the merchant’s daughter, the stories he tells Fatima are true, rather than fabrications intended to impress. Fatima’s character is two-dimensional throughout the novel, and we learn little about her other than her willingness to instantly embrace Santiago’s quest as part of her own life. It now becomes more clear that everything and everyone Santiago encounters is portrayed as some kind of lesson or archetype put there for the sake of his education—there are few characters in the book that feel complex and alive, apart from their relation to Santiago and the lessons he is learning.
Fatima realizes that she has been waiting for Santiago at the oasis for a long time. Ever since she was a child, she dreamed that a wonderful present would appear for her from the desert. Fatima says that because Santiago has told her about his dreams and about the omens, she now realizes that those omens have brought them together. She says that, because of this, she wants Santiago to continue toward his goal and pursue his dream. The desert never changes, and their love too will never change. Fatima says "maktub," and tells Santiago that if they are really part of the same dream, and meant to be together, then he'll return to her one day.
In retrospect, Fatima sees that she was aware Santiago would come out of the desert because of omens. Fatima’s belief in omens shows that she, like Santiago and the Englishman, can understand the idea of a Personal Legend. That’s why she encourages Santiago to continue to his quest, trusting he will return if it is written. It’s suggested that Fatima’s Personal Legend, however, is simply waiting for and loving Santiago—a telling example of her lack of agency and complexity.
Santiago is sad after he says farewell to Fatima that day. He thinks of the difficulty of telling a loved one that you must leave them behind and travel. The next time he sees Fatima, she explains that women of the desert are used to departures. The desert always takes men away from the oasis. She knows that sometimes these men don't return, and if they don't return they become a part of everything, a part of the Soul of the World. She says that she will become one of the women who wait. As a desert woman, she wants her husband to be able to wander free, and she knows that if he never returned to her, she could accept the fact that he had become part of the Soul of the World.
Santiago again feels torn between staying and departing, as he did when he considered whether or not to sell his sheep and start his quest. Fatima’s upbringing as a desert woman has acclimated her to the idea of departures, especially men leaving the women who love them. Fatima’s acceptance of Santiago’s path seems understanding, yet ultimately uninteresting. Fatima’s character primarily exists to support and reassure Santiago, and to act as another “lesson” on his quest.
Santiago goes in search of the Englishman, to tell him about Fatima. He finds that the Englishman has built a furnace outside his tent. The Englishman seems livelier than he did before, and he says that he has begun the first phase of the job to purify the metals and start the Master Work. He says that before this, he was held back by his fear of failure. But now he's beginning what he should have begun ten years ago. He's happy that he didn't wait twenty more years to start the Master Work, at least.
The Englishman has changed even more now that he has begun the Masterwork. He is cheerful and relieved that he is finally starting this project, and seems to be experiencing the “beginners luck” that Santiago once enjoyed. He lives according to his own choice to pursue the Masterwork, rather than being guided by fear.
Santiago feels the urge to walk out into the desert. He listens to the wind and feels the stones beneath his feet. He finds a few shells and realizes that once upon a time the desert had been a sea. As he sits in the desert thinking, he sees a pair of hawks flying in the sky. He wonders if these desert birds could explain to him the meaning of love without ownership. Suddenly one of the hawks attacks the other end and, with this action, the boy is given a sudden vision. The vision is of an army attacking the oasis. Santiago wishes he could forget the vision and return to his earlier thoughts, but he cannot. Melchizedek had told him to always pay attention to omens.
Santiago is continually attentive to the desert, and the desert rewards him by showing him the future in the form of an omen and a vision. Historically, birds have long been associated with fortune telling and omens, and two hawks trigger Santiago’s vision here. The question now is how he will respond to the vision of disaster—the oasis’s fate has been “written,” but Santiago’s free will now takes over in deciding whether or not that fate will come to pass.
Santiago returns to the oasis and finds the camel driver. Santiago tells him that he knows an army is coming, because he has had a vision. He also tells the camel driver about the hawks, and about his feeling that he was in touch with the Soul of the World. The camel driver understands, because he knows that anything on the face of the earth could teach a person about the history of all things. Seers are able to access the Soul of the World, but the tribespeople only consult seers tentatively, because they know that knowing the future could paralyze them in the present. But the camel driver is not a worrier, and therefore has consulted several seers, some of whom turned out to be right and some of whom turned out to be wrong.
Santiago picks the ideal person to share his vision with: the camel driver, who is not afraid of the future, and who also understands the idea of omens. The camel driver explains that for many people, knowing the future is problematic because it affects them in the present. This is similar to the idea of the dangers of Urim and Thummim—letting foreign or supernatural knowledge affect one’s present decisions. The camel driver implies that seers are not always effective, showing that it takes a kind of mysterious skill and wisdom to receive and read omens.
Once, an old seer asked the camel driver why he was so interested in the future. The camel driver had responded that he hoped to change things he didn’t want to happen. The seer pointed out that then these things would not be part of his future. The camel driver responded that maybe he simply wants to prepare himself for the future. The seer said that if good things are coming they will be good, and if bad things are coming then he will only suffer more in anticipating them before they occur.
The camel driver only arrived at his present philosophy by first directly confronting his obsession with the future. He did not always live in the moment so fully, and had to work and learn many lessons in order to reach his present state of contentment.
The old seer told the camel driver that the future truly belongs only to God. In his line of work, he guesses at the future based on the secrets concealed in the present. He says it's important to pay attention to the present so you can improve on it. If you improve on the present, you will be improving on the future. The seer encouraged the camel driver to forget about the future, and to focus on the present. The camel driver then asked the seer when God would permit him to see the future. The old seer responded that occasionally God himself chooses to reveal the future, but this only happens when the future is written with the intention that it be altered. Therefore, the vision must have been revealed to Santiago intentionally, so that the future can be altered.
The idea of the future belonging to God is crucial in this novel because it strikes a balance between the fate-based theme of “Maktub” and the freewill-based theme of choosing one’s future. Because the future belongs to God, it can be prewritten and still also changed by the present. The ability to see the future means that God is purposefully revealing the future to a person, thus giving them the opportunity to change it. This means that Santiago cannot ignore his vision, because he is being given the opportunity to change the future and bring about what is written.
The camel driver tells Santiago to go and speak to the tribal chieftains and tell them what he has seen. He reassures Santiago that these men of the desert are used to dealing with omens, and that they will listen to them. This has happened before, and this time it simply happens to be Santiago who is the instrument of revealing the future.
In the world of the novel, all men of the desert are familiar with omens, and so they naturally believe Santiago. It’s suggested that the desert is a very effective teacher of the Language of the World.
Santiago goes to see the chieftains. He approaches the guard at the entrance to the huge white tent at the center of the oasis. When he announces his intention and says that he has brought omens from the desert, the guard goes into the tent. He reemerges with a young man dressed in white and gold. The man asks him to wait and, as the Santiago waits, night falls. After hours of waiting, the guard asks Santiago to enter the tent. Santiago is astonished by the extravagance inside. The ground is covered with beautiful carpets and lamps of gold with lit candles decorating the space. The tribal chieftains are seated in a semi-circle on silk cushions, supplied with tea and hookah.
The extravagance of the tribal chieftains, both in terms of their wealth and regarding their casual treatment of Santiago’s time and patience, demonstrates that they are used to being entirely in charge. Their opulence is reflective of their success and security, which depends on the oasis remaining as a neutral zone.
Santiago can immediately see which one of the chieftains is the most important: old man dressed in white and gold and seated at the center of the semi-circle. One of the chieftains asks who Santiago is, and he reports what he has seen in his vision. Another chieftain asks why the desert would reveal such things to a stranger. Santiago says it is because his eyes are not used to the desert, and so he can notice things that others might not. He also thinks, although he does not say this aloud, that it is also because he knows about the Soul of the World. The chieftains point out that the oasis is supposed to be neutral ground.
The leader of the chieftains is distinguished from the others by his advanced age and his central positioning, not by him speaking first or taking charge. His authority is gained in other ways. Santiago has seemingly been chosen to receive such a vision because of his awareness of the interconnectedness of all things, but he does not share this fact, as it seems to place him above the others, who are used to the desert and omens.
The chieftains speak amongst themselves in an Arabic dialect that Santiago does not know. Finally, the elder chief smiles and Santiago is reassured. The discussion ends, and the chieftains are silent as they listen to the elder. The elder chieftain turns to Santiago and explains that all of the chiefs know that whoever believes in dreams also knows how to interpret them. He speaks of Joseph, a man who believed in dreams and who was a stranger in a strange land, like Santiago.
The elder chieftain backs up his quiet authority by referencing a past figure similar to Santiago—Joseph, who is from the Biblical Old Testament, and thus a holy figure for Christians, Muslims, and Jews. A more conventional response would be for the leaders to reject Santiago as crazy or a liar, but it’s clear that these chieftains are wiser than that.
The elder chieftain explains that the tribespeople observe traditions because they have helped their people survive. And tradition says that the oasis is a neutral territory. At the same time, tradition says that the people of the desert should believe the desert’s messages. The elder chieftain announces that the next day the men will break the agreement of the oasis and carry arms—but weapons have a spirit, and if they are not used, they may not function the next time. Therefore, if, at the end of the day, the weapons have not been used, then Santiago will lose his life.
The elder chieftain’s pronouncement is harsh, but it places all responsibility for Santiago’s vision on his own shoulders. It’s assumed that Santiago trusts his vision, as he chose to tell the chieftains about it, but the elder chieftain ensures that Santiago is entirely sure, because his survival depends on it. The idea of the weapons having a “spirit” also relates to the interconnectedness of all things, and to the concept of even inanimate objects being alive in some way and speaking a universal language.
Santiago leaves the tent to find the oasis illuminated by the light of a full moon. He is alarmed by the elder chieftain’s decision. Santiago has been successful at reaching the Soul of the World and receiving his vision, but now he might have to pay for that success with his life. But he reminds himself of the camel driver’s words—that to die one day is no worse than dying on any other. Santiago realizes that he has no regrets. Even if he dies the next day, he will have experienced much of the world and he will have lived his life in pursuit of his Personal Legend.
Santiago is naturally shaken by this encounter, but then (as always) he learns a lesson from his reaction, realizing that his alarm comes from a fear of death. The chieftain’s decision is teaching him to take full responsibility for his actions, and even if this kills him, Santiago feels that he has done the right thing. More importantly, Santiago now tries to accept that dying tomorrow in an attempt to save innocent lives and pursue his Personal Legend would be no worse than dying on some other day in the future.
Suddenly there is a wind and a thundering sound, and Santiago is knocked to the ground. As the dust settles, Santiago sees a horse and a rider completely dressed in black. The strange horseman has an enormous curved sword, and he confronts Santiago, demanding to know who dares to read the flight of the hawks. Santiago speaks up, saying that he dared to do so, and that because he dared many lives will be saved. The stranger lowers the sword until it touches Santiago's forehead. It does not occur to Santiago to try to flee. He feels a sense of joy in his awareness that he is about to die, but to die in pursuit of his Personal Legend, and while seeing his vision of violence in the oasis actualized.
Santiago’s confrontation with the mysterious horseman demonstrates that he has fully absorbed the lessons of the camel driver, as well as the concept of his Personal Legend. Santiago feels that dying while in pursuit of his Personal Legend would be worthwhile, and he does not attempt to flee because he accepts that what is written will necessarily come to pass. He also stands by his belief that he did the right thing in reading the flight of the hawks because he may have saved other lives in the process.
Again the stranger questions Santiago about why he read the flight of the hawks. Santiago says that he was only able to read what the birds wanted him to know. The stranger questions who he is to change the future that Allah has willed. Santiago points out that Allah also created the birds, and taught him the language of the hawks. The stranger cautions him to be careful with his predictions of the future. Santiago says that although he saw an army, he did not see the outcome of the confrontation.
Santiago’s counterarguments to the horseman’s objections show his understanding of the Soul of the World that unites all things. Santiago does not give himself credit for seeing the future, but acknowledges that God has permitted him to do so through the actions of his birds. Santiago is cautious about the future, but also confident about omens from God/the Soul of the World.
The stranger seems pleased, and asks Santiago what he is doing in the oasis. Santiago says that he is following his Personal Legend. The stranger says that he had to test Santiago's courage, because courage is essential when one wants to understand the Language of the World. Santiago is surprised that the stranger knows this. The stranger continues that Santiago must maintain his courage, and if he survives till the end of the next day, then he should seek him out. Santiago asks where the man lives. As the man turns his horse away, he points to the south. Santiago has met the alchemist.
Santiago tells the truth about his quest to the stranger—not because he especially trusts the stranger, but rather because he has grown more confident in himself. Santiago does not say he simply wishes to visit the pyramids, as he initially told the crystal merchant, but now specifically says that he is pursuing his Personal Legend. Santiago demonstrates the courage the alchemist was looking for—a quality the alchemist had to test for himself. At last the two main characters of the book meet, and it seems that Santiago has reached the next step of his spiritual journey.
The next day five hundred tribesmen appear on the horizon, but the men of the oasis surround the attackers and kill all of them. The children had been camped at the other side of the oasis, and they do not witness the battle. The women are safe in their tents. Only the commander of the enemy tribesmen is spared. The commander is brought before the tribal chieftains and asked why he violated the tradition. He explains that he and his men had acted out of starvation. The elder chieftain expresses sympathy for the commander, but says that the sacred tradition is more important. He orders the commander hanged from a palm tree, and then he calls for Santiago. He gives Santiago fifty pieces of gold, and asks him to be one of his counselors.
Santiago’s vision is fulfilled, but the future is also altered because of it. This series of events best articulates Coelho’s view of “maktub” and free will—the future is prewritten by God, but when God chooses to reveal visions of that future to people, it is to the give them the choice of whether or not to act and change that future. Despite the enemy commander’s justification, the oasis must be upheld as a neutral, even sacred ground—a place of peace and life even in the midst of a desert and constant war.
That evening Santiago heads south through the oasis. He discovers a solitary tent and is told that it is a place inhabited by genies. He sits down to wait for the alchemist. The alchemist arrives when the moon is high, with two dead hawks in his hand. The alchemist asks Santiago if it is his Personal Legend that brings him into the desert. Santiago says that because of the war between the tribes, it has been impossible to cross the desert toward the Egyptian Pyramids. The alchemist welcomes Santiago into his tent. Santiago looks around for the implements of alchemy, but does not see any. The alchemist invites him to have a drink and to eat the cooked birds with him. Santiago suspects that they are the same hawks he had seen the day before.
Santiago has passed another crucial test, and now he is ready to seek out the alchemist as instructed. The dead hawks remind the reader of the power of the alchemist, but also imply the interconnectedness of all existence—the same birds have acted as wild animals, as oracles of the future, and now as food for the humans who interpreted their omens. The absence of any instruments in the alchemist’s tent reinforces the idea that in the novel, at least, alchemy is about much more than just processing metals—it is a more powerful kind of magic and spiritual wisdom, and a metaphor for life itself.
Santiago asks the alchemist why he wanted to see him. Because of omens, the alchemist replies. The omens showed the alchemist that Santiago would be coming, and that he would need his help. Santiago insists that the omens spoke about the Englishman who wished to meet the alchemist. The alchemist says that the Englishman is on the right track, but that he has other things he needs to do first. The alchemist says of Santiago that he is not going to instruct him, as he already knows everything he needs to know, but he is going to point him in the direction of his treasure.
Santiago is quick to point out that the omens may not refer to him, but may have also referred to the Englishman who is desperate to learn from the alchemist. The alchemist, however, knows that Santiago is his destined pupil, especially now that he has met both men and Santiago has passed his test regarding the tribal wars. The alchemist’s words suggest the idea that all the “wisdom” Santiago learns is not anything particularly new—just basic concepts that are easy to forget or ignore, and which we need to be reminded of.
Santiago reminds him of the tribal war, and insists that he has already found his treasure, which includes the gold he received that day. The alchemist points out that none of that gold is from the pyramids. Santiago says that he has found Fatima, and that she is a greater treasure than anything else. The alchemist says that she was not found at the pyramids either. The alchemist serves Santiago a bottle of wine, and Santiago is surprised, assuming that wine was also forbidden in the oasis. The alchemist says that it's not what enters men's mouths that is evil, but what comes out of them.
Despite Santiago’s new assurance that he is living his life most fully by following his Personal Legend, he is again reluctant to leave behind the things he has already found. Fatima, in particular, is a “treasure” for him, and it’s easy for Santiago to try to pretend that she is what he has been seeking all along. This raises the question of what Santiago’s real treasure at the pyramids might be. The alchemist’s words about what enters men’s mouths versus what comes out of them is almost a direct quote from Jesus in the Bible.
After they eat, the two sit outside the tent under the brilliant moon. The alchemist tells Santiago to rest well and enjoy himself. He says that Santiago has to find his treasure so that his quest is complete, and so that everything he has learned already makes sense. He instructs Santiago to sell his camel and to buy a horse, because horses tire bit by bit, and he will be able to tell that his horse is tired when crossing the desert. A camel, on the other hand, will not show any signs of weariness until the moment when it drops dead.
The alchemist argues that the reason to continue to the pyramids and find the treasure is more to make sense of the journey than anything else. This feels more satisfying than simply pursuing the treasure for its own sake, especially as it’s hard to imagine any “treasure” more precious than the love Santiago has already found.
The next night, Santiago arrives at the alchemist’s tent with a horse. The alchemist challenges Santiago to show him where there is life in the desert, because, he says, only those who can find the signs of life are able to find treasure. Santiago does not know if he'll be able to do this, as he doesn't know the desert very well yet. He says that he knows there is life in the desert, but he doesn't know where to look. The alchemist responds, “life attracts life.” Santiago understands, and he sets his horse free to lead him. The two follow the horse until it leads them to a stony area of the desert. The boy says that he knows there is life here, because his horse knows the language of life.
At first the alchemist’s challenge seems impossible, but Santiago is able to correctly interpret the alchemist’s advice and realize that listening to his horse will yield the answer. The novel’s emphasis on animals and their innate intelligence reinforces the idea of the Soul of World. Everything is connected, and animals are not so different from people. They are also able, perhaps more so than people, to communicate through the universal language.
The alchemist searches among the stones and then reaches into a hole. He withdraws with a snake clasped in his hand. Santiago leaps back, because it is a cobra with poisonous venom. As he begins to warn the alchemist, he remembers what the Englishman had told him: the alchemist is over two hundred years old. Santiago assumes that the alchemist knows how to deal with desert snakes. The alchemist draws a circle in the sand and places the snake within it. He reassures Santiago that the snake won't leave the circle.
The alchemist contains the cobra with his first magical act. Much of the “magic” in the novel is subtle like this—usually dream interpretation or fortune telling. The alchemist’s power clearly extends beyond the traditional practices of an alchemist. Santiago decides to trust the alchemist’s power and wisdom, and the alchemist rewards this trust.
The alchemist tells the boy that his ability to find life in the desert was an omen that he needed, and he announces that he is going to guide Santiago across the desert. Santiago says that he wants to stay at the oasis because he has found Fatima. The alchemist says that because Fatima is a woman of the desert, she knows that men have to go away from time to time. She has found her treasure, and it is Santiago. Santiago asks what will happen if he decides to stay, and the alchemist paints him a portrait of this potential future.
The alchemist decides to come with Santiago on his journey to guide him, but this forces Santiago to admit the full extent of his desire to remain at the oasis with Fatima. The alchemist describes Santiago as Fatima’s treasure, but Fatima is not Santiago’s treasure. Once again we see just how limited a role Fatima is allowed to play, even as the “main” female character of the novel.
In this future, Santiago will be a wealthy counselor to the oasis chieftains. He'll be married to Fatima and they will be happy. He will get better and better at interpreting omens from the desert. Sometime during the second year, he will remember his treasure and the omens will repeatedly insist that he seek it. During the third year, Santiago will be haunted by thoughts of his treasure and his Personal Legend. Fatima will be unhappy because she'll feel responsible for having interrupted Santiago's quest. Santiago will remember that Fatima never asked him to stay, so he won't blame her, but he'll regret that he did not trust more strongly in his love for Fatima—because the only thing that kept him at the oasis was his fear that he would not return. During the fourth year the omens will abandon Santiago. He will lose his position as a counselor, and he will live with the regret of knowing that he didn't pursue his Personal Legend before it was too late.
With this picture of the hypothetical future, the alchemist gives Santiago far more information to use in making his decision than he has had previously in the novel. When Santiago nearly chose to return to Spain and repurchase his sheep, for example, he did not know what the outcome of that decision would be. This is another example of a glimpse of the future that seems already “written,” but which is only provided in order that Santiago might have the choice of how to affect that future. The alchemist paints a rather bleak picture of how abandoning one’s Personal Legend can lead to a life of dissatisfaction.
The alchemist tells Santiago that love never prevents a man from actualizing his Personal Legend. If he gives up his Personal Legend because of love, it was not a love that speaks the Language of the World. The alchemist erases the sand circle and the snake slithers away. Santiago thinks of the crystal merchant who wanted to go to Mecca, and of the Englishman and his search, and of the woman who trusts the desert. Santiago and the alchemist return to the oasis. Santiago announces that he is going in search of his treasure, and he feels peace fill his heart. The alchemist says they will leave the next day before dawn.
Throughout the novel, Santiago sees other characters who have given up on their Personal Legends, from the baker in the square to the crystal merchant. These characters give up because of fear and a lack of belief in themselves. Santiago would be intentionally turning his back on his Legend by choosing to stay with Fatima. The instant feeling of peace seems to validate Santiago’s decision, as he also felt peace when he decided to go on to Egypt rather than back to Spain.
Santiago does not sleep that night. Two hours before dawn he goes in search of Fatima. He asks an Arab boy to wake her from her tent and to tell her that he's waiting to talk to her. Fatima appears outside the tent, and she and Santiago walk among the date palms. Santiago explains that he is going away, but he wants her to know that he will return. Fatima says that he does not need to explain his love for her, because no reason is needed for love. Santiago explains that he had a dream, met a king, worked for a crystal merchant, crossed the desert, and sought an alchemist at a well—and all these things led him to meet Fatima. The two embrace for the first time.
Santiago explains his decision to Fatima, but she is very accepting of his choice, and does not need his explanation. Santiago begins to see his quest in terms of all the experiences he has had along the way, but primarily values the fact that the quest has led him to Fatima. The two have fallen in love without any physical contact at all, showing that their love works in a spiritual way through the Soul of the World, and that it seems fated and inevitable.
Santiago promises that he'll be back. Fatima says that she used to look to the desert with longing, but know she will look with hope. She has seen her father go away, and he has always come back. Santiago promises to return in the same way. He sees that Fatima's eyes are filled with tears. She tells him that she may be a woman of the desert, but she is still a woman. Fatima returns to her tent, and when dawn arrives she goes out to do her regular chores. Her routine is the same, but everything else has changed. The oasis is now an empty place for her. From that dawn onward, the desert is important, and she looks to it every day and imagines Santiago's journey. She will send kisses to him on the wind, and the desert will represent her hope for his return.
Fatima has spent her life waiting for her father to return, and now she will spend her time waiting for Santiago to return. Fatima’s tearful farewell and her happiness about continuing to wait for another man to return show little real personality or vitality on her part. Her life is reduced to a constant waiting for Santiago, and the oasis is now “empty” for her. Fatima seemingly has no independent agency or interests of her own. This extremely restricted role for the only real female character has raised sexism concerns in criticism of the novel.
The alchemist encourages Santiago to not think about what he has left behind, because The Soul of the World is permanent. Santiago reflects that men think more about returning home than leaving. The alchemist says that things made of pure matter never spoil with time, and so one can always come back to them. Even though the alchemist is speaking of metals and alchemy, Santiago knows that he is actually talking about Santiago’s love for Fatima. It is difficult to take the alchemist’s advice and not dwell on what he is leaving behind, however. The desert is uniform and monotonous, so it is easy to think of the oasis.
The alchemist makes a point about alchemy—that pure matter does not spoil—which serves as a metaphor for Fatima and Santiago’s love. This further demonstrates the applicability of alchemy to life lessons, and Coelho’s use of the ancient process as a metaphor. Santiago tries to follow both the advice of the alchemist and the camel driver and not dwell on either the past or the future.
The alchemist rides in front and his falcon sits on his shoulder. The bird hunts for game for the two to eat. At night, Santiago and the alchemist try to stay hidden. They travel in silence, except for their strategic discussions about the ongoing violence between the tribes. On the seventh day of their trip they make camp earlier than usual. The alchemist congratulates Santiago for nearing the end of his journey and for having pursued his Personal Legend. Santiago points out that along the way he hasn't learned anything new from the alchemist, and he thought that he would be taught some of the old man's wisdom. The alchemist explains that there's only way one way to learn—through action. Therefore, Santiago has already learned everything he needed to know, except for one thing.
The alchemist and Santiago travel together, and their style of traveling seems to reflect their spiritual, introspective natures—they travel in silence and live simply. Both value observation and learning from the world, although Santiago is still a little bit confused by this, as he had imagined that learning from the alchemist would consist of practical instruction. The alchemist confirms what Santiago has practiced all along, however— real learning occurs through experience and observation of the world. Santiago has been gaining the knowledge he needs throughout his journey.
Santiago asks why the alchemist is called "the alchemist,” And the alchemist answers simply that “an alchemist” is what he is. Santiago asks about the other alchemists who failed to make gold from lead. The alchemist explains that these men failed because they were only looking for gold. He says that living out one’s Personal Legend is more than finding one's treasure. Santiago then asks about the one thing he still needs to learn, but the alchemist does not answer.
The alchemist accepts that he is defined by his “occupation” (just as the other men Santiago has encountered on the way have been). It’s suggested that those who failed to become successful alchemists were not practicing real alchemy (as Coelho defines it), but only seeking gold. The methods of alchemy, not the end result, are what is significant, and practicing these methods and learning in this way was the alchemist’s Personal Legend.
As he prepares their dinner that night, the alchemist explains that he learned the procedures of alchemy from his grandfather, who learned from his father, and so on. In the early times, everything about the Master Work could be written on the Emerald Tablet. But because men rejected simple things, they wrote many other works of literature about the Master Work. Santiago wants to know what was written on the emerald tablet, and the alchemist draws an image in the sand. The boy tries to read what's written in the sand, but disappointedly observes that it's code.
Again Santiago is reminded that in the early history of alchemy, the Emerald Tablet was the only document that mattered. This object is once more presented as a symbol of the value of simplicity. Simplicity is a value that is not popular among many, but it matters to the alchemist and to Santiago. Just like Melchizedek (and Jesus in the Biblical reference), the alchemist writes something private and indecipherable in the sand.
The alchemist contradicts Santiago, however, saying that it is not code, but actually information that cannot be understood by reason alone. The Emerald Tablet is a direct link to the Soul of the World. The alchemist explains that wise men understand that the natural world is an imperfect version of paradise, and that God created the world so that men could learn about his teachings and his wisdom. Santiago wonders if he should understand the inscription on the Emerald Tablet. The alchemist points out that the Emerald Tablet exists in the context of alchemy, and the boy is in the desert, so Santiago should immerse himself in the desert, and from the desert he can learn anything that he will need to know. All he needs to do is contemplate a single grain of sand to see the power of all of creation. To do this, Santiago should listen to his heart, because it came from the Soul of the World.
The reason that the Emerald Tablet can be so simple is because it is not trying to contain lots of information, but rather to provide a link to the unifying force of the Soul of the World. The alchemist thus suggests that connecting with the Soul of the World can teach anyone anything he would need to know about alchemy. The idea of the “universe in a grain of sand” was also expressed by the poet William Blake, almost 200 years before. Coelho’s ultimate lesson here seems to be that great complexity and immensity is contained in great simplicity. This could also be a metaphor for the book itself—it is simple and sparse, but tries to hint at much larger and complicated realities.
The alchemist and Santiago travel for another two days in silence. The alchemist is cautious, because they're passing through the most dangerous region where the tribal wars are being waged. As they travel, Santiago practices listening to his heart, but discovers that this is not easy to do. He remembers a time in his life when his heart spoke up clearly, but recently that hasn't been the case. There are times when his heart strongly expresses emotions, or when it beats faster as he speaks of his treasure, but no matter what his heart is never quiet. Santiago asks the alchemist why they have to listen to their hearts. The alchemist says that "because, wherever your heart is, that is where you find your treasure. "
Santiago practices listening to his heart in order to connect with the Soul of the World, as Coelho delves deeper into his own terminology and theories about spirituality. The voice of Santiago’s “heart” becomes almost a distinct character in the book, but Coelho never clarifies what exactly it is—it seems like a combination of conscience, instinct, and a supernatural connection to God and/or the Soul of the World. The alchemist’s words about the heart and treasure are another direct quote from Jesus in the Bible.
Santiago’s heart is agitated and emotional, and keeps him awake at night thinking about Fatima. The alchemist explains these are signs that his heart is alive. Over the next three days, Santiago and the alchemist pass several warrior tribesmen, and the boy’s heart expresses fear. It speaks of men who have sought their treasure and failed. Santiago says to the alchemist that his heart is fighting against his plan to go on. The alchemist says that this makes sense, because it is natural to be afraid when one has found happiness already. However, one should always listen to one's heart, because it will be speaking regardless, and if one knows one’s heart well, it will never betray him. No one can escape from the feelings of his heart—so you should always listen to it, even when it is complicated and contradictory.
Santiago’s heart feels many things, including fear. This fear focuses not on Santiago’s physical preservation, but on the possible failures he could face in his quest to fulfill his Personal Legend. His heart is wary of moving on from the happiness he has already found, but this is not a reason to ignore the dream of his Personal Legend. The alchemist speaks of the ability of one’s heart to betray a person if that person does not know his own heart well. The lessons Santiago learns grow more vague here, as he seems to be entering a more purely spiritual state.
Santiago listens to his heart and comes to understand its changes and contradictions, and he is able to move past his fear. His heart explains to him that people are afraid to pursue their most important dreams because of feelings of insufficiency or anxiety. Their hearts are fearful because they know they will suffer if they do not succeed. Santiago tells the alchemist that his heart is afraid of suffering, and the alchemist responds, “tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself.” Santiago passes his words along to his heart, reminding it that he is searching for his treasure and fulfilling his dream.
Once again, Santiago experiences the universal feeling that it is easier to not try at all than to try and fail and be hurt, but the alchemist teaches that the fear of suffering is more painful than suffering itself. It is once again unclear where “Santiago” ends and “Santiago’s heart” begins, as the heart has suddenly entered as a new and distinctive voice in the narrative.
Santiago’s heart becomes restful and quiet, and it begins to tell him things from the Soul of the World. It tells him about happiness, and how people who are happy carry God with them. It tells Santiago that everyone on earth has a treasure waiting for him, but only a few follow their Personal Legends to find their treasure. Because people see the world as threatening, their hearts grow quieter overtime. The hearts don't want people to suffer by feeling conflicted between their fear and what their heart is telling them to do. Telling people to follow their dreams makes the heart suffer, because this so rarely succeeds. Santiago asks his heart to tell him whenever he wanders from his dreams.
Santiago’s heart changes and grows less afraid as Santiago develops an understanding of it. His heart knows about the Soul of the World and about Personal Legends, suggesting that Coelho’s idea of a “heart” is that of a link to God or an intuitive part of oneself that is connected to everything else. Santiago’s heart acts as another voice clarifying his lessons for him, here explaining how hearts grow quiet to prevent people from trying and then failing to follow their Personal Legends.
Santiago tells all of this to the alchemist. The alchemist says Santiago must just continue in the direction of the pyramids, and pay attention to any omens along the way. Because he has now learned to speak to his heart, Santiago will know where his treasure is. The alchemist says that the last thing he needs to know is that before any dream is realized, the Soul of the World will test a person. This is not a cruel test, but a chance for the person to master everything that they have achieved along the way. Just as a search begins with “beginner’s luck,” so it ends with the person being tested. Santiago thinks that, “the darkest hour of the night comes just before the dawn.”
Once Santiago has learned to speak to his heart, he is ready for his final lesson from the alchemist. The alchemist warns him that he will be tested, in order to put his new learning to use, before his quest is finalized. The toughest part of the quest comes right before success, an idea that is meant to give hope to anyone trying to persist in the face of failure or trial.
The next day, three armed tribesmen approach Santiago and the alchemist, and ask what they are doing. The alchemist explains that he's hunting. The tribesmen say they'll need to search the pair to see whether they are armed. When they search them, they wonder why they carry so much money. Santiago says he needs it to get to the pyramids. Among the alchemist’s belongings the tribesmen find a small flask and a yellow glass egg. The alchemist explains that these are the Elixir of Life and the Philosopher’s Stone. He says that the Elixir, if drunk, will prevent someone from ever being sick again, and a fragment of the stone will turn metal into gold. The tribesmen laugh, and the alchemist laughs along. Amused at this answer, they leave the pair to proceed.
The alchemist and Santiago’s altercation with the three tribesmen demonstrates the alchemist’s power, which is again most apparent in his understanding of human character. He does not need to use magic, alchemy, or appeal to the Soul of the World to send the tribesmen on their way. His understanding of people gives him all he needs to persuade them to leave the pair alone. He is truthful with them, but he knows they will not believe the truth.
Santiago is amazed and shocked at the alchemist’s brazen honesty, but the alchemist explains that when you possess great treasures, others rarely believe that you do. With each day of traveling in the desert, the boy’s heart grows more and more silent. It is no longer active with questions—it is simply content to observe the endless days in the desert.
It is surprising to learn that Santiago has been so close to such priceless objects for so long, but as usual there is a lesson to be learned in this. The brief feeling of peace foreshadows the final test Santiago will face, as the alchemist predicted.
Santiago’s heart points out something that Santiago has never noticed—at various points in his life he has been in danger without having perceived it, and in these cases his heart has protected him. One time it hid the rifle Santiago had taken from his father. Another time, Santiago had become ill and stopped traveling when, if he had continued, he would've passed thieves on the road. Santiago asks the alchemist if one’s heart always helps him. The alchemist says that hearts help when somebody is trying to realize their Personal Legend, but also when one is a child, or old, or a drunkard. The heart is not a fail-safe, but it does what it can.
The alchemist clarifies the concept of one’s “heart,” but not very specifically. The heart is not all-powerful over the fate of an individual, and it seems to favor those in need, or those who are at a disadvantage of some kind. The kind of hindsight Santiago’s heart now offers him allows Coelho to put a positive spin on almost anything—any misfortune may have just been his heart saving him from an even greater hypothetical misfortune.
One afternoon Santiago and the alchemist pass an encampment with armed men. Santiago feels that there's no danger, but the alchemist reminds him that even while he trusts in his heart, he is still at risk in the desert. As if to demonstrate the reality of this, horseman appeared behind the travelers. They stop Santiago and the alchemist, and tell them that they can't go any farther, because they’re in the area where the tribes are at war. The alchemist stares straight into the eyes of the two horsemen, and eventually they agree that Santiago and the alchemist can continue on their way. Santiago is impressed, and the alchemist explains that the eyes show the strength of one’s soul.
Santiago has grown somewhat cocky about danger now that he relies on his heart to protect him, but this is quickly shown to be a mistake when armed men threaten them—a heart cannot protect against immediate physical danger. Again the alchemist uses a trick of his knowledge to escape the men. This time, instead of playing the fool, he lets his strength show in his eyes as he confronts them. The alchemist always seems to sense the best ways to interact with others.
One day the alchemist announces that they're only two days from the pyramids. Santiago again asks about the alchemist teaching him alchemy. The alchemist replies that Santiago already knows the practices that allow him to reach to the Soul of the World. Santiago says that he's particularly curious about the practical aspects of turning metal into gold. The alchemist explains that everything on the earth evolves, and that in the minds of men, gold is the highest evolution of metal. Over time, however, gold became not a symbol of successful evolution, but instead a source of conflict between humans. The alchemist explains that true alchemists try to evolve with the gold that they produce from metal, and they are successful because they understand that when something evolves, the things surrounding it evolve as well.
The end of Santiago’s journey is near, but he feels he hasn’t learned any real alchemy from his teacher yet. His continued curiosity about gold seems childish in the face of the more serious lessons he has learned, but Santiago’s Personal Legend does focus on finding treasure, so gold and treasure are in his heart. The alchemist, as usual, takes a purer and more spiritual view of the matter, and seems to place no value in gold—even considering it dangerous because of how it often leads to conflict.
When alchemists were interested only in the gold for the sake of the wealth, they never found the secret. The other metals such as lead, copper, and iron have their own Personal Legends, and if one disrupts these he will never fulfill his own Personal Legend. The alchemist picks up a shell from the sand and explains that this desert was once a sea. Santiago says he has noticed this as well. The alchemist tells Santiago to hold the shell to his ear and to listen to the sound of the sea. The shell will never stop echoing the sea, because that is its Personal Legend. It will continue to do so until the desert is once again evolved into sea.
Coelho’s theories of the universe expand, so that now objects have Personal Legends as well as people. When a metal is changed to another state, this is circumventing its Personal Legend. The alchemist teaches that all things have an ideal state and role to play according to their creation. Overall this can be a comforting idea—that everything is written, essentially—but not necessarily suited to the real world, particularly when one’s “role in creation” seems less than desirable.
The sun is setting that night when Santiago’s heart warns of danger. Two horsemen are waiting for them, and before they can do anything the horseman are joined by others, until there are hundreds everywhere in the dunes around them. Their eyes show the strength of their souls, and they speak of death.
The alchemist has already explained the power of eyes (as “windows to the soul”), indicating that the death in these character’s eyes shows their true intentions and the danger of their presence.
The tribesmen take Santiago and the alchemist to their nearby camp. There they meet the enemy chieftain, who believes that they are spies. The alchemist protests that they are just travelers. The tribesmen are suspicious because Santiago and the alchemist were seen at the enemy camp, talking to the tribesmen who stopped them there. The alchemist says that he is only acting as a guide for his friend Santiago. He tells the tribesmen that Santiago is also an alchemist, and that he can show them his extraordinary powers. He offers the money that Santiago is carrying, and the enemy chieftain accepts the gold.
The enemy chieftain believes Santiago and the alchemist are spies because they were seen with the other group of tribesmen who tried to stop them a few days earlier. The alchemist’s plan relies on Santiago becoming an alchemist himself—essentially forcing Santiago to prove himself under threat of death, just as with the omen of the birds at the oasis. We sense that this is just another lesson from the alchemist, even if it is one with very high stakes.
The enemy chieftain wonders what an alchemist is. The alchemist says that an alchemist understands the forces of nature, and that he could use the wind to destroy this very camp. The chieftain says he wants to see Santiago do this. The alchemist explains that Santiago needs three days, and after that time, Santiago will transform himself into the wind. If Santiago cannot do so, he promises that both of them will offer their lives for the honor of the tribe. The enemy chieftain grants Santiago the three days.
The alchemist seems to sense what will impress the tribesmen, as he so often seems to have an intuitive understanding of other men’s characters. Instead of offering his own powers, however, he sets up a situation in which Santiago must achieve a magical feat under pressure. This seems to be Santiago’s final great test before he is allowed to find his treasure.
Santiago is afraid, but the alchemist tells him to not let the tribesmen see his fear. Santiago exclaims angrily that the alchemist has willingly given all of his gold to the enemy chieftain, but the alchemist says that the money has saved them for three days. Santiago is afraid, because he has no idea how to transform himself into the wind. The alchemist advises him to not give into his fears. If he remains unafraid, he will be able to listen to his heart. Santiago protests that he has no idea how to turn himself into the wind. The alchemist explains that when a person is living out his Personal Legend, he has all the tools he needs—the only thing that could hold him back is the fear of failure. He says that Santiago will have to learn how to transform himself into the wind because his life depends on it. If he does not succeed, then at least he’ll die while trying to realize his Personal Legend. The alchemist concludes that Santiago shouldn't worry too much, however, because usually the threat of death makes people more aware of their lives.
Santiago is angry at the alchemist for manipulating him into this situation, and the alchemist’s reaction makes his manipulation clear. As seems obvious, Santiago does not know how to turn himself into the wind. The alchemist seems to trust that the circumstances will bring out this ability in Santiago, and so he only gives him advice on how to move past his fear, not on how to actually perform the magical act itself. Santiago’s frustration with his teacher is entirely understandable.
The first day passes. There's a serious battle nearby, and wounded and dead soldiers are returned to the camp. Santiago sees a soldier speaking to the body of one of his friends. The soldier says that his friend was going to die anyway, whether he died now or later, after peace had been reached. At the end of the day, Santiago seeks out the alchemist and explains that he still has no idea how to turn himself into the wind. The alchemist reminds Santiago of his previous explanation of the world: the world is the visible part of God’s creation and, through the processes of alchemy, the perfection of God can be actualized in the material world. The alchemist says that Santiago is the only one in danger of dying, because he himself already knows how to turn into the wind.
Santiago realizes that he has no choice but to try to actually attempt the impossible task the alchemist has set for him. In the meantime, his observations of the dying soldier and his friend reinforce the theme of the relative unimportance of death and fear. The alchemist reminds Santiago of the role of God in the continued existence of the world (another idea that suggests pantheism), and the importance of the process of alchemy to matters beyond mere metals. This seems to hint that Santiago must use one of the lessons about alchemy to achieve his goal.
During the second day, Santiago climbs to the top of the cliff next to the enemy camp. The soldiers let him go, because they are afraid of his powers. He spends the afternoon observing the desert and listening to his heart. He knows that the desert is aware of his fear, because they speak the same language.
Santiago can now listen to both his heart and the desert, and he knows that both listen to him as well. He can listen and speak, but is no closer to transforming something into an entirely different thing—like lead into gold, or himself into wind.
On the third day, the enemy chieftain meets with his counselors. He says that they should go see the boy turn himself into the wind. Santiago leads them all to the cliff where he had spent the previous day. He tells the chieftain that the process will take a while. Santiago gazes out at the desert. The desert asks him why he is back, after spending all of the previous day gazing at it. Santiago says that because the desert holds the person he loves, when he looks out at the desert he is also looking at her. He wants to return to her, and therefore he needs the desert’s help. In order to survive, he must turn himself into the wind. The desert, however, does not know what love is.
On the third and final day, Santiago has an audience. Santiago still only knows how to listen or speak, so he does his best and speaks directly to the desert. In his more elevated spiritual state, abstract entities like the desert itself become “characters” with voices of their own. Santiago’s argument for assistance is based on love and the importance of his own love for Fatima—but love is a foreign concept to the harsh, arid desert.
Santiago explains love as the falcons’ flight over the desert sands. The falcon knows the desert intimately, but the desert says that the falcons steal away parts of the desert itself when they hurt the animals that the desert has cared for. Santiago points out that the desert creates these small creatures in order to feed the falcon, and the falcon feeds the man, and the man eventually returns to the sands of the desert. This is what love is. The desert says that it does not understand Santiago. Santiago insist that at least the desert can understand that Fatima is waiting for him in the desert, and that he must return to her. The desert says that it will offer its sands to help the wind blow, but it can't transform Santiago. The wind begins to blow, and the alchemist smiles.
Santiago tries to explain love in terms that the desert will understand, but the desert sees only the hurt inflicted by others rather than its own part in a complex web connecting all things. Love is the necessary connection between all things, and therefore (Coelho implies) love is no different than the Soul of the World, or God. The desert has a worldview that is just as narrow as any person’s. The alchemist, meanwhile, sees the wind blowing as a sign that Santiago is on the right track. He is at least speaking to the elements and negotiating with them.
Santiago asks the wind for its help. The wind wants to know who taught Santiago to speak the language of the desert and of the wind. Santiago says that it was his heart. The wind is stronger than the desert, because it does not come from any specific place or go to any specific place. Humans could transform the desert by planting trees there someday, but humans could never transform the wind. The wind says that it and Santiago are two very different things. Santiago says that this is not true, because they're both made by the same hand and have the same soul. The wind says that it listened to Santiago's conversation with the alchemist, but it knows that people cannot turn themselves into wind.
The wind (like the desert) has a distinct personality and philosophy of its own, and is unable to see the “bigger picture” of its role in the entirety of creation. The wind feels that it is above human influence, and therefore above both the desert and Santiago. Santiago sees himself and the wind as equal and connected because they were both made by the same hand, but the wind is more resistant to helping Santiago because of its sense of its own superiority. It dismisses that which it cannot do.
Santiago asks that he learned to become wind for just a few moments, so that the two can discuss the possibilities of people and the wind. The wind is curious, and it wants Santiago to succeed, but it doesn’t know how. Santiago makes his final plea, saying that when someone is loved, they can do anything—even turning themselves into the wind—but he still needs the wind’s help to do so. The wind is a proud being, and it begins to blow fiercely. Soon, however, the wind realizes that it knows nothing of love, even though it has seen people speaking of love all over the world. The wind says that Santiago had better ask his question of heaven. It blows with all its strength, swirling sand into the air so that Santiago can look toward the heavens.
The wind is difficult, but it is at least tempted by promises of intellectual conversation. It is this curiosity, rather than a respect for Santiago or an understanding of love, that makes the wind want Santiago to succeed. The wind is proud and tries to help if only to prove its own abilities, but it must also admit defeat and acknowledge that there are others more powerful to whom Santiago should appeal. Santiago has now truly entered a world beyond that of humanity—a hierarchy of the elements and of the universe itself.
The tribesmen are overwhelmed by the wind and dust of a desert storm. Two of the tribesmen tell the enemy chieftain that they had better stop Santiago's project to be safe, but the enemy chieftain insists that he wants to see the greatness of Allah, so he wants to see this through to completion. He remembers for later the names of the men who've expressed their fear.
From an outside perspective, Santiago now seems very powerful and frightening indeed. The enemy chieftain’s curiosity is about Allah, and not about Santiago. He is not afraid, because he trusts God, and he looks down on those who do not—their lack of courage in this situation is valuable knowledge to him.
Santiago next speaks to the sun, saying that he has learned from the wind that the sun knows about love. The sun replies that from its position it can see the Soul of the World. From a distance, the Soul of the World and the sun contemplate each other and love each other. The sun speaks of the creation of the world, and says that it has learned from the Soul of the World that if the hand that wrote everything had stopped on the fifth day of creation, then everything would exist in harmony. Santiago contradicts him, saying that if there hadn't been a sixth day of creation—the day on which humans were created—then nothing would be able to evolve. Because humans exist, each thing can transform itself into something better and acquire a new Personal Legend, until someday everything will become entirely part of the Soul of the World. In response, the sun shines more brightly.
The sun, unlike the desert and wind, does understand love, because it can see the Soul of the World and it understands creation as a whole (almost). It also sees the harmony that would exist in the world without mankind, and seems almost nostalgic for this kind of state of existence. Santiago, however, argues for the importance of mankind as the source of evolution and improvement. Evolving and improving means moving closer to the Soul of the World, and Santiago imagines a future in which all creation would be truly reunited with the Soul of the World. The sun seems to agree with this idea, and at least approves of the loving sentiment behind it.
Santiago says that alchemy exists so that everyone will strive for improvement, just as gold exists as lead until it can be turned into gold. Alchemy teaches everyone that when improvement is sought, everything becomes better, and love is the transformative force. The desert is static, the wind is always moving, and the sun sees everything from a remove. Santiago has now realized that the Soul of the World is not perfect, and that imperfection is why the power of love is so important. The power of love improves everything, including humans and the Soul of the World. The sun says that even though it is known as the wisest being, it cannot turn Santiago into the wind. It recommends that Santiago speak to the “hand that wrote all.”
Santiago has learned the idea of evolution and improvement from alchemy, as this is what alchemists seek to do with metals in transforming them into gold. The source of evolution is love, and therefore a vision of the world in which everything joins the Soul of the World requires a lot of love. Even the Soul of the World itself can be improved through love. From this, the sun sees that only the “hand that wrote all” can change Santiago’s physical human state into the wind. This evolution and transformation is thus ultimately an act of love.
The wind blows harder than ever, and tents are ripped from the ground in the tribal camp. Santiago turns to the hand that wrote all, and he feels the universe fall silent. Santiago begins to pray. It is a prayer from his heart filled with love. Santiago understands that the desert, the wind, and the sun are seeking the same thing as he is, which is to understand the signs written by God, and to see the paths before them. The hand has a reason for all that it does. Santiago reaches through the Soul of the World and discovers the Soul of God. He sees the oneness between his own soul and the Soul of God and, because of this oneness, realizes that he has the ability to perform miracles.
Santiago prays to God from a place of love and he feels that all creation is seeking the same thing as he is, which is to follow the God-given paths before it. Santiago thus truly experiences the unity of the Soul of the World, and so discovers the Soul of God, which means a unity with his own soul. Because he is now connected with God, he is able to do the miraculous things that God could do. It only takes realizing this to understand that he has always possessed the power to transform himself.
For generations, the tribesmen from that area would tell the story of the boy who was able to turn himself into the wind, and who in the process almost destroyed the military camp. When the wind stops, everyone looks at the place on the cliff where Santiago had been standing. But he is now on the other side of the camp. The tribesmen are afraid of his power, but two people are happy: the alchemist, because Santiago is his ideal student, and the enemy chieftain, because he has witnessed the glory of Allah. The next day the enemy chieftain let Santiago and the alchemist leave the camp, and he provides them with a military escort for as far as they need it.
The tribesmen react with fear when they witness Santiago’s power—a power that is actually just God’s power working through someone who has achieved a kind of enlightenment. Only the enemy chieftain understands this, and his happiness shows that the power of God is a positive force, one of love. The alchemist also sees Santiago’s newfound awareness of his connection with God and the Soul of the World—the connection that has made this transformation possible.
By the end of the next day, the small group arrives at a Coptic monastery. The alchemist tells the escorts that they can head back to their camp, and that from this point onward Santiago needs to travel alone for the last three hours toward the pyramids. Santiago thanks the alchemist for teaching him the Language of the World. The alchemist says that he didn't teach Santiago anything—he only helped him to access some things he already knew. At the Coptic monastery a monk welcomes them inside. The alchemist asks if he can use the kitchen, and in the kitchen he takes lead, places it on a pan over the fire, and adds to it a sliver from the Philosopher’s Stone.
Santiago credits the alchemist with having taught him, but the alchemist sees his role as less of a teacher than a “revealer”—he only pointed out the truths that Santiago already knew, because they have always existed in the world Santiago has spent time observing. The alchemist finally uses the practical skills of alchemy in the Coptic monastery. He works with trust in front of the monk, again, perceiving a person’s character at a glance.
As the alchemist works, he and the monk talk about the wars in the desert. The monk feels that they're going to last for a very long time. He is sorry that the caravans have stopped coming to Giza, but he knows that God's will is what happens in the world. The alchemist then shows Santiago and the monk the lead, which has now been transformed into gold. Santiago wants to know if he'll be able to do this some day. The alchemist says that it was his Personal Legend to achieve this, but it is not Santiago's. As they depart the monastery, the alchemist gives the monk a quarter of the gold as thanks for his generosity to pilgrims. The monk feels that this payment is excessive, but the alchemist cautions him not to say so, as “life might be listening, and give you less the next time.”
The monk understands the value of the idea of “maktub,” although he uses the language of “God’s will” to refer to those things that are meant to be. Santiago is still envious of the ability to turn lead into gold, and so he learns another valuable lesson from the alchemist: do not covet those things that are not part of one’s own Personal Legend. The narrative essentially reached its climax with Santiago turning himself into the wind, so these last scenes now feel like a decompression or denouement.
The alchemist gives a quarter of the gold to Santiago, to repay him for the amount that the alchemist gave to the enemy chieftain. The alchemist saves a quarter for himself. The final quarter he gives to the monk, saying that it is for Santiago if he ever needs it. Santiago says that he is very close to his treasure now, so he will not need the gold in order to go home, but the alchemist points out that Santiago has lost his life savings twice. The alchemist says he believes in proverbs, and there's one that says that anything that happens twice will surely happen for a third time.
Santiago learns from the alchemist’s rebuke of the monk and now accepts his own gift graciously. Santiago is confident in finding his treasure, but the alchemist’s warning seems typically prophetic. Everything in Santiago’s life seems to follow a preordained order, and so it is entirely likely that he will indeed lose his money for a third time.
Before Santiago and the alchemist bid each other farewell, the alchemist tells Santiago a story about dreams. In the story, a man who lives in ancient Rome has two sons. One son is in the military and the other son is a poet. The father has a dream in which an angel appears to him and tells him that his son’s words will be remembered for generations. The father is grateful because he is proud of his sons. When the father dies soon afterward, he goes directly to heaven, where he meets the angel who appeared to him in his dream. The angel promises to grant any wish he desires. The man does not want anything for himself, but he wants to see his son’s words being remembered by others.
The alchemist leaves Santiago with a parting story—another parable meant to teach him a lesson. In the story, the old man’s Personal Legend is not mentioned, but it seems he must have fulfilled it because he has lived and died with happiness and peace, rather than fear and frustration. The old man’s selfless nature is also evident in his last wish, which doesn’t concern himself at all, but only his son.
The angel takes him far into the future, into a room surrounded by thousands of people speaking. The man is moved to tears, and asks the angel which of his son’s poems the people are reciting. The angel explains that the poems that his poet son wrote were well loved during his day, but eventually they were forgotten. The words he has just heard were the words of his son who was in the military.
As might be expected, there is a twist at the end of the alchemist’s story—just like Santiago’s treasure and the resolution to his quest might be different than what he has expected and imagined.
The angel explains that the man’s son had sought a rabbi whom he’d heard was able to cure all illnesses. While seeking this rabbi, the son learned that the rabbi was the Son of God. This experience caused him to convert to the faith of the rabbi. When he meets the Son of God, the son tells him that one of his servants is very ill. As the son speaks to the rabbi, he is overwhelmed by the knowledge that the rabbi is in fact the son of God. He says to the Son of God, “my Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but only speak a word and my servant will be healed.” The alchemist ends his story by saying that everyone on earth plays an important role, even if he doesn't know it. Then the alchemist and Santiago bid each other farewell.
The reason for the son’s words being remembered is that they reached a fundamental human experience that many could relate to. When faced with God himself, the man spoke of his own worthlessness. This sensation of being overwhelmed by the greatness of God is relatable and important to others, and is in fact yet another story from the Bible. The alchemist points out that the father of the military man had a role in all this as well, even if he could not have foreseen it, and could not comprehend it until after his death.
Santiago rides alone through the desert, listening to his heart. The alchemist had told him “where your treasure is there also will be your heart,” but as he travels Santiago's heart is speaking of other things. It speaks with pride of a shepherd leaving his flock to follow a dream. It speaks of Personal Legends, and of journeys. Finally, as he climbs a dune, Santiago’s heart says to him to be aware of the place where he is brought to tears, as that is the place where his treasure is. Santiago climbs the dunes and sees a full moon rising in the sky, which shows that it has been a month since he left the oasis. At the top of the dunes, Santiago can see the Egyptian Pyramids illuminated by the full moon.
Santiago listens to his heart in order to find his treasure, but his heart is more focused on the quest than the end goal. The way in which his heart reveals the place to look for his treasure shows the importance of emotion in Santiago’s quest. He will be brought to tears at the right place, a demonstration of pure emotion that is not shameful, but important. The appearance of the pyramids is moving, but we already sense that the journey itself was Santiago’s Personal Legend more so than his arrival at this destination.
Santiago falls to his knees and cries, thanking God for making him follow his Personal Legend and for having him meet a king, a merchant, an Englishmen, and an alchemist along the way, as well as Fatima. Santiago realizes that as he has sought his Personal Legend, he has also learned everything he would need to know, and has experienced all of his dreams—and now he is on the verge of finding his treasure.
Santiago is brought to tears because of his overwhelming gratitude to fate/God/the Soul of the World, and he now seems to see all that his quest has already given him—even without any “treasure” yet. When all the supporting characters are listed like this they seem even more archetypal—like lessons and experiences existing for Santiago’s sake, more than living humans in their own right.
In the sand Santiago sees a scarab beetle, and remembers that these beetles are a symbol of God. Because of this omen, he begins to dig into the sand at the place where the beetle was. He digs and digs, but he finds nothing. His hands hurt and he is exhausted, but he is listening to his heart, which tells him to dig at the place where he cried.
The scarab beetle (a sacred creature to the ancient Egyptians) is a mysterious omen that at first seems to be leading Santiago on a false trail. But he does not give up, because by now he has learned to entirely trust in omens and in his own heart.
Suddenly several people approach Santiago and demand to know what he is doing. The people explain that they are refugees from the tribal wars, and they desperately need money. One of them grabs Santiago and drags him out of the hole that he has dug. They search through Santiago's bags, and find the gold that the alchemist gave him. They make Santiago dig, thinking that he has hidden gold in the ground, but no treasure is revealed. At dawn the refugees beat Santiago.
The refugees of the tribal wars are figures deserving both sympathy and criticism. They show another side of the tribal wars—the fact that people have lost homes and livelihoods through the violence others. But they also treat Santiago cruelly, turning the violence they have experienced on another person.
Finally Santiago yells that he is digging for treasure, and he tells his attackers that he had dreamed of finding treasure at this place. The leader of the refugees tells the others to leave Santiago. As the others depart, the leader explains that Santiago should not be so stupid. He says that two years before, he himself had a recurring dream on that very spot. In the dream he saw an abandoned church that sheltered shepherds and sheep. The dream told him that if he dug at the roots of the tree growing through the center of the church, he would find a hidden treasure. The leader of the refugees did not go in search of this treasure, however, because it was just a dream. The refugees leave, and Santiago laughs aloud, because now he knows the location of his treasure.
Santiago, seemingly at the end of his rope, finally admits the truth about his search, and the leader of the refugees responds. The dream he reveals to Santiago is the parallel dream to Santiago’s own (Santiago dreamed of the pyramids while asleep in the abandoned church). Unlike Santiago, however, the refugee is dismissive of dreams, and doesn’t even consider pursuing his own treasure. He does not believe in omens and he will not follow them, instead trusting only his own rationality. Because of this, it’s suggested that he will continue to suffer and struggle—even though his decision seems entirely reasonable, especially considering the desperate circumstances of his life (circumstances Santiago has never had to face). Santiago, on the other hand, has learned all his lessons in the right order, and knows an omen from God when he sees one.