'The Alchemist' Quotes

Quotes on Personal Legends, the Soul of the World, love, and alchemy

The New York Times panned The Alchemist as “more self help than literature,” and while that has a sliver of truth, this characteristic makes for a very quotable book. “That hasn’t hurt it with readers,” the writer concedes. In fact, since its publication in 1988, the book has gone on to sell more than 65 million copies.

Soul of the World

Whoever you are, or whatever it is that you do, when you really want something, it's because that desire originated in the soul of the universe. It's your mission on earth.

Melchizedek tells Santiago this upon first meeting him, and essentially summarizes the whole philosophy of the book. He emphasizes the importance of dreams, not dismissing them as silly or selfish, but as a means through which one can connect with the soul of the universe and determine one's Personal Legend. For instance, Santiago’s wish to see the pyramids is not a silly nighttime fantasy, but the conduit for his own journey of spiritual discovery. 

What he refers to as the “soul of the universe” is actually the Soul of the World, which is the spiritual essence that permeates everything in the world.

With this quote, Melchizedek explains the individualistic nature of one’s own purpose, which heavily contrasts with the spirit of abjection of the main religions.

Love

It was love. Something older than humanity, more ancient than the desert. Something that exerted the same force whenever two pairs of eyes met, as had theirs here at the well.

In this quote, Coelho explains love as the oldest force of humanity. The main love story in the plot concerns Santiago and Fatima, a woman who lives at the oasis, whom he meets while she’s collecting water at the well. When he falls for her, his feelings are reciprocated, and he goes as far as proposing marriage. While she accepts, she is also aware of Santiago’s Personal Legend, and, being a woman from the desert, she knows that he has to depart. However, if their love is meant to be, she is confident that he will return to her. "If I am really a part of your dream, you'll come back one day,” she tells him. She uses the expression maktub, meaning “it is written,” which show’s Fatima’s being comfortable with letting events unfold spontaneously. "I'm a desert woman, and I'm proud of that,” she explains as her rationale. “I want my husband to wander as free as the wind that shapes the dunes.”

Omens and Dreams

"You came so that you could learn about your dreams," said the old woman. "And dreams are the language of God.”

Santiago visits the old woman, who uses a mixture of black magic and sacred imagery to learn about a recurring dream he’d been having. He’d been dreaming about Egypt, the pyramids, and a buried treasure, and the woman interprets this in a pretty straightforward way, telling him he must, indeed, go to Egypt to find said treasure, and that she will need 1/10 of it as her compensation.

The old woman tells him that dreams are not just flights of fancy, but a way with which the universe is communicating with us. Turns out that the dream he had in the church was slightly misleading, as once he made it to the pyramid, one of his ambushers told him that he had a parallel dream about a treasure buried in a church in Spain, and that’s where Santiago ends up finding it. 

Alchemy

The alchemists spent years in their laboratories, observing the fire that purified the metals. They spent so much time close to the fire that gradually they gave up the vanities of the world. They discovered that the purification of the metals had led to a purification of themselves.

This explanation on how alchemy works, provided by the Englishman, serves as the overarching metaphor of the entire book. In fact, it connects the practice of transforming base metals into gold to attaining spiritual perfection by pursuing one’s own Personal Legend. For humans, purification takes place when one completely focuses on the Personal Legends, getting rid of mundane cares such as greed (those who just want to make gold will never become alchemists) and ephemeral contentment (staying in the oasis to marry Fatima without pursuing his Personal Legend would have not benefited Santiago). This, eventually, means that all other desires, love included, are trumped by the pursuit of one’s own Personal Legend. 

The Englishman

As the Englishman stared out at the desert, his eyes seemed brighter than they had when he was reading his books.

When we first meet the Englishman, he is metaphorically buried in his books trying to understand alchemy, as he used to see books as the main way of acquiring knowledge. He spent ten years studying, but it only took him so far, and, when we first meet him, he has reached a dead end in his pursuit. Since he believes in omens, he decides to set out and find the alchemist himself. When he eventually finds him, he is asked whether he ever tried to turn lead into gold. “I told him that was what I had come here to learn,” the Englishman tells Santiago. “He told me I should try to do so. That's all he said: 'Go and try.'"

The Crystal Merchant

I don't want anything else in life. But you are forcing me to look at wealth and at horizons that I have never known. Now that I have seen them, and now that I see how immense my possibilities are, I'm going to feel worse than I did before you arrived. Because I know the things I should be able to accomplish, and I don't want to do so.

The crystal merchant speaks these words to Santiago after he had spent the past year in Tangier working for him and significantly improving his business. He voices his personal regret about not achieving all that life had in store for him, which leaves him feeling dejected. He became complacent, and his life trajectory is a threat and a danger to Santiago, as he periodically gets tempted to either return to Spain to herd sheep or to marry a desert woman and forget about his Personal Legend.The mentor figures of the book, such as the Alchemist, warn Santiago against settling, as settling causes regrets and losing touch with the Soul of the World.