In "Ten Years On," the author Paulo Coelho reveals his surprise at the success of his book. Like his main character Santiago, Coelho follows his personal calling to write. Coelho believes following his calling as an author has contributed to his success. As you read Coelho's novel, search for the theme of following a personal calling.
Oscar Wilde is an Irish writer while Paulo Coelho is an author from Brazil. While these two men write in different languages and cultures, how do they share a similar point of view?
In the prologue of Coelho's book the reader is introduced to a character called "the alchemist" who reads a book about Narcissus. Coelho extends the story beyond the usual ending however. As you read, think about why the author would open his novel with an allusion to an ancient Greek myth. (This annotation contains an image)
How does the alchemist's reaction to the lake's response reveal aspects of the alchemist's character?
Read the first five paragraphs, then go back and watch this video explaining Coelho's introduction to his novel "The Alchemist." As you watch the video, think about what the first paragraph of a novel can tell a reader. Jot down all the things you learn in the first paragraph about character, setting, plot and theme.
(This annotation contains a video)
Notice the text features in this novel. Coelho uses a large space to separate important scenes. Whenever you see this extra space between paragraphs, understand the author is signaling his readers that a new scene has begun. For example, Santiago thinks about the girl, "the daughter of a merchant." The next scene is a flashback to Santiago speaking with the merchant the first time he sees the girl.
How does Santiago change in the highlighted sentences?
Andalusia is part of Spain, a country steeped heavily in Catholic traditions. Many stone churches were built across the countryside. Over time, some fell into disuse. Santiago connects to the abandoned church he sleeps in at the beginning of the novel. He is not satisfied becoming a priest because he wants to travel. Santiago abandons a religious occupation, like the old stone church was abandoned, in order to pursue his personal desires. (This annotation contains an image)
Santiago's sheep travel the countryside and "discover other interesting things" with Santiago. However, the sheep, Santiago notes, do not notice because they only "think about...food and water." How does Coelho use this contrast between Santiago and the sheep to develop his theme of being open to experiences and adventure in life?
Santiago reveals the dream he had twice at the church with the sycamore tree. The dream predicts he will find treasure if he travels to the Egyptian pyramids. What clues does the author give to show the Gypsy woman believes the dream is true? (This annotation contains an image)
What do these two sentences reveal about Santiago's future?
Although Coelho never establishes a specific time period for his novel, the geographic locations are very specific. Andalusia is the southern most region of Spain across the western tip of the Mediterranean Sea from Africa. As Santiago travels through this area of the world, notice how he responds to people from different cultures, societies and religions. (This annotation contains an image)
Which is an effective summary of the highlighted paragraphs?
Coelho hints at the Personal Legend in previous scenes. Here, Santiago confronts a character that embodies his struggle to fulfill his Personal Legend. As you watch the video, think about how Santiago's Personal Legend has emerged as the primary theme of Coelho's novel. (This annotation contains a video)
Which of the following details conveys the sense that Santiago is approaching a critical choice?
In this passage, Santiago contemplates the history of the Moors conquering the Iberian peninsula, the land that now contains the countries of Spain and Portugal. As you watch the documentary clip, think about comparisons between a historical figure like Tariq Ibn Ziyad and the literary character Santiago. How are they alike? How do they both pursue their Personal Legends? (This annotation contains a video)
Melchizedek gives Santiago advice and directions, but he uses the language of omens and parables, stories designed to teach a specific lesson. Through the character of Melchizedek, Coelho describes his writing process as an author. How does Coelho's novel act as a parable for readers?
Below is a painting by Dieric Bouts from 1467 titled "Abraham Meets Melchisedek." Melchizedek is mentioned in Hebrew literature and the Bible. He is described as a king and priest. Coelho takes this familiar story and adds an extra layer of interpretation. In the highlighted passage, Coelho suggests Melchizedek is actually a kind of god assisting people pursuing their Personal Legends. (This annotation contains an image)
What is the reason there is no wine sold at the bar?
Open air markets like the one pictured below are a common sight in many countries around the world. However, new experiences in a strange culture can be intimidating as well as exciting. How does Santiago relieve some of his anxiety? (This annotation contains an image)
What does choosing to look at himself as an adventurer reveal?
Even though Santiago and the candy seller spoke different languages, they both understood the common language of good intentions and mutual respect. As the saying goes, a smile goes a long way. (This annotation contains an image)
Here Coelho introduces a parallel storyline with a new character. Coelho provides direct characterization by stating the crystal merchant was always anxious. How does this direct characterization impact the tension in the novel?
Santiago seems to have given up on his Personal Legend. How does the video below relate to Santiago? How has he changed and which of those changes do you think will become permanent?
(This annotation contains a video)
What chain of events leads Santiago to work in the crystal shop?
Millions of Muslims travel from around the world to Mecca to worship at The Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj. Observant Muslims try to undertake a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lives. (This annotation contains an image)
How do Santiago's experiences and perspectives contrast with the crystal merchant?
The meaning of "maktub" is something like fate, that all events are already pre-destined or written by God. It is the same idea behind the expression, "Sometimes, there's just no way to hold back the river." The idea of "maktub" is so important to this novel and to the author, he titled a collection of short stories and other writings "Maktub." As you read, think about "maktub" and how Santiago's choices influence his life as much as events completely outside of his control. (This annotation contains an image)
How does the crystal merchant's prediction and the rediscovery of Melchizedek's two stones foreshadow the plot?
According to Hebrew and Biblical tradition, Urim and Thummim were light and dark stones worn by the High Priest on his breastplate. The words and stones are still associated with divination and cleromancy. Diviners read signs and omens in seemingly random objects or events in order to determine the future. Practicers of cleromancy cast stones, bones, dice or other objects to gain insight. (This annotation contains an image)
How does Coelho's use of the words "fruitlessly" and "rarest" and the phrases "spent enormous amounts of time" and "most important volumes" impact the tone of this section?
The Englishman makes a Biblical allusion here to the story of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. The story tells of angels visiting shepherds guarding their flocks and announcing the birth of the baby Jesus. In the story, the shepherds visit the manger to see the new king and tell people of their encounter with the angels.
(This annotation contains an image)
How does the plot impact the theme in the highlighted section?
In these paragraphs, Coelho provides his readers with an important, and ironic, message. Santiago tosses away his book when he realizes he can learn much more from personal experience. Unlike the Englishman, Santiago observes the caravan and the desert instead of reading knowledge someone else collected. Ironically, Coelho tells his readers to participate in their surroundings, but he gives his message in a book. So what does Coelho believe about the balance between learning from books and learning from life? (This annotation contains an image)
Which phrases does NOT increase the tension in this highlighted selection?
Alchemy is an ancient philosophical tradition that includes spirituality, mythology and magic. Alchemists in the medieval Europe searched for the Philosopher's Stone which could turn metals like lead into valuable gold and silver. The Philosopher's Stone also was thought to hold the elixir of life. Although alchemy is not a science, methods of experimentation and laboratory techniques contributed to the development of modern sciences. Jabir ibn Hayyan, an Islamic alchemist, is considered to be the "father of chemistry" because he introduced a scientific and experimental approach to alchemy. (This annotation contains an image)
Even though the Englishman is persistent and studies things deeply, why is it unlikely he will learn the secrets he is searching for?
A desert oasis is an area of vegetation fed by a water source. In the Sahara caravans depend on visit to an oasis to replenish food and water supplies.
(This annotation contains an image)
A Thousand and One Nights is a collection of legends and folktales from Asia and North Africa written in Arabic centuries ago. How does the allusion to A Thousand and One Nights impact the setting?
Groups of people have traveled the deserts of North Africa for thousands of years. Today, many people still pitch large tents, travel by camel and live in close family and tribal units. Technology has changed the desert somewhat. Now people can travel with GPS and satellite phones. (This annotation contains an image)
In the highlighted sentences, Santiago experiences love at first sight. This is a common trope in Western literature dating back to Greek and Roman poems and plays. Shakespeare uses this trope frequently in his works. Jane Austen's characters fall in love at first sight too, though it doesn't always lead to happy endings. Movies and television are full of love at first sight scenes. If the trope is so common, why would Coelho use it in his book about achieving Personal Legends? What does falling in love have to do with striving for individual goals?
In many parts of the world, water is difficult to access. This is especially true in the desert, even in an oasis. People must carry heavy loads of water from a water source like a well to their homes for cooking and cleaning. (This annotation contains an image)
Which type of figurative language does Fatima use to describe the love between her and Santiago?
Just as Santiago begins to become comfortable with his life thinking he will marry and settle down, something happens to bring conflict across Santiago's path. Watch the video explaining how authors create tension in their works. How does Coelho increase the tension of his plot through the foreshadowing of Santiago's vision of the invading army? (This annotation contains a video)
Which of the following sayings does NOT explain the seer's worldview?
Here Coelho includes another Biblical allusion to the story of Joseph. Joseph's father Jacob gave his son a beautiful, multi-colored coat, but the favoritism Jacob showered on Joseph made his brother's jealous. Joseph's brothers stole his coat and sold him as a slave to Egypt. However, Joseph rose to power in Egypt because he interpreted the pharaoh's dreams. (This annotation contains an image)
What is the significance of Santiago recalling the image of the Spain's patron saint conquering the Moors at the moment he is threatened by the man on the horse?
Finally, Coelho introduces his main character, Santiago, to his title character, the alchemist. The alchemist arrives draped in myth and mystery and challenges Santiago's courage. However, Coelho has already revealed in a previous scene from the alchemist's point of view that he knew he would meet his new apprentice soon. Why then did Coelho choose to introduce his two characters so dramatically? How does Coelho portray the alchemist as a symbol? (This annotation contains a video)
What detail develops the theme in the highlighted section?
While deserts may seem barren compared with forests and grasslands, deserts are actually thriving ecosystems for insects, birds, reptiles and mammals living in a delicate balance. (This annotation contains an image)
How does the alchemist's prediction for Santiago's life create tension?
Even though they both respect the customs and traditions of the desert people, Santiago and Fatima break the rules about unrelated men and women walking alone together at night. Think about why Santiago, who has not knowingly violated cultural rules up until this point, would take this action.
Most of Coelho's writing style in this novel is condensed. He includes imagery in his descriptions, but not much figurative language. What is the impact of using a simile in this sentence?
The text of the Emerald Tablet first appeared in Arabic sometime around the 8th century. The text was translated into Latin later and become the basis for alchemists' search for the fabled Philosopher's Stone and Elixir of Life. Even Isaac Newton once transcribed the text of the Emerald Tablet into English. Below is a fanciful engraving of the Emerald Tablet by Heinrich Khunrath from 1606. (This annotation contains an image)
Coelho rephrases a verse from the Bible saying, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." This is an example of which literary device?
Santiago holds conversations with his heart as well as with the alchemist. Both offer explanations for his questions and provide him with guidance. How does the heart become a motif in this novel? (This annotation contains a video)
The alchemist and Santiago evade capture by telling the truth about the objects the alchemist carries with him. How do the point of view of the alchemist and the point of view of the Arab tribesman differ and why is this difference important to the plot?
Coelho spends pages of his novel developing Santiago's relationship with his heart. However, Santiago becomes so inwardly focus he fails to recognize real danger. How does Coelho use the character of the alchemist to provide balance to Santiago's spiritual musings?
Despite the alchemist's warning for Santiago to never ignore the danger of the desert, Santiago fails to tell the alchemist about the danger his heart feels. What does this fact reveal about Santiago's character?
Here is the beginning of the novel's climax. Santiago must face his fear, apply all he has learned and complete an impossible task. However, if Santiago can turn himself into the wind, he will symbolically become an unstoppable force. The desert dwellers know powerful winds bring on destructive sandstorms like the one pictured below.
(This annotation contains an image)
What does the highlighted section reveal about the alchemist's character?
Santiago holds a conversation with the desert on the third day. Up to this point in the novel, Santiago observes the desert and listens to the wind, but he never addresses it as an equal. Watch the video on personification and think about why Coelho would personify the desert with dialogue. (This annotation contains a video)
This paragraph describes the wind's point of view. What form of figurative language does Coelho use for the wind?
Coelho blends science with spirituality throughout his novel. In this section, the sun discusses its relationship with the Soul of the World. However, Coelho integrates scientific facts into the discussion by saying if the sun were to move closer to the earth, life would die from over exposure. Coelho uses the balance of the solar system to highlight his ideas about spiritual balance.
(This annotation contains an image)
How does the reveal of the climax of the novel create surprise?
This is the first time Coelho reveals the alchemist's magical ability. He talks about it, but never shows it until after Santiago has discovered his inner power. Why do you think Coelho made this choice?
Here the alchemist begins a parable. Parables are stories designed to explain lessons or convey ideas. How has Coelho created a parable with his novel?
Once again, Coelho uses a Biblical allusion to connect ideas. Here he retells the story of Jesus healing a centurion's servant. Why would Coelho include this story in the falling action of his novel? Why tell it from the perspective of the dead father? (This annotation contains an image)
What does this line reveal about Santiago's character?
The novel comes full circle. Santiago returns to the church where his dreams promised treasure, but this time Santiago is armed with the knowledge and tools to take advantage of the opportunity. What do you think Coelho means by returning Santiago to the abandoned church with the tree growing out of it? How is this a symbol for Santiago's story?