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The Alchemist

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I remember receiving a letter from the American publisher
Harper Collins…


The alchemist picked up a book that someone in the…


The boy’s name was Santiago. Dusk was falling as the…


The boy had been working for the crystal merchant for…


The boy reached the small, abandoned church just as night…



I remember receiving a letter from the American
publisher Harper Collins that said that: “reading The
Alchemist was like getting up at dawn and seeing the sun
rise while the rest of the world still slept.” I went outside, looked up at the sky, and thought to myself: “So,
the book is going to be published in English!” At the
time, I was struggling to establish myself as a writer and
to follow my path despite all the voices telling me it
was impossible.
And little by little, my dream was becoming reality.
Ten, a hundred, a thousand, a million copies sold in
America. One day, a Brazilian journalist phoned to say
that President Clinton had been photographed reading
the book. Some time later, when I was in Turkey, I
opened the magazine Vanity Fair and there was Julia
Roberts declaring that she adored the book. Walking
alone down a street in Miami, I heard a girl telling her
mother: “You must read The Alchemist!”
The book has been translated into fifty-six languages,
has sold more than twenty million copies, and people
are beginning to ask: What’s the secret behind such a
huge success?
The only honest response is: I don’t know. All I
know is that, like Santiago the shepherd boy, we all

need to be aware of our personal calling. What is a personal calling? It is God’s blessing, it is the path that
God chose for you here on Earth. Whenever we do
something that fills us with enthusiasm, we are following our legend. However, we don’t all have the courage
to c; onfront our own dream.
There are four obstacles. First: we are told from
childhood onward that everything we want to do is impossible. We grow up with this idea, and as the years
accumulate, so too do the layers of prejudice, fear, and
guilt. There comes a time when our personal calling is
so deeply buried in our soul as to be invisible. But it’s
still there.
If we have the courage to disinter dream, we are then
faced by the second obstacle: love. We know what we
want to do, but are afraid of hurting those around us
by abandoning everything in order to pursue our
dream. We do not realize that love is just a further impetus, not something that will prevent us going forward. We do not realize that those who genuinely wish
us well want us to be happy and are prepared to accompany us on that journey.
Once we have accepted that love is a stimulus, we
come up against the third obstacle: fear of the defeats
we will meet on the path. We who fight for our dream,
suffer far more when it doesn’t work out, because we

cannot fall back on the old excuse: “Oh, well, I didn’t
really want it anyway.” We do want it and know that we
have staked everything on it and that the path of the
personal calling is no easier than any other path, except
that our whole heart is in this journey. Then, we warriors of light must be prepared to have patience in difficult times and to know that the Universe is conspiring
in our favor, even though we may not understand how.
I ask myself: are defeats necessary?
Well, necessary or not, they happen. When we first
begin fighting for our dream, we have no experience
and make many mistakes. The secret of life, though, is
to fall seven times and to get up eight times.
So, why is it so important to live our personal calling
if we are only going to suffer more than other people?
Because, once we have overcome the defeats—and we
always do—we are filled by a greater sense of euphoria
and confidence. In the silence of our hearts, we know
that we are proving ourselves worthy of the miracle of
life. Each day, each hour, is part of the good fight. We
start to live with enthusiasm and pleasure. Intense, unexpected suffering passes more quickly than suffering
that is apparently bearable; the latter goes on for years
and, without our noticing, eats away at our soul, until,
one day, we are no longer able to free ourselves from the
bitterness and it stays with us for the rest of our lives.
Having disinterred our dream, having used the

power of love to nurture it and spent many years living
with the scars, we suddenly notice that what we always
wanted is there, waiting for us, perhaps the very next
day. Then comes the fourth obstacle: the fear of realizing the dream for which we fought all our lives.
Oscar Wilde said: “Each man kills the thing he
loves.” And it’s true. The mere possibility of getting
what we want fills the soul of the ordinary person with
guilt. We look around at all those who have failed to get
what they want and feel that we do not deserve to
get what we want either. We forget about all the obstacles we overcame, all the suffering we endured, all the
things we had to give up in order to get this far. I have
known a lot of people who, when their personal calling
was within their grasp, went on to commit a series of
stupid mistakes and never reached their goal—when it
was only a step away.
This is the most dangerous of the obstacles because
it has a kind of saintly aura about it: renouncing joy
and conquest. But if you believe yourself worthy of the
thing you fought so hard to get, then you become an
instrument of God, you help the Soul of the World,
and you understand why you are here.
Paulo Coelho
Rio de Janeiro
November 2002
Translated by Margaret Jull Costa

Translated by Clifford E. Landers

The alchemist picked up a book that someone in the
caravan had brought. Leafing through the pages, he
found a story about Narcissus.
The alchemist knew the legend of Narcissus, a youth
who knelt daily beside a lake to contemplate his own
beauty. He was so fascinated by himself that, one
morning, he fell into the lake and drowned. At the spot
where he fell, a flower was born, which was called the
But this was not how the author of the book ended
the story.
He said that when Narcissus died, the goddesses of
the forest appeared and found the lake, which had been
fresh water, transformed into a lake of salty tears.
“Why do you weep?” the goddesses asked.
“I weep for Narcissus,” the lake replied.
“Ah, it is no surprise that you weep for Narcissus,”
they said, “for though we always pursued him in the
forest, you alone could contemplate his beauty close at
“But . . . was Narcissus beautiful?” the lake asked.

“Who better than you to know that?” the goddesses
said in wonder. “After all, it was by your banks that he
knelt each day to contemplate himself !”
The lake was silent for some time. Finally, it said:
“I weep for Narcissus, but I never noticed that Narcissus was beautiful. I weep because, each time he knelt
beside my banks, I could see, in the depths of his eyes,
my own beauty reflected.”
“What a lovely story,” the alchemist thought.




The boy’s name was Santiago. Dusk was falling as
the boy arrived with his herd at an abandoned church.
The roof had fallen in long ago, and an enormous
sycamore had grown on the spot where the sacristy had
once stood.
He decided to spend the night there. He saw to it
that all the sheep entered through the ruined gate, and
then laid some planks across it to prevent the flock
from wandering away during the night. There were no
wolves in the region, but once an animal had strayed
during the night, and the boy had had to spend the entire next day searching for it.
He swept the floor with his jacket and lay down,
using the book he had just finished reading as a pillow.
He told himself that he would have to start reading

Pa u l o C o e l h o

thicker books: they lasted longer, and made more comfortable pillows.
It was still dark when he awoke, and, looking up, he
could see the stars through the half-destroyed roof.
I wanted to sleep a little longer, he thought. He had
had the same dream that night as a week ago, and once
again he had awakened before it ended.
He arose and, taking up his crook, began to awaken
the sheep that still slept. He had noticed that, as soon as
he awoke, most of his animals also began to stir. It was as
if some mysterious energy bound his life to that of the
sheep, with whom he had spent the past two years, leading them through the countryside in search of food and
water. “They are so used to me that they know my schedule,” he muttered. Thinking about that for a moment, he
realized that it could be the other way around: that it was
he who had become accustomed to their schedule.
But there were certain of them who took a bit longer
to awaken. The boy prodded them, one by one, with his
crook, calling each by name. He had always believed that
the sheep were able to understand what he said. So there
were times when he read them parts of his books that
had made an impression on him, or when he would tell
them of the loneliness or the happiness of a shepherd in
the fields. Sometimes he would comment to them on the
things he had seen in the villages they passed.
But for the past few days he had spoken to them

The Alchemist
about only one thing: the girl, the daughter of a merchant who lived in the village they would reach in about
four days. He had been to the village only once, the
year before. The merchant was the proprietor of a dry
goods shop, and he always demanded that the sheep be
sheared in his presence, so that he would not be
cheated. A friend had told the boy about the shop, and
he had taken his sheep there.

“I need to sell some wool,” the boy told the
The shop was busy, and the man asked the shepherd
to wait until the afternoon. So the boy sat on the steps
of the shop and took a book from his bag.
“I didn’t know shepherds knew how to read,” said a
girl’s voice behind him.
The girl was typical of the region of Andalusia, with
flowing black hair, and eyes that vaguely recalled the
Moorish conquerors.
“Well, usually I learn more from my sheep than from
books,” he answered. During the two hours that they talked,
she told him she was the merchant’s daughter, and spoke of
life in the village, where each day was like all the others. The
shepherd told her of the Andalusian countryside, and related the news from the other towns where he had stopped.
It was a pleasant change from talking to his sheep.

Pa u l o C o e l h o

“How did you learn to read?” the girl asked at one
“Like everybody learns,” he said. “In school.”
“Well, if you know how to read, why are you just a
The boy mumbled an answer that allowed him to
avoid responding to her question. He was sure the girl
would never understand. He went on telling stories
about his travels, and her bright, Moorish eyes went
wide with fear and surprise. As the time passed, the boy
found himself wishing that the day would never end,
that her father would stay busy and keep him waiting
for three days. He recognized that he was feeling something he had never experienced before: the desire to live
in one place forever. With the girl with the raven hair,
his days would never be the same again.
But finally the merchant appeared, and asked the boy
to shear four sheep. He paid for the wool and asked the
shepherd to come back the following year.

And now it was only four days before he would be
back in that same village. He was excited, and at the same
time uneasy: maybe the girl had already forgotten him.
Lots of shepherds passed through, selling their wool.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said to his sheep. “I know
other girls in other places.”

The Alchemist
But in his heart he knew that it did matter. And he
knew that shepherds, like seamen and like traveling salesmen, always found a town where there was someone who
could make them forget the joys of carefree wandering.
The day was dawning, and the shepherd urged his
sheep in the direction of the sun. They never have to
make any decisions, he thought. Maybe that’s why they
always stay close to me.
The only things that concerned the sheep were food
and water. As long as the boy knew how to find the
best pastures in Andalusia, they would be his friends.
Yes, their days were all the same, with the seemingly
endless hours between sunrise and dusk; and they had
never read a book in their young lives, and didn’t understand when the boy told them about the sights of the
cities. They were content with just food and water, and,
in exchange, they generously gave of their wool, their
company, and—once in a while—their meat.
If I became a monster today, and decided to kill
them, one by one, they would become aware only
after most of the flock had been slaughtered, thought
the boy. They trust me, and they’ve forgotten how to
rely on their own instincts, because I lead them to
The boy was surprised at his thoughts. Maybe the
church, with the sycamore growing from within, had
been haunted. It had caused him to have the same

Pa u l o C o e l h o

dream for a second time, and it was causing him to feel
anger toward his faithful companions. He drank a bit
from the wine that remained from his dinner of the
night before, and he gathered his jacket closer to his
body. He knew that a few hours from now, with the
sun at its zenith, the heat would be so great that he
would not be able to lead his flock across the fields. It
was the time of day when all of Spain slept during the
summer. The heat lasted until nightfall, and all that
time he had to carry his jacket. But when he thought to
complain about the burden of its weight, he remembered that, because he had the jacket, he had withstood
the cold of the dawn.
We have to be prepared for change, he thought, and
he was grateful for the jacket’s weight and warmth.
The jacket had a purpose, and so did the boy. His
purpose in life was to travel, and, after two years of
walking the Andalusian terrain, he knew all the cities
of the region. He was planning, on this visit, to explain to the girl how it was that a simple shepherd
knew how to read. That he had attended a seminary
until he was sixteen. His parents had wanted him to
become a priest, and thereby a source of pride for a
simple farm family. They worked hard just to have
food and water, like the sheep. He had studied Latin,
Spanish, and theology. But ever since he had been a
child, he had wanted to know the world, and this was

The Alchemist
much more important to him than knowing God and
learning about man’s sins. One afternoon, on a visit
to his family, he had summoned up the courage to tell
his father that he didn’t want to become a priest. That
he wanted to travel.

“People from all over the world have passed
through this village, son,” said his father. “They come
in search of new things, but when they leave they are
basically the same people they were when they arrived.
They climb the mountain to see the castle, and they
wind up thinking that the past was better than what we
have now. They have blond hair, or dark skin, but basically they’re the same as the people who live right here.”
“But I’d like to see the castles in the towns where
they live,” the boy explained.
“Those people, when they see our land, say that they
would like to live here forever,” his father continued.
“Well, I’d like to see their land, and see how they
live,” said his son.
“The people who come here have a lot of money to
spend, so they can afford to travel,” his father said.
“Amongst us, the only ones who travel are the shepherds.”
“Well, then I’ll be a shepherd!”
His father said no more. The next day, he gave his
son a pouch that held three ancient Spanish gold coins.

Pa u l o C o e l h o

“I found these one day in the fields. I wanted them
to be a part of your inheritance. But use them to buy
your flock. Take to the fields, and someday you’ll learn
that our countryside is the best, and our women are the
most beautiful.”
And he gave the boy his blessing. The boy could see
in his father’s gaze a desire to be able, himself, to travel
the world—a desire that was still alive, despite his father’s having had to bury it, over dozens of years, under
the burden of struggling for water to drink, food to eat,
and the same place to sleep every night of his life.

The horizon was tinged with red, and suddenly the
sun appeared. The boy thought back to that conversation with his father, and felt happy; he had already seen
many castles and met many women (but none the equal
of the one who awaited him several days hence). He
owned a jacket, a book that he could trade for another,
and a flock of sheep. But, most important, he was able
every day to live out his dream. If he were to tire of the
Andalusian fields, he could sell his sheep and go to sea.
By the time he had had enough of the sea, he would already have known other cities, other women, and other
chances to be happy. I couldn’t have found God in the
seminary, he thought, as he looked at the sunrise.

The Alchemist
Whenever he could, he sought out a new road to
travel. He had never been to that ruined church before, in
spite of having traveled through those parts many times.
The world was huge and inexhaustible; he had only to
allow his sheep to set the route for a while, and he would
discover other interesting things. The problem is that
they don’t even realize that they’re walking a new road
every day. They don’t see that the fields are new and the
seasons change. All they think about is food and water.
Maybe we’re all that way, the boy mused. Even me—
I haven’t thought of other women since I met the merchant’s daughter. Looking at the sun, he calculated that
he would reach Tarifa before midday. There, he could
exchange his book for a thicker one, fill his wine bottle,
shave, and have a haircut; he had to prepare himself for
his meeting with the girl, and he didn’t want to think
about the possibility that some other shepherd, with a
larger flock of sheep, had arrived there before him and
asked for her hand.
It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that
makes life interesting, he thought, as he looked again at
the position of the sun, and hurried his pace. He had
suddenly remembered that, in Tarifa, there was an old
woman who interpreted dreams.


Pa u l o C o e l h o

The old woman led the boy to a room at the back
of her house; it was separated from her living room by a
curtain of colored beads. The room’s furnishings consisted of a table, an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus,
and two chairs.
The woman sat down, and told him to be seated as
well. Then she took both of his hands in hers, and
began quietly to pray.
It sounded like a Gypsy prayer. The boy had already
had experience on the road with Gypsies; they also traveled, but they had no flocks of sheep. People said that
Gypsies spent their lives tricking others. It was also said
that they had a pact with the devil, and that they kidnapped children and, taking them away to their mysterious camps, made them their slaves. As a child, the boy
had always been frightened to death that he would be
captured by Gypsies, and this childhood fear returned
when the old woman took his hands in hers.
But she has the Sacred Heart of Jesus there, he
thought, trying to reassure himself. He didn’t want his
hand to begin trembling, showing the old woman that
he was fearful. He recited an Our Father silently.
“Very interesting,” said the woman, never taking her
eyes from the boy’s hands, and then she fell silent.
The boy was becoming nervous. His hands began to
tremble, and the woman sensed it. He quickly pulled
his hands away.

The Alchemist
“I didn’t come here to have you read my palm,” he
said, already regretting having come. He thought for a
moment that it would be better to pay her fee and leave
without learning a thing, that he was giving too much
importance to his recurrent dream.
“You came so that you could learn about your
dreams,” said the old woman. “And dreams are the language of God. When he speaks in our language, I can
interpret what he has said. But if he speaks in the language of the soul, it is only you who can understand.
But, whichever it is, I’m going to charge you for the
Another trick, the boy thought. But he decided to
take a chance. A shepherd always takes his chances with
wolves and with drought, and that’s what makes a shepherd’s life exciting.
“I have had the same dream twice,” he said. “I
dreamed that I was in a field with my sheep, when a
child appeared and began to play with the animals. I
don’t like people to do that, because the sheep are
afraid of strangers. But children always seem to be able
to play with them without frightening them. I don’t
know why. I don’t know how animals know the age of
human beings.”
“Tell me more about your dream,” said the woman.
“I have to get back to my cooking, and, since you don’t
have much money, I can’t give you a lot of time.”

Pa u l o C o e l h o

“The child went on playing with my sheep for quite
a while,” continued the boy, a bit upset. “And suddenly,
the child took me by both hands and transported me to
the Egyptian pyramids.”
He paused for a moment to see if the woman knew
what the Egyptian pyramids were. But she said nothing.
“Then, at the Egyptian pyramids,”—he said the last
three words slowly, so that the old woman would understand—“the child said to me, ‘If you come here, you
will find a hidden treasure.’ And, just as she was about
to show me the exact location, I woke up. Both times.”
The woman was silent for some time. Then she
again took his hands and studied them carefully.
“I’m not going to charge you anything now,” she said.
“But I want one-tenth of the treasure, if you find it.”
The boy laughed—out of happiness. He was going
to be able to save the little money he had because of a
dream about hidden treasure!
“Well, interpret the dream,” he said.
“First, swear to me. Swear that you will give me onetenth of your treasure in exchange for what I am going
to tell you.”
The shepherd swore that he would. The old woman
asked him to swear again while looking at the image of
the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
“It’s a dream in the language of the world,” she said.
“I can interpret it, but the interpretation is very diffi14

The Alchemist
cult. That’s why I feel that I deserve a part of what you
“And this is my interpretation: you must go to the
Pyramids in Egypt. I have never heard of them, but, if it
was a child who showed them to you, they exist. There
you will find a treasure that will make you a rich man.”
The boy was surprised, and then irritated. He didn’t
need to seek out the old woman for this! But then he remembered that he wasn’t going to have to pay anything.
“I didn’t need to waste my time just for this,” he
“I told you that your dream was a difficult one. It’s
the simple things in life that are the most extraordinary;
only wise men are able to understand them. And since I
am not wise, I have had to learn other arts, such as the
reading of palms.”
“Well, how am I going to get to Egypt?”
“I only interpret dreams. I don’t know how to turn
them into reality. That’s why I have to live off what my
daughters provide me with.”
“And what if I never get to Egypt?”
“Then I don’t get paid. It wouldn’t be the first time.”
And the woman told the boy to leave, saying she had
already wasted too much time with him.
So the boy was disappointed; he decided that he
would never again believe in dreams. He remembered
that he had a number of things he had to take care of:

Pa u l o C o e l h o

he went to the market for something to eat, he traded
his book for one that was thicker, and he found a bench
in the plaza where he could sample the new wine he
had bought. The day was hot, and the wine was refreshing. The sheep were at the gates of the city, in a
stable that belonged to a friend. The boy knew a lot of
people in the city. That was what made traveling appeal
to him—he always made new friends, and he didn’t
need to spend all of his time with them. When someone sees the same people every day, as had happened
with him at the seminary, they wind up becoming a
part of that person’s life. And then they want the person to change. If someone isn’t what others want them
to be, the others become angry. Everyone seems to have
a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives,
but none about his or her own.
He decided to wait until the sun had sunk a bit
lower in the sky before following his flock back through
the fields. Three days from now, he would be with the
merchant’s daughter.
He started to read the book he had bought. On the
very first page it described a burial ceremony. And the
names of the people involved were very difficult to pronounce. If he ever wrote a book, he thought, he would
present one person at a time, so that the reader wouldn’t
have to worry about memorizing a lot of names.
When he was finally able to concentrate on what he

The Alchemist
was reading, he liked the book better; the burial was on
a snowy day, and he welcomed the feeling of being
cold. As he read on, an old man sat down at his side
and tried to strike up a conversation.
“What are they doing?” the old man asked, pointing
at the people in the plaza.
“Working,” the boy answered dryly, making it look
as if he wanted to concentrate on his reading.
Actually, he was thinking about shearing his sheep in
front of the merchant’s daughter, so that she could see
that he was someone who was capable of doing difficult
things. He had already imagined the scene many times;
every time, the girl became fascinated when he explained that the sheep had to be sheared from back to
front. He also tried to remember some good stories to
relate as he sheared the sheep. Most of them he had
read in books, but he would tell them as if they were
from his personal experience. She would never know
the difference, because she didn’t know how to read.
Meanwhile, the old man persisted in his attempt to
strike up a conversation. He said that he was tired and
thirsty, and asked if he might have a sip of the boy’s
wine. The boy offered his bottle, hoping that the old
man would leave him alone.
But the old man wanted to talk, and he asked the
boy what book he was reading. The boy was tempted to
be rude, and move to another bench, but his father had

Pa u l o C o e l h o

taught him to be respectful of the elderly. So he held
out the book to the man—for two reasons: first, that
he, himself, wasn’t sure how to pronounce the title; and
second, that if the old man didn’t know how to read, he
would probably feel ashamed and decide of his own accord to change benches.
“Hmm . . .” said the old man, looking at all sides of
the book, as if it were some strange object. “This is an
important book, but it’s really irritating.”
The boy was shocked. The old man knew how to
read, and had already read the book. And if the book
was irritating, as the old man had said, the boy still had
time to change it for another.
“It’s a book that says the same thing almost all the
other books in the world say,” continued the old man.
“It describes people’s inability to choose their own Personal Legends. And it ends up saying that everyone believes the world’s greatest lie.”
“What’s the world’s greatest lie?” the boy asked,
completely surprised.
“It’s this: that at a certain point in our lives, we
lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives
become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.”
“That’s never happened to me,” the boy said. “They
wanted me to be a priest, but I decided to become a

The Alchemist
“Much better,” said the old man. “Because you really
like to travel.”
“He knew what I was thinking,” the boy said to
himself. The old man, meanwhile, was leafing through
the book, without seeming to want to return it at all.
The boy noticed that the man’s clothing was strange.
He looked like an Arab, which was not unusual in those
parts. Africa was only a few hours from Tarifa; one had
only to cross the narrow straits by boat. Arabs often
appeared in the city, shopping and chanting their
strange prayers several times a day.
“Where are you from?” the boy asked.
“From many places.”
“No one can be from many places,” the boy said.
“I’m a shepherd, and I have been to many places, but I
come from only one place—from a city near an ancient
castle. That’s where I was born.”
“Well then, we could say that I was born in
The boy didn’t know where Salem was, but he didn’t
want to ask, fearing that he would appear ignorant. He
looked at the people in the plaza for a while; they were
coming and going, and all of them seemed to be very
“So, what is Salem like?” he asked, trying to get
some sort of clue.
“It’s like it always has been.”

Pa u l o C o e l h o

No clue yet. But he knew that Salem wasn’t in Andalusia. If it were, he would already have heard of it.
“And what do you do in Salem?” he insisted.
“What do I do in Salem?” The old man laughed.
“Well, I’m the king of Salem!”
People say strange things, the boy thought. Sometimes it’s better to be with the sheep, who don’t say anything. And better still to be alone with one’s books.
They tell their incredible stories at the time when you
want to hear them. But when you’re talking to people,
they say some things that are so strange that you don’t
know how to continue the conversation.
“My name is Melchizedek,” said the old man. “How
many sheep do you have?”
“Enough,” said the boy. He could see that the old
man wanted to know more about his life.
“Well, then, we’ve got a problem. I can’t help you if
you feel you’ve got enough sheep.”
The boy was getting irritated. He wasn’t asking for
help. It was the old man who had asked for a drink of
his wine, and had started the conversation.
“Give me my book,” the boy said. “I have to go and
gather my sheep and get going.”
“Give me one-tenth of your sheep,” said the old
man, “and I’ll tell you how to find the hidden treasure.”
The boy remembered his dream, and suddenly everything was clear to him. The old woman hadn’t charged

The Alchemist
him anything, but the old man—maybe he was her husband—was going to find a way to get much more money
in exchange for information about something that didn’t
even exist. The old man was probably a Gypsy, too.
But before the boy could say anything, the old man
leaned over, picked up a stick, and began to write in the
sand of the plaza. Something bright reflected from his
chest with such intensity that the boy was momentarily
blinded. With a movement that was too quick for someone his age, the man covered whatever it was with his
cape. When his vision returned to normal, the boy was
able to read what the old man had written in the sand.
There, in the sand of the plaza of that small city, the
boy read the names of his father and his mother and
the name of the seminary he had attended. He read the
name of the merchant’s daughter, which he hadn’t even
known, and he read things he had never told anyone.

“I’m the king of Salem,” the old man had said.
“Why would a king be talking with a shepherd?” the
boy asked, awed and embarrassed.
“For several reasons. But let’s say that the most important is that you have succeeded in discovering your
Personal Legend.”
The boy didn’t know what a person’s “Personal Legend” was.

Pa u l o C o e l h o

“It’s what you have always wanted to accomplish.
Everyone, when they are young, knows what their Personal Legend is.
“At that point in their lives, everything is clear and
everything is possible. They are not afraid to dream,
and to yearn for everything they would like to see happen to them in their lives. But, as time passes, a mysterious force begins to convince them that it will be
impossible for them to realize their Personal Legend.”
None of what the old man was saying made much
sense to the boy. But he wanted to know what the
“mysterious force” was; the merchant’s daughter would
be impressed when he told her about that!
“It’s a force that appears to be negative, but actually
shows you how to realize your Personal Legend. It prepares your spirit and your will, because there is one
great truth on this planet: 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.”
“Even when all you want to do is travel? Or marry
the daughter of a textile merchant?”
“Yes, or even search for treasure. The Soul of the
World is nourished by people’s happiness. And also by
unhappiness, envy, and jealousy. To realize one’s Personal Legend is a person’s only real obligation. All
things are one.

The Alchemist
“And, when you want something, all the universe
conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
They were both silent for a time, observing the plaza
and the townspeople. It was the old man who spoke
“Why do you tend a flock of sheep?”
“Because I like to travel.”
The old man pointed to a baker standing in his shop
window at one corner of the plaza. “When he was a
child, that man wanted to travel, too. But he decided
first to buy his bakery and put some money aside.
When he’s an old man, he’s going to spend a month in
Africa. He never realized that people are capable, at any
time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.”
“He should have decided to become a shepherd,” the
boy said.
“Well, he thought about that,” the old man said.
“But bakers are more important people than shepherds.
Bakers have homes, while shepherds sleep out in the
open. Parents would rather see their children marry
bakers than shepherds.”
The boy felt a pang in his heart, thinking about the
merchant’s daughter. There was surely a baker in her
The old man continued, “In the long run, what people
think about shepherds and bakers becomes more important for them than their own Personal Legends.”

Pa u l o C o e l h o

The old man leafed through the book, and fell to
reading a page he came to. The boy waited, and then
interrupted the old man just as he himself had been interrupted. “Why are you telling me all this?”
“Because you are trying to realize your Personal Legend. And you are at the point where you’re about to
give it all up.”
“And that’s when you always appear on the scene?”
“Not always in this way, but I always appear in one
form or another. Sometimes I appear in the form of a
solution, or a good idea. At other times, at a crucial
moment, I make it easier for things to happen. There
are other things I do, too, but most of the time people
don’t realize I’ve done them.”
The old man related that, the week before, he had
been forced to appear before a miner, and had taken
the form of a stone. The miner had abandoned everything to go mining for emeralds. For five years he had
been working a certain river, and had examined hundreds of thousands of stones looking for an emerald.
The miner was about to give it all up, right at the
point when, if he were to examine just one more
stone—just one more—he would find his emerald. Since
the miner had sacrificed everything to his Personal
Legend, the old man decided to become involved. He
transformed himself into a stone that rolled up to the

The Alchemist
miner’s foot. The miner, with all the anger and frustration of his five fruitless years, picked up the stone
and threw it aside. But he had thrown it with such
force that it broke the stone it fell upon, and there,
embedded in the broken stone, was the most beautiful emerald in the world.
“People learn, early in their lives, what is their reason
for being,” said the old man, with a certain bitterness.
“Maybe that’s why they give up on it so early, too. But
that’s the way it is.”
The boy reminded the old man that he had said
something about hidden treasure.
“Treasure is uncovered by the force of flowing water,
and it is buried by the same currents,” said the old man.
“If you want to learn about your own treasure, you will
have to give me one-tenth of your flock.”
“What about one-tenth of my treasure?”
The old man looked disappointed. “If you start out
by promising what you don’t even have yet, you’ll lose
your desire to work toward getting it.”
The boy told him that he had already promised to
give one-tenth of his treasure to the Gypsy.
“Gypsies are experts at getting people to do that,”
sighed the old man. “In any case, it’s good that you’ve
learned that everything in life has its price. This is what
the Warriors of the Light try to teach.”

Pa u l o C o e l h o

The old man returned the book to the boy.
“Tomorrow, at this same time, bring me a tenth of
your flock. And I will tell you how to find the hidden
treasure. Good afternoon.”
And he vanished around the corner of the plaza.

The boy began again to read his book, but he was no
longer able to concentrate. He was tense and upset, because he knew that the old man was right. He went over
to the bakery and bought a loaf of bread, thinking about
whether or not he should tell the baker what the old
man had said about him. Sometimes it’s better to leave
things as they are, he thought to himself, and decided to
say nothing. If he were to say anything, the baker would
spend three days thinking about giving it all up, even
though he had gotten used to the way things were. The
boy could certainly resist causing that kind of anxiety
for the baker. So he began to wander through the city,
and found himself at the gates. There was a small building there, with a window at which people bought tickets
to Africa. And he knew that Egypt was in Africa.
“Can I help you?” asked the man behind the window.
“Maybe tomorrow,” said the boy, moving away. If he
sold just one of his sheep, he’d have enough to get to
the other shore of the strait. The idea frightened him.
“Another dreamer,” said the ticket seller to his assis26

The Alchemist
tant, watching the boy walk away. “He doesn’t have
enough money to travel.”
While standing at the ticket window, the boy had remembered his flock, and decided he should go back to
being a shepherd. In two years he had learned everything about shepherding: he knew how to shear sheep,
how to care for pregnant ewes, and how to protect the
sheep from wolves. He knew all the fields and pastures
of Andalusia. And he knew what was the fair price for
every one of his animals.
He decided to return to his friend’s stable by the
longest route possible. As he walked past the city’s castle,
he interrupted his return, and climbed the stone ramp
that led to the top of the wall. From there, he could see
Africa in the distance. Someone had once told him that
it was from there that the Moors had come, to occupy
all of Spain.
He could see almost the entire city from where he
sat, including the plaza where he had talked with the
old man. Curse the moment I met that old man, he
thought. He had come to the town only to find a
woman who could interpret his dream. Neither the
woman nor the old man was at all impressed by the fact
that he was a shepherd. They were solitary individuals
who no longer believed in things, and didn’t understand
that shepherds become attached to their sheep. He
knew everything about each member of his flock: he

Pa u l o C o e l h o

knew which ones were lame, which one was to give birth
two months from now, and which were the laziest. He
knew how to shear them, and how to slaughter them.
If he ever decided to leave them, they would suffer.
The wind began to pick up. He knew that wind:
people called it the levanter, because on it the Moors
had come from the Levant at the eastern end of the
The levanter increased in intensity. Here I am, between
my flock and my treasure, the boy thought. He had to
choose between something he had become accustomed to
and something he wanted to have. There was also the
merchant’s daughter, but she wasn’t as important as his
flock, because she didn’t depend on him. Maybe she didn’t
even remember him. He was sure that it made no difference to her on which day he appeared: for her, every day
was the same, and when each day is the same as the next,
it’s because people fail to recognize the good things that
happen in their lives every day that the sun rises.
I left my father, my mother, and the town castle behind. They have gotten used to my being away, and so
have I. The sheep will get used to my not being there,
too, the boy thought.
From where he sat, he could observe the plaza. People
continued to come and go from the baker’s shop. A
young couple sat on the bench where he had talked
with the old man, and they kissed.

The Alchemist
“That baker . . .” he said to himself, without completing the thought. The levanter was still getting
stronger, and he felt its force on his face. That wind
had brought the Moors, yes, but it had also brought the
smell of the desert and of veiled women. It had brought
with it the sweat and the dreams of men who had once
left to search for the unknown, and for gold and adventure—and for the Pyramids. The boy felt jealous of the
freedom of the wind, and saw that he could have the
same freedom. There was nothing to hold him back except himself. The sheep, the merchant’s daughter, and
the fields of Andalusia were only steps along the way to
his Personal Legend.
The next day, the boy met the old man at noon. He
brought six sheep with him.
“I’m surprised,” the boy said. “My friend bought all
the other sheep immediately. He said that he had always dreamed of being a shepherd, and that it was a
good omen.”
“That’s the way it always is,” said the old man. “It’s
called the principle of favorability. When you play
cards the first time, you are almost sure to win. Beginner’s luck.”
“Why is that?”
“Because there is a force that wants you to realize
your Personal Legend; it whets your appetite with a
taste of success.”

Pa u l o C o e l h o

Then the old man began to inspect the sheep, and
he saw that one was lame. The boy explained that it
wasn’t important, since that sheep was the most intelligent of the flock, and produced the most wool.
“Where is the treasure?” he asked.
“It’s in Egypt, near the Pyramids.”
The boy was startled. The old woman had said the
same thing. But she hadn’t charged him anything.
“In order to find the treasure, you will have to follow the omens. God has prepared a path for everyone
to follow. You just have to read the omens that he left
for you.”
Before the boy could reply, a butterfly appeared and
fluttered between him and the old man. He remembered something his grandfather had once told him:
that butterflies were a good omen. Like crickets, and
like grasshoppers; like lizards and four-leaf clovers.
“That’s right,” said the old man, able to read the
boy’s thoughts. “Just as your grandfather taught you.
These are good omens.”
The old man opened his cape, and the boy was struck
by what he saw. The old man wore a breastplate of
heavy gold, covered with precious stones. The boy recalled the brilliance he had noticed on the previous day.
He really was a king! He must be disguised to avoid
encounters with thieves.
“Take these,” said the old man, holding out a white

The Alchemist
stone and a black stone that had been embedded at the
center of the breastplate. “They are called Urim and
Thummim. The black signifies ‘yes,’ and the white ‘no.’
When you are unable to read the omens, they will help
you to do so. Always ask an objective question.
“But, if you can, try to make your own decisions.
The treasure is at the Pyramids; that you already knew.
But I had to insist on the payment of six sheep because
I helped you to make your decision.”
The boy put the stones in his pouch. From then on,
he would make his own decisions.
“Don’t forget that everything you deal with is only
one thing and nothing else. And don’t forget the language of omens. And, above all, don’t forget to follow
your Personal Legend through to its conclusion.
“But before I go, I want to tell you a little story.
“A certain shopkeeper sent his son to learn about
the secret of happiness from the wisest man in the
world. The lad wandered through the desert for forty
days, and finally came upon a beautiful castle, high atop
a mountain. It was there that the wise man lived.
“Rather than finding a saintly man, though, our
hero, on entering the main room of the castle, saw a
hive of activity: tradesmen came and went, people were
conversing in the corners, a small orchestra was playing
soft music, and there was a table covered with platters
of the most delicious food in that part of the world.

Pa u l o C o e l h o

The wise man conversed with everyone, and the boy
had to wait for two hours before it was his turn to be
given the man’s attention.
“The wise man listened attentively to the boy’s explanation of why he had come, but told him that he
didn’t have time just then to explain the secret of happiness. He suggested that the boy look around the
palace and return in two hours.
“‘Meanwhile, I want to ask you to do something,’
said the wise man, handing the boy a teaspoon that
held two drops of oil. ‘As you wander around, carry this
spoon with you without allowing the oil to spill.’
“The boy began climbing and descending the many
stairways of the palace, keeping his eyes fixed on the
spoon. After two hours, he returned to the room where
the wise man was.
“ ‘Well,’ asked the wise man, ‘did you see the Persian
tapestries that are hanging in my dining hall? Did you
see the garden that it took the master gardener ten years
to create? Did you notice the beautiful parchments in
my library?’
“The boy was embarrassed, and confessed that he
had observed nothing. His only concern had been not
to spill the oil that the wise man had entrusted to him.
“‘Then go back and observe the marvels of my
world,’ said the wise man. ‘You cannot trust a man if
you don’t know his house.’

The Alchemist
“Relieved, the boy picked up the spoon and returned
to his exploration of the palace, this time observing all
of the works of art on the ceilings and the walls. He
saw the gardens, the mountains all around him, the
beauty of the flowers, and the taste with which everything had been selected. Upon returning to the wise
man, he related in detail everything he had seen.
“‘But where are the drops of oil I entrusted to you?’
asked the wise man.
“Looking down at the spoon he held, the boy saw
that the oil was gone.
“ ‘Well, there is only one piece of advice I can give
you,’ said the wisest of wise men. ‘The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to
forget the drops of oil on the spoon.’ ”
The shepherd said nothing. He had understood
the story the old king had told him. A shepherd may
like to travel, but he should never forget about his
The old man looked at the boy and, with his hands
held together, made several strange gestures over the
boy’s head. Then, taking his sheep, he walked away.

At the highest point in Tarifa there is an old fort,
built by the Moors. From atop its walls, one can catch a
glimpse of Africa. Melchizedek, the king of Salem, sat

Pa u l o C o e l h o

on the wall of the fort that afternoon, and felt the levanter blowing in his face. The sheep fidgeted nearby,
uneasy with their new owner and excited by so much
change. All they wanted was food and water.
Melchizedek watched a small ship that was plowing
its way out of the port. He would never again see the
boy, just as he had never seen Abraham again after having charged him his one-tenth fee. That was his work.
The gods should not have desires, because they don’t
have Personal Legends. But the king of Salem hoped
desperately that the boy would be successful.
It’s too bad that he’s quickly going to forget my
name, he thought. I should have repeated it for him.
Then when he spoke about me he would say that I am
Melchizedek, the king of Salem.
He looked to the skies, feeling a bit abashed, and
said, “I know it’s the vanity of vanities, as you said, my
Lord. But an old king sometimes has to take some
pride in himself.”

How strange Africa is, thought the boy.
He was sitting in a bar very much like the other bars
he had seen along the narrow streets of Tangier. Some
men were smoking from a gigantic pipe that they
passed from one to the other. In just a few hours he
had seen men walking hand in hand, women with their

The Alchemist
faces covered, and priests that climbed to the tops of
towers and chanted—as everyone about him went to
their knees and placed their foreheads on the ground.
“A practice of infidels,” he said to himself. As a child
in church, he had always looked at the image of Saint
Santiago Matamoros on his white horse, his sword unsheathed, and figures such as these kneeling at his feet.
The boy felt ill and terribly alone. The infidels had an
evil look about them.
Besides this, in the rush of his travels he had forgotten a detail, just one detail, which could keep him from
his treasure for a long time: only Arabic was spoken in
this country.
The owner of the bar approached him, and the boy
pointed to a drink that had been served at the next table.
It turned out to be a bitter tea. The boy preferred wine.
But he didn’t need to worry about that right now.
What he had to be concerned about was his treasure,
and how he was going to go about getting it. The sale
of his sheep had left him with enough money in his
pouch, and the boy knew that in money there was
magic; whoever has money is never really alone. Before
long, maybe in just a few days, he would be at the Pyramids. An old man, with a breastplate of gold, wouldn’t
have lied just to acquire six sheep.
The old man had spoken about signs and omens,
and, as the boy was crossing the strait, he had thought

Pa u l o C o e l h o

about omens. Yes, the old man had known what he was
talking about: during the time the boy had spent in the
fields of Andalusia, he had become used to learning
which path he should take by observing the ground and
the sky. He had discovered that the presence of a certain bird meant that a snake was nearby, and that a certain
shrub was a sign that there was water in the area. The
sheep had taught him that.
If God leads the sheep so well, he will also lead a
man, he thought, and that made him feel better. The
tea seemed less bitter.
“Who are you?” he heard a voice ask him in Spanish.
The boy was relieved. He was thinking about omens,
and someone had appeared.
“How come you speak Spanish?” he asked. The new
arrival was a young man in Western dress, but the color
of his skin suggested he was from this city. He was
about the same age and height as the boy.
“Almost everyone here speaks Spanish. We’re only
two hours from Spain.”
“Sit down, and let me treat you to something,” said the
boy. “And ask for a glass of wine for me. I hate this tea.”
“There is no wine in this country,” the young man
said. “The religion here forbids it.”
The boy told him then that he needed to get to the
Pyramids. He almost began to tell about his treasure,
but decided not to do so. If he did, it was possible that

The Alchemist
the Arab would want a part of it as payment for taking
him there. He remembered what the old man had said
about offering something you didn’t even have yet.
“I’d like you to take me there if you can. I can pay
you to serve as my guide.”
“Do you have any idea how to get there?” the newcomer asked.
The boy noticed that the owner of the bar stood
nearby, listening attentively to their conversation. He
felt uneasy at the man’s presence. But he had found a
guide, and didn’t want to miss out on an opportunity.
“You have to cross the entire Sahara desert,” said the
young man. “And to do that, you need money. I need to
know whether you have enough.”
The boy thought it a strange question. But he
trusted in the old man, who had said that, when you
really want something, the universe always conspires in
your favor.
He took his money from his pouch and showed it to
the young man. The owner of the bar came over and
looked, as well. The two men exchanged some words in
Arabic, and the bar owner seemed irritated.
“Let’s get out of here,” said the new arrival. “He
wants us to leave.”
The boy was relieved. He got up to pay the bill, but
the owner grabbed him and began to speak to him in
an angry stream of words. The boy was strong, and

Pa u l o C o e l h o

wanted to retaliate, but he was in a foreign country. His
new friend pushed the owner aside, and pulled the boy
outside with him. “He wanted your money,” he said.
“Tangier is not like the rest of Africa. This is a port,
and every port has its thieves.”
The boy trusted his new friend. He had helped him
out in a dangerous situation. He took out his money
and counted it.
“We could get to the Pyramids by tomorrow,” said
the other, taking the money. “But I have to buy two
They walked together through the narrow streets of
Tangier. Everywhere there were stalls with items for
sale. They reached the center of a large plaza where the
market was held. There were thousands of people there,
arguing, selling, and buying; vegetables for sale
amongst daggers, and carpets displayed alongside tobacco. But the boy never took his eye off his new
friend. After all, he had all his money. He thought
about asking him to give it back, but decided that
would be unfriendly. He knew nothing about the customs of the strange land he was in.
“I’ll just watch him,” he said to himself. He knew he
was stronger than his friend.
Suddenly, there in the midst of all that confusion, he
saw the most beautiful sword he had ever seen. The
scabbard was embossed in silver, and the handle was

The Alchemist
black and encrusted with precious stones. The boy
promised himself that, when he returned from Egypt,
he would buy that sword.
“Ask the owner of that stall how much the sword
costs,” he said to his friend. Then he realized that he
had been distracted for a few moments, looking at the
sword. His heart squeezed, as if his chest had suddenly
compressed it. He was afraid to look around, because
he knew what he would find. He continued to look at
the beautiful sword for a bit longer, until he summoned
the courage to turn around.
All around him was the market, with people coming
and going, shouting and buying, and the aroma of strange
foods . . . but nowhere could he find his new companion.
The boy wanted to believe that his friend had simply
become separated from him by accident. He decided to
stay right there and await his return. As he waited, a
priest climbed to the top of a nearby tower and began
his chant; everyone in the market fell to their knees,
touched their foreheads to the ground, and took up the
chant. Then, like a colony of worker ants, they dismantled their stalls and left.
The sun began its departure, as well. The boy
watched it through its trajectory for some time, until it
was hidden behind the white houses surrounding the
plaza. He recalled that when the sun had risen that
morning, he was on another continent, still a shepherd

Pa u l o C o e l h o

with sixty sheep, and looking forward to meeting with a
girl. That morning he had known everything that was
going to happen to him as he walked through the familiar fields. But now, as the sun began to set, he was in
a different country, a stranger in a strange land, where
he couldn’t even speak the language. He was no longer a
shepherd, and he had nothing, not even the money to
return and start everything over.
All this happened between sunrise and sunset, the
boy thought. He was feeling sorry for himself, and
lamenting the fact that his life could have changed so
suddenly and so drastically.
He was so ashamed that he wanted to cry. He had
never even wept in front of his own sheep. But the
marketplace was empty, and he was far from home, so
he wept. He wept because God was unfair, and because
this was the way God repaid those who believed in their
When I had my sheep, I was happy, and I made those
around me happy. People saw me coming and welcomed
me, he thought. But now I’m sad and alone. I’m going to
become bitter and distrustful of people because one person betrayed me. I’m going to hate those who have
found their treasure because I never found mine. And
I’m going to hold on to what little I have, because I’m
too insignificant to conquer the world.
He opened his pouch to see what was left of his pos40

The Alchemist
sessions; maybe there was a bit left of the sandwich he
had eaten on the ship. But all he found was the heavy
book, his jacket, and the two stones the old man had
given him.
As he looked at the stones, he felt relieved for some
reason. He had exchanged six sheep for two precious
stones that had been taken from a gold breastplate. He
could sell the stones and buy a return ticket. But this
time I’ll be smarter, the boy thought, removing them
from the pouch so he could put them in his pocket.
This was a port town, and the only truthful thing his
friend had told him was that port towns are full of
Now he understood why the owner of the bar had
been so upset: he was trying to tell him not to trust that
man. “I’m like everyone else—I see the world in terms of
what I would like to see happen, not what actually does.”
He ran his fingers slowly over the stones, sensing
their temperature and feeling their surfaces. They were
his treasure. Just handling them made him feel better.
They reminded him of the old man.
“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it,” he had said.
The boy was trying to understand the truth of what
the old man had said. There he was in the empty
marketplace, without a cent to his name, and with not a
sheep to guard through the night. But the stones were

Pa u l o C o e l h o

proof that he had met with a king—a king who knew
of the boy’s past.
“They’re called Urim and Thummim, and they can
help you to read the omens.” The boy put the stones
back in the pouch and decided to do an experiment.
The old man had said to ask very clear questions, and
to do that, the boy had to know what he wanted. So, he
asked if the old man’s blessing was still with him.
He took out one of the stones. It was “yes.”
“Am I going to find my treasure?” he asked.
He stuck his hand into the pouch, and felt around for
one of the stones. As he did so, both of them pushed
through a hole in the pouch and fell to the ground. The
boy had never even noticed that there was a hole in his
pouch. He knelt down to find Urim and Thummim and
put them back in the pouch. But as he saw them lying
there on the ground, another phrase came to his mind.
“Learn to recognize omens, and follow them,” the
old king had said.
An omen. The boy smiled to himself. He picked up
the two stones and put them back in his pouch. He
didn’t consider mending the hole—the stones could fall
through any time they wanted. He had learned that
there were certain things one shouldn’t ask about, so as
not to flee from one’s own Personal Legend. “I
promised that I would make my own decisions,” he said
to himself.

The Alchemist
But the stones had told him that the old man was
still with him, and that made him feel more confident.
He looked around at the empty plaza again, feeling less
desperate than before. This wasn’t a strange place; it
was a new one.
After all, what he had always wanted was just that:
to know new places. Even if he never got to the Pyramids, he had already traveled farther than any shepherd
he knew. Oh, if they only knew how different things
are just two hours by ship from where they are, he
thought. Although his new world at the moment was
just an empty marketplace, he had already seen it when
it was teeming with life, and he would never forget it.
He remembered the sword. It hurt him a bit to think
about it, but he had never seen one like it before. As
he mused about these things, he realized that he had to
choose between thinking of himself as the poor victim
of a thief and as an adventurer in quest of his treasure.
“I’m an adventurer, looking for treasure,” he said to

He was shaken into wakefulness by someone. He
had fallen asleep in the middle of the marketplace, and
life in the plaza was about to resume.
Looking around, he sought his sheep, and then realized that he was in a new world. But instead of being

Pa u l o C o e l h o

saddened, he was happy. He no longer had to seek out
food and water for the sheep; he could go in search of
his treasure, instead. He had not a cent in his pocket,
but he had faith. He had decided, the night before, that
he would be as much an adventurer as the ones he had
admired in books.
He walked slowly through the market. The merchants were assembling their stalls, and the boy helped
a candy seller to do his. The candy seller had a smile on
his face: he was happy, aware of what his life was about,
and ready to begin a day’s work. His smile reminded
the boy of the old man—the mysterious old king he
had met. “This candy merchant isn’t making candy so
that later he can travel or marry a shopkeeper’s daughter. He’s doing it because it’s what he wants to do,”
thought the boy. He realized that he could do the same
thing the old man had done—sense whether a person
was near to or far from his Personal Legend. Just by
looking at them. It’s easy, and yet I’ve never done it before, he thought.
When the stall was assembled, the candy seller
offered the boy the first sweet he had made for the day.
The boy thanked him, ate it, and went on his way.
When he had gone only a short distance, he realized
that, while they were erecting the stall, one of them had
spoken Arabic and the other Spanish.
And they had understood each other perfectly well.

The Alchemist
There must be a language that doesn’t depend on
words, the boy thought. I’ve already had that experience with my sheep, and now it’s happening with
He was learning a lot of new things. Some of them
were things that he had already experienced, and weren’t
really new, but that he had never perceived before. And
he hadn’t perceived them because he had become accustomed to them. He realized: If I can learn to understand this language without words, I can learn to
understand the world.
Relaxed and unhurried, he resolved that he would
walk through the narrow streets of Tangier. Only in
that way would he be able to read the omens. He knew
it would require a lot of patience, but shepherds know
all about patience. Once again he saw that, in that
strange land, he was applying the same lessons he had
learned with his sheep.
“All things are one,” the old man had said.

The crystal merchant awoke with the day, and felt
the same anxiety that he felt every morning. He had
been in the same place for thirty years: a shop at the
top of a hilly street where few customers passed. Now
it was too late to change anything—the only thing he
had ever learned to do was to buy and sell crystal

Pa u l o C o e l h o

glassware. There had been a time when many people
knew of his shop: Arab merchants, French and English
geologists, German soldiers who were always wellheeled. In those days it had been wonderful to be selling crystal, and he had thought how he would become
rich, and have beautiful women at his side as he grew
But, as time passed, Tangier had changed. The
nearby city of Ceuta had grown faster than Tangier, and
business had fallen off. Neighbors moved away, and
there remained only a few small shops on the hill. And
no one was going to climb the hill just to browse
through a few small shops.
But the crystal merchant had no choice. He had lived
thirty years of his life buying and selling crystal pieces,
and now it was too late to do anything else.
He spent the entire morning observing the infrequent comings and goings in the street. He had done
this for years, and knew the schedule of everyone who
passed. But, just before lunchtime, a boy stopped in
front of the shop. He was dressed normally, but the
practiced eyes of the crystal merchant could see that the
boy had no money to spend. Nevertheless, the merchant decided to delay his lunch for a few minutes until
the boy moved on.


The Alchemist
A card hanging in the doorway announced that
several languages were spoken in the shop. The boy saw
a man appear behind the counter.
“I can clean up those glasses in the window, if you
want,” said the boy. “The way they look now, nobody is
going to want to buy them.”
The man looked at him without responding.
“In exchange, you could give me something to eat.”
The man still said nothing, and the boy sensed that
he was going to have to make a decision. In his pouch,
he had his jacket—he certainly wasn’t going to need it
in the desert. Taking the jacket out, he began to clean
the glasses. In half an hour, he had cleaned all the
glasses in the window, and, as he was doing so, two customers had entered the shop and bought some crystal.
When he had completed the cleaning, he asked the
man for something to eat. “Let’s go and have some
lunch,” said the crystal merchant.
He put a sign on the door, and they went to a small
café nearby. As they sat down at the only table in the
place, the crystal merchant laughed.
“You didn’t have to do any cleaning,” he said. “The
Koran requires me to feed a hungry person.”
“Well then, why did you let me do it?” the boy
“Because the crystal was dirty. And both you and I
needed to cleanse our minds of negative thoughts.”

Pa u l o C o e l h o

When they had eaten, the merchant turned to the
boy and said, “I’d like you to work in my shop. Two
customers came in today while you were working, and
that’s a good omen.”
People talk a lot about omens, thought the shepherd.
But they really don’t know what they’re saying. Just as I
hadn’t realized that for so many years I had been speaking a language without words to my sheep.
“Do you want to go to work for me?” the merchant
“I can work for the rest of today,” the boy answered.
“I’ll work all night, until dawn, and I’ll clean every
piece of crystal in your shop. In return, I need money
to get to Egypt tomorrow.”
The merchant laughed. “Even if you cleaned my
crystal for an entire year . . . even if you earned a good
commission selling every piece, you would still have to
borrow money to get to Egypt. There are thousands of
kilometers of desert between here and there.”
There was a moment of silence so profound that it
seemed the city was asleep. No sound from the
bazaars, no arguments among the merchants, no men
climbing to the towers to chant. No hope, no adventure, no old kings or Personal Legends, no treasure,
and no Pyramids. It was as if the world had fallen
silent because the boy’s soul had. He sat there, staring
blankly through the door of the café, wishing that he

The Alchemist
had died, and that everything would end forever at
that moment.
The merchant looked anxiously at the boy. All the
joy he had seen that morning had suddenly disappeared.
“I can give you the money you need to get back to
your country, my son,” said the crystal merchant.
The boy said nothing. He got up, adjusted his clothing, and picked up his pouch.
“I’ll work for you,” he said.
And after another long silence, he added, “I need
money to buy some sheep.”




The boy had been working for the crystal merchant for almost a month, and he could see that it
wasn’t exactly the kind of job that would make him
happy. The merchant spent the entire day mumbling
behind the counter, telling the boy to be careful with
the pieces and not to break anything.
But he stayed with the job because the merchant, although he was an old grouch, treated him fairly; the
boy received a good commission for each piece he sold,
and had already been able to put some money aside.
That morning he had done some calculating: if he continued to work every day as he had been, he would need
a whole year to be able to buy some sheep.
“I’d like to build a display case for the crystal,” the
boy said to the merchant. “We could place it outside,

Pa u l o C o e l h o

and attract those people who pass at the bottom of the
“I’ve never had one before,” the merchant answered.
“People will pass by and bump into it, and pieces will
be broken.”
“Well, when I took my sheep through the fields
some of them might have died if we had come upon a
snake. But that’s the way life is with sheep and with
The merchant turned to a customer who wanted
three crystal glasses. He was selling better than ever . . .
as if time had turned back to the old days when the
street had been one of Tangier’s major attractions.
“Business has really improved,” he said to the boy,
after the customer had left. “I’m doing much better,
and soon you’ll be able to return to your sheep. Why
ask more out of life?”
“Because we have to respond to omens,” the boy
said, almost without meaning to; then he regretted
what he had said, because the merchant had never met
the king.
“It’s called the principle of favorability, beginner’s
luck. Because life wants you to achieve your Personal
Legend,” the old king had said.
But the merchant understood what the boy had said.
The boy’s very presence in the shop was an omen, and,
as time passed and money was pouring into the cash

The Alchemist
drawer, he had no regrets about having hired the boy.
The boy was being paid more money than he deserved,
because the merchant, thinking that sales wouldn’t
amount to much, had offered the boy a high commission rate. He had assumed he would soon return to his
“Why did you want to get to the Pyramids?” he
asked, to get away from the business of the display.
“Because I’ve always heard about them,” the boy
answered, saying nothing about his dream. The treasure
was now nothing but a painful memory, and he tried to
avoid thinking about it.
“I don’t know anyone around here who would want
to cross the desert just to see the Pyramids,” said the
merchant. “They’re just a pile of stones. You could
build one in your backyard.”
“You’ve never had dreams of travel,” said the boy,
turning to wait on a customer who had entered the
Two days later, the merchant spoke to the boy about
the display.
“I don’t much like change,” he said. “You and I aren’t
like Hassan, that rich merchant. If he makes a buying
mistake, it doesn’t affect him much. But we two have to
live with our mistakes.”
That’s true enough, the boy thought, ruefully.
“Why did you think we should have the display?”

Pa u l o C o e l h o

“I want to get back to my sheep faster. We have to
take advantage when luck is on our side, and do as
much to help it as it’s doing to help us. It’s called the
principle of favorability. Or beginner’s luck.”
The merchant was silent for a few moments. Then
he said, “The Prophet gave us the Koran, and left us
just five obligations to satisfy during our lives. The
most important is to believe only in the one true God.
The others are to pray five times a day, fast during Ramadan, and be charitable to the poor.”
He stopped there. His eyes filled with tears as he
spoke of the Prophet. He was a devout man, and, even
with all his impatience, he wanted to live his life in accordance with Muslim law.
“What’s the fifth obligation?” the boy asked.
“Two days ago, you said that I had never dreamed of
travel,” the merchant answered. “The fifth obligation of
every Muslim is a pilgrimage. We are obliged, at least
once in our lives, to visit the holy city of Mecca.
“Mecca is a lot farther away than the Pyramids.
When I was young, all I wanted to do was put together
enough money to start this shop. I thought that someday I’d be rich, and could go to Mecca. I began to make
some money, but I could never bring myself to leave
someone in charge of the shop; the crystals are delicate
things. At the same time, people were passing my shop
all the time, heading for Mecca. Some of them were

The Alchemist
rich pilgrims, traveling in caravans with servants and
camels, but most of the people making the pilgrimage
were poorer than I.
“All who went there were happy at having done so.
They placed the symbols of the pilgrimage on the
doors of their houses. One of them, a cobbler who
made his living mending boots, said that he had traveled
for almost a year through the desert, but that he got
more tired when he had to walk through the streets of
Tangier buying his leather.”
“Well, why don’t you go to Mecca now?” asked the
“Because it’s the thought of Mecca that keeps me
alive. That’s what helps me face these days that are all
the same, these mute crystals on the shelves, and lunch
and dinner at that same horrible café. I’m afraid that
if my dream is realized, I’ll have no reason to go on
“You dream about your sheep and the Pyramids, but
you’re different from me, because you want to realize
your dreams. I just want to dream about Mecca. I’ve already imagined a thousand times crossing the desert,
arriving at the Plaza of the Sacred Stone, the seven
times I walk around it before allowing myself to touch
it. I’ve already imagined the people who would be at my
side, and those in front of me, and the conversations
and prayers we would share. But I’m afraid that it

Pa u l o C o e l h o

would all be a disappointment, so I prefer just to dream
about it.”
That day, the merchant gave the boy permission to
build the display. Not everyone can see his dreams
come true in the same way.

Two more months passed, and the shelf brought
many customers into the crystal shop. The boy estimated that, if he worked for six more months, he could
return to Spain and buy sixty sheep, and yet another
sixty. In less than a year, he would have doubled his
flock, and he would be able to do business with the
Arabs, because he was now able to speak their strange
language. Since that morning in the marketplace, he
had never again made use of Urim and Thummim, because Egypt was now just as distant a dream for him as
was Mecca for the merchant. Anyway, the boy had become happy in his work, and thought all the time about
the day when he would disembark at Tarifa as a winner.
“You must always know what it is that you want,”
the old king had said. The boy knew, and was now
working toward it. Maybe it was his treasure to have
wound up in that strange land, met up with a thief, and
doubled the size of his flock without spending a cent.
He was proud of himself. He had learned some important things, like how to deal in crystal, and about

The Alchemist
the language without words . . . and about omens. One
afternoon he had seen a man at the top of the hill,
complaining that it was impossible to find a decent
place to get something to drink after such a climb. The
boy, accustomed to recognizing omens, spoke to the
“Let’s sell tea to the people who climb the hill.”
“Lots of places sell tea around here,” the merchant
“But we could sell tea in crystal glasses. The people
will enjoy the tea and want to buy the glasses. I have
been told that beauty is the great seducer of men.”
The merchant didn’t respond, but that afternoon,
after saying his prayers and closing the shop, he invited
the boy to sit with him and share his hookah, that
strange pipe used by the Arabs.
“What is it you’re looking for?” asked the old
“I’ve already told you. I need to buy my sheep back,
so I have to earn the money to do so.”
The merchant put some new coals in the hookah,
and inhaled deeply.
“I’ve had this shop for thirty years. I know good
crystal from bad, and everything else there is to know
about crystal. I know its dimensions and how it behaves. If we serve tea in crystal, the shop is going to expand. And then I’ll have to change my way of life.”

Pa u l o C o e l h o

“Well, isn’t that good?”
“I’m already used to the way things are. Before you
came, I was thinking about how much time I had
wasted in the same place, while my friends had moved
on, and either went bankrupt or did better than they
had before. It made me very depressed. Now, I can see
that it hasn’t been too bad. The shop is exactly the size
I always wanted it to be. I don’t want to change anything, because I don’t know how to deal with change.
I’m used to the way I am.”
The boy didn’t know what to say. The old man
continued, “You have been a real blessing to me.
Today, I understand something I didn’t see before:
every blessing ignored becomes a curse. I don’t want
anything else in life. But you are forcing me to look
at wealth and at horizons 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.”
It’s good I refrained from saying anything to the
baker in Tarifa, thought the boy to himself.
They went on smoking the pipe for a while as the sun
began to set. They were conversing in Arabic, and the
boy was proud of himself for being able to do so. There
had been a time when he thought that his sheep could

The Alchemist
teach him everything he needed to know about the
world. But they could never have taught him Arabic.
There are probably other things in the world that
the sheep can’t teach me, thought the boy as he regarded the old merchant. All they ever do, really, is look
for food and water. And maybe it wasn’t that they were
teaching me, but that I was learning from them.
“Maktub,” the merchant said, finally.
“What does that mean?”
“You would have to have been born an Arab to
understand,” he answered. “But in your language it
would be something like ‘It is written.’ ”
And, as he smothered the coals in the hookah, he
told the boy that he could begin to sell tea in the crystal glasses. Sometimes, there’s just no way to hold back
the river.

The men climbed the hill, and they were tired
when they reached the top. But there they saw a crystal
shop that offered refreshing mint tea. They went in to
drink the tea, which was served in beautiful crystal glasses.
“My wife never thought of this,” said one, and he
bought some crystal—he was entertaining guests that
night, and the guests would be impressed by the beauty
of the glassware. The other man remarked that tea was
always more delicious when it was served in crystal,

Pa u l o C o e l h o

because the aroma was retained. The third said that it
was a tradition in the Orient to use crystal glasses for
tea because it had magical powers.
Before long, the news spread, and a great many
people began to climb the hill to see the shop that was
doing something new in a trade that was so old. Other
shops were opened that served tea in crystal, but they
weren’t at the top of a hill, and they had little business.
Eventually, the merchant had to hire two more employees. He began to import enormous quantities of
tea, along with his crystal, and his shop was sought out
by men and women with a thirst for things new.
And, in that way, the months passed.

The boy awoke before dawn. It had been eleven
months and nine days since he had first set foot on the
African continent.
He dressed in his Arabian clothing of white linen,
bought especially for this day. He put his headcloth in
place and secured it with a ring made of camel skin.
Wearing his new sandals, he descended the stairs
The city was still sleeping. He prepared himself a
sandwich and drank some hot tea from a crystal glass.
Then he sat in the sun-filled doorway, smoking the

The Alchemist
He smoked in silence, thinking of nothing, and listening to the sound of the wind that brought the scent
of the desert. When he had finished his smoke, he
reached into one of his pockets, and sat there for a few
moments, regarding what he had withdrawn.
It was a bundle of money. Enough to buy himself a
hundred and twenty sheep, a return ticket, and a license
to import products from Africa into his own country.
He waited patiently for the merchant to awaken and
open the shop. Then the two went off to have some
more tea.
“I’m leaving today,” said the boy. “I have the money
I need to buy my sheep. And you have the money you
need to go to Mecca.”
The old man said nothing.
“Will you give me your blessing?” asked the boy.
“You have helped me.” The man continued to prepare
his tea, saying nothing. Then he turned to the boy.
“I am proud of you,” he said. “You brought a new
feeling into my crystal shop. But you know that I’m not
going to go to Mecca. Just as you know that you’re not
going to buy your sheep.”
“Who told you that?” asked the boy, startled.
“Maktub,” said the old crystal merchant.
And he gave the boy his blessing.


Pa u l o C o e l h o

The boy went to his room and packed his belongings. They filled three sacks. As he was leaving, he saw,
in the corner of the room, his old shepherd’s pouch. It
was bunched up, and he had hardly thought of it for a
long time. As he took his jacket out of the pouch,
thinking to give it to someone in the street, the two
stones fell to the floor. Urim and Thummim.
It made the boy think of the old king, and it startled
him to realize how long it had been since he had
thought of him. For nearly a year, he had been working
incessantly, thinking only of putting aside enough
money so that he could return to Spain with pride.
“Never stop dreaming,” the old king had said. “Follow the omens.”
The boy picked up Urim and Thummim, and, once
again, had the strange sensation that the old king was
nearby. He had worked hard for a year, and the omens
were that it was time to go.
I’m going to go back to doing just what I did before,
the boy thought. Even though the sheep didn’t teach
me to speak Arabic.
But the sheep had taught him something even more
important: that there was a language in the world that
everyone understood, a language the boy had used
throughout the time that he was trying to improve things
at the shop. It was the language of enthusiasm, of things
accomplished with love and purpose, and as part of a

The Alchemist
search for something believed in and desired. Tangier was
no longer a strange city, and he felt that, just as he had
conquered this place, he could conquer the world.
“When you want something, all the universe conspires to help you achieve it,” the old king had said.
But the old king hadn’t said anything about being
robbed, or about endless deserts, or about people who
know what their dreams are but don’t want to realize
them. The old king hadn’t told him that the Pyramids
were just a pile of stones, or that anyone could build
one in his backyard. And he had forgotten to mention
that, when you have enough money to buy a flock larger
than the one you had before, you should buy it.
The boy picked up his pouch and put it with his
other things. He went down the stairs and found the
merchant waiting on a foreign couple, while two other
customers walked about the shop, drinking tea from
crystal glasses. It was more activity than usual for this
time of the morning. From where he stood, he saw for
the first time that the old merchant’s hair was very
much like the hair of the old king. He remembered the
smile of the candy seller, on his first day in Tangier,
when he had nothing to eat and nowhere to go—that
smile had also been like the old king’s smile.
It’s almost as if he had been here and left his mark,
he thought. And yet, none of these people has ever met
the old king. On the other hand, he said that he always

Pa u l o C o e l h o

appeared to help those who are trying to realize their
Personal Legend.
He left without saying good-bye to the crystal merchant. He didn’t want to cry with the other people there.
He was going to miss the place and all the good things
he had learned. He was more confident in himself,
though, and felt as though he could conquer the world.
“But I’m going back to the fields that I know, to take
care of my flock again.” He said that to himself with certainty, but he was no longer happy with his decision. He
had worked for an entire year to make a dream come
true, and that dream, minute by minute, was becoming
less important. Maybe because that wasn’t really his
Who knows . . . maybe it’s better to be like the crystal merchant: never go to Mecca, and just go through
life wanting to do so, he thought, again trying to convince himself. But as he held Urim and Thummim in
his hand, they had transmitted to him the strength and
will of the old king. By coincidence—or maybe it was
an omen, the boy thought—he came to the bar he had
entered on his first day there. The thief wasn’t there,
and the owner brought him a cup of tea.
I can always go back to being a shepherd, the boy
thought. I learned how to care for sheep, and I haven’t
forgotten how that’s done. But maybe I’ll never have another chance to get to the Pyramids in Egypt. The old

The Alchemist
man wore a breastplate of gold, and he knew about my
past. He really was a king, a wise king.
The hills of Andalusia were only two hours away,
but there was an entire desert between him and the
Pyramids. Yet the boy felt that there was another way
to regard his situation: he was actually two hours closer
to his treasure . . . the fact that the two hours had
stretched into an entire year didn’t matter.
I know why I want to get back to my flock, he
thought. I understand sheep; they’re no longer a problem, and they can be good friends. On the other hand, I
don’t know if the desert can be a friend, and it’s in the
desert that I have to search for my treasure. If I don’t
find it, I can always go home. I finally have enough
money, and all the time I need. Why not?
He suddenly felt tremendously happy. He could always go back to being a shepherd. He could always
become a crystal salesman again. Maybe the world
had other hidden treasures, but he had a dream, and
he had met with a king. That doesn’t happen to just
He was planning as he left the bar. He had remembered that one of the crystal merchant’s suppliers transported his crystal by means of caravans that crossed the
desert. He held Urim and Thummim in his hand; because of those two stones, he was once again on the way
to his treasure.

Pa u l o C o e l h o

“I am always nearby, when someone wants to realize
their Personal Legend,” the old king had told him.
What could it cost to go over to the supplier’s warehouse and find out if the Pyramids were really that far

The Englishman was sitting on a bench in a structure that smelled of animals, sweat, and dust; it was
part warehouse, part corral. I never thought I’d end up
in a place like this, he thought, as he leafed through the
pages of a chemical journal. Ten years at the university,
and here I am in a corral.
But he had to move on. He believed in omens. All
his life and all his studies were aimed at finding the
one true language of the universe. First he had studied Esperanto, then the world’s religions, and now it
was alchemy. He knew how to speak Esperanto, he
understood all the major religions well, but he wasn’t
yet an alchemist. He had unraveled the truths behind
important questions, but his studies had taken him to
a point beyond which he could not seem to go. He
had tried in vain to establish a relationship with an alchemist. But the alchemists were strange people, who
thought only about themselves, and almost always refused to help him. Who knows, maybe they had failed
to discover the secret of the Master Work—the

The Alchemist
Philosopher’s Stone—and for this reason kept their
knowledge to themselves.
He had already spent much of the fortune left to
him by his father, fruitlessly seeking the Philosopher’s
Stone. He had spent enormous amounts of time at the
great libraries of the world, and had purchased all the
rarest and most important volumes on alchemy. In one
he had read that, many years ago, a famous Arabian
alchemist had visited Europe. It was said that he was
more than two hundred years old, and that he had discovered the Philosopher’s Stone and the Elixir of Life.
The Englishman had been profoundly impressed by
the story. But he would never have thought it more
than just a myth, had not a friend of his—returning
from an archaeological expedition in the desert—told
him about an Arab that was possessed of exceptional
“He lives at the Al-Fayoum oasis,” his friend had
said. “And people say that he is two hundred years old,
and is able to transform any metal into gold.”
The Englishman could not contain his excitement.
He canceled all his commitments and pulled together
the most important of his books, and now here he
was, sitting inside a dusty, smelly warehouse. Outside,
a huge caravan was being prepared for a crossing of
the Sahara, and was scheduled to pass through AlFayoum.

Pa u l o C o e l h o

I’m going to find that damned alchemist, the Englishman thought. And the odor of the animals became
a bit more tolerable.
A young Arab, also loaded down with baggage,
entered, and greeted the Englishman.
“Where are you bound?” asked the young Arab.
“I’m going into the desert,” the man answered, turning back to his reading. He didn’t want any conversation at this point. What he needed to do was review all
he had learned over the years, because the alchemist
would certainly put him to the test.
The young Arab took out a book and began to read.
The book was written in Spanish. That’s good, thought
the Englishman. He spoke Spanish better than Arabic,
and, if this boy was going to Al-Fayoum, there would
be someone to talk to when there were no other important things to do.

“That’s strange,” said the boy, as he tried once
again to read the burial scene that began the book. “I’ve
been trying for two years to read this book, and I never
get past these first few pages.” Even without a king to
provide an interruption, he was unable to concentrate.
He still had some doubts about the decision he had
made. But he was able to understand one thing: making
a decision was only the beginning of things. When

The Alchemist
someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a
strong current that will carry him to places he had
never dreamed of when he first made the decision.
When I decided to seek out my treasure, I never
imagined that I’d wind up working in a crystal shop,
he thought. And joining this caravan may have been
my decision, but where it goes is going to be a mystery to me.
Nearby was the Englishman, reading a book. He
seemed unfriendly, and had looked irritated when the
boy had entered. They might even have become friends,
but the Englishman closed off the conversation.
The boy closed his book. He felt that he didn’t want
to do anything that might make him look like the
Englishman. He took Urim and Thummim from his
pocket, and began playing with them.
The stranger shouted, “Urim and Thummim!”
In a flash the boy put them back in his pocket.
“They’re not for sale,” he said.
“They’re not worth much,” the Englishman answered.
“They’re only made of rock crystal, and there are millions of rock crystals in the earth. But those who know
about such things would know that those are Urim and
Thummim. I didn’t know that they had them in this
part of the world.”
“They were given to me as a present by a king,” the
boy said.

Pa u l o C o e l h o

The stranger didn’t answer; instead, he put his hand
in his pocket, and took out two stones that were the
same as the boy’s.
“Did you say a king?” he asked.
“I guess you don’t believe that a king would talk to
someone like me, a shepherd,” he said, wanting to end
the conversation.
“Not at all. It was shepherds who were the first to
recognize a king that the rest of the world refused to
acknowledge. So, it’s not surprising that kings would
talk to shepherds.”
And he went on, fearing that the boy wouldn’t understand what he was talking about, “It’s in the Bible.
The same book that taught me about Urim and Thummim. These stones were the only form of divination
permitted by God. The priests carried them in a golden
The boy was suddenly happy to be there at the
“Maybe this is an omen,” said the Englishman, half
“Who told you about omens?” The boy’s interest
was increasing by the moment.
“Everything in life is an omen,” said the Englishman,
now closing the journal he was reading. “There is a universal language, understood by everybody, but already
forgotten. I am in search of that universal language,

The Alchemist
among other things. That’s why I’m here. I have to find a
man who knows that universal language. An alchemist.”
The conversation was interrupted by the warehouse
“You’re in luck, you two,” the fat Arab said. “There’s
a caravan leaving today for Al-Fayoum.”
“But I’m going to Egypt,” the boy said.
“Al-Fayoum is in Egypt,” said the Arab. “What kind
of Arab are you?”
“That’s a good luck omen,” the Englishman said,
after the fat Arab had gone out. “If I could, I’d write a
huge encyclopedia just about the words luck and coincidence. It’s with those words that the universal language is written.”
He told the boy it was no coincidence that he had
met him with Urim and Thummim in his hand. And
he asked the boy if he, too, were in search of the
“I’m looking for a treasure,” said the boy, and he immediately regretted having said it. But the Englishman
appeared not to attach any importance to it.
“In a way, so am I,” he said.
“I don’t even know what alchemy is,” the boy was
saying, when the warehouse boss called to them to
come outside.


Pa u l o C o e l h o

“I’m the leader of the caravan,” said a dark-eyed,
bearded man. “I hold the power of life and death for
every person I take with me. The desert is a capricious
lady, and sometimes she drives men crazy.”
There were almost two hundred people gathered
there, and four hundred animals—camels, horses,
mules, and fowl. In the crowd were women, children,
and a number of men with swords at their belts and
rifles slung on their shoulders. The Englishman had
several suitcases filled with books. There was a babble
of noise, and the leader had to repeat himself several
times for everyone to understand what he was saying.
“There are a lot of different people here, and each
has his own God. But the only God I serve is Allah, and
in his name I swear that I will do everything possible
once again to win out over the desert. But I want each
and every one of you to swear by the God you believe
in that you will follow my orders no matter what. In
the desert, disobedience means death.”
There was a murmur from the crowd. Each was
swearing quietly to his or her own God. The boy
swore to Jesus Christ. The Englishman said nothing.
And the murmur lasted longer than a simple vow
would have. The people were also praying to heaven
for protection.
A long note was sounded on a bugle, and everyone
mounted up. The boy and the Englishman had bought

The Alchemist
camels, and climbed uncertainly onto their backs. The
boy felt sorry for the Englishman’s camel, loaded down
as he was with the cases of books.
“There’s no such thing as coincidence,” said the
Englishman, picking up the conversation where it had
been interrupted in the warehouse. “I’m here because a
friend of mine heard of an Arab who . . . ”
But the caravan began to move, and it was impossible
to hear what the Englishman was saying. The boy knew
what he was about to describe, though: the mysterious
chain that links one thing to another, the same chain
that had caused him to become a shepherd, that had
caused his recurring dream, that had brought him to a
city near Africa, to find a king, and to be robbed in
order to meet a crystal merchant, and . . .
The closer one gets to realizing his Personal Legend,
the more that Personal Legend becomes his true reason
for being, thought the boy.
The caravan moved toward the east. It traveled during the morning, halted when the sun was at its
strongest, and resumed late in the afternoon. The boy
spoke very little with the Englishman, who spent most
of his time with his books.
The boy observed in silence the progress of the animals and people across the desert. Now everything was
quite different from how it was that day they had set
out: then, there had been confusion and shouting, the

Pa u l o C o e l h o

cries of children and the whinnying of animals, all
mixed with the nervous orders of the guides and the
But, in the desert, there was only the sound of the
eternal wind, and of the hoofbeats of the animals. Even
the guides spoke very little to one another.
“I’ve crossed these sands many times,” said one of
the camel drivers one night. “But the desert is so huge,
and the horizons so distant, that they make a person
feel small, and as if he should remain silent.”
The boy understood intuitively what he meant, even
without ever having set foot in the desert before.
Whenever he saw the sea, or a fire, he fell silent, impressed by their elemental force.
I’ve learned things from the sheep, and I’ve learned
things from crystal, he thought. I can learn something
from the desert, too. It seems old and wise.
The wind never stopped, and the boy remembered
the day he had sat at the fort in Tarifa with this same
wind blowing in his face. It reminded him of the wool
from his sheep . . . his sheep who were now seeking food
and water in the fields of Andalusia, as they always had.
“They’re not my sheep anymore,” he said to himself,
without nostalgia. “They must be used to their new
shepherd, and have probably already forgotten me.
That’s good. Creatures like the sheep, that are used to
traveling, know about moving on.”

The Alchemist
He thought of the merchant’s daughter, and was sure
that she had probably married. Perhaps to a baker, or to
another shepherd who could read and could tell her exciting stories—after all, he probably wasn’t the only
one. But he was excited at his intuitive understanding of
the camel driver’s comment: maybe he was also learning
the universal language that deals with the past and the
present of all people. “Hunches,” his mother used to
call them. The boy was beginning to understand that
intuition is really a sudden immersion of the soul into
the universal current of life, where the histories of all
people are connected, and we are able to know everything, because it’s all written there.
“Maktub,” the boy said, remembering the crystal
The desert was all sand in some stretches, and rocky in
others. When the caravan was blocked by a boulder, it
had to go around it; if there was a large rocky area, they
had to make a major detour. If the sand was too fine for
the animals’ hooves, they sought a way where the sand was
more substantial. In some places, the ground was covered
with the salt of dried-up lakes. The animals balked at
such places, and the camel drivers were forced to dismount and unburden their charges. The drivers carried
the freight themselves over such treacherous footing, and
then reloaded the camels. If a guide were to fall ill or die,
the camel drivers would draw lots and appoint a new one.

Pa u l o C o e l h o

But all this happened for one basic reason: no matter
how many detours and adjustments it made, the caravan
moved toward the same compass point. Once obstacles
were overcome, it returned to its course, sighting on a
star that indicated the location of the oasis. When the
people saw that star shining in the morning sky, they
knew they were on the right course toward water, palm
trees, shelter, and other people. It was only the Englishman who was unaware of all this; he was, for the most
part, immersed in reading his books.
The boy, too, had his book, and he had tried to read
it during the first few days of the journey. But he found
it much more interesting to observe the caravan and listen to the wind. As soon as he had learned to know his
camel better, and to establish a relationship with him,
he threw the book away. Although the boy had developed a superstition that each time he opened the book
he would learn something important, he decided it was
an unnecessary burden.
He became friendly with the camel driver who
traveled alongside him. At night, as they sat around the
fire, the boy related to the driver his adventures as a
During one of these conversations, the driver told of
his own life.
“I used to live near El Cairum,” he said. “I had my
orchard, my children, and a life that would change not

The Alchemist
at all until I died. One year, when the crop was the best
ever, we all went to Mecca, and I satisfied the only
unmet obligation in my life. I could die happily, and
that made me feel good.
“One day, the earth began to tremble, and the Nile
overflowed its banks. It was something that I thought
could happen only to others, never to me. My neighbors feared they would lose all their olive trees in the
flood, and my wife was afraid that we would lose our
children. I thought that everything I owned would be
“The land was ruined, and I had to find some other
way to earn a living. So now I’m a camel driver. But that
disaster taught me to understand the word of Allah:
people need not fear the unknown if they are capable of
achieving what they need and want.
“We are afraid of losing what we have, whether it’s
our life or our possessions and property. But this fear
evaporates when we understand that our life stories and
the history of the world were written by the same
Sometimes, their caravan met with another. One always had something that the other needed—as if everything were indeed written by one hand. As they sat
around the fire, the camel drivers exchanged information about windstorms, and told stories about the

Pa u l o C o e l h o

At other times, mysterious, hooded men would appear; they were Bedouins who did surveillance along
the caravan route. They provided warnings about
thieves and barbarian tribes. They came in silence and
departed the same way, dressed in black garments that
showed only their eyes. One night, a camel driver came
to the fire where the Englishman and the boy were sitting. “There are rumors of tribal wars,” he told them.
The three fell silent. The boy noted that there was a
sense of fear in the air, even though no one said anything. Once again he was experiencing the language
without words . . . the universal language.
The Englishman asked if they were in danger.
“Once you get into the desert, there’s no going
back,” said the camel driver. “And, when you can’t go
back, you have to wo