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The Alchemist
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Meghan | 423 comments Mod
Here are some discussion questions from the Reader's Guide in the back of my book to get things going:

1. In the Prologue, the alchemist reads a version of the story of the death of Narcissus that has a somewhat different ending from the traditional telling, one that emphasizes the grief of the lake into which Narcissus will no longer be looking at his reflection. In beginning the book with this story, what themes and relationships is Coelho telling us to watch for throughout Santiago's story? Do you think there may be an element of "narcissism" in the pursuit of one's Personal Legend?


Meghan | 423 comments Mod
2. Just as, in the Prologue story, the lake grieves for the dead Narcissus, the wind and the sun talk with Santiago about love, about their relationship to the Soul of the World, and about how he can turn himself into wind. Do you have a personal relationship with any part of the natural world? Have you ever had an experience that you would describe as a "conversation" with some part of nature, such as a river or a sunset or a field of flowers?


Meghan | 423 comments Mod
So to kick this discussion off, I'm going to answer #2. At first, I'm like "I am so not this kind of person." To me it feels like I need to eat some granola and hike the Rockies or something in my birkenstocks. But upon "chewing" on this for a bit, I can honestly say I have had a "conversation" with nature.

My first experience was probably when I was in high school and my parents took me on vacation to Arizona. We were standing in some caves in a canyon (not the Grand Canyon). We were looking at what used to be the home to some native americans. But the view was just breathtaking. And it just struck me how amazing and how awesome time is. To carve out this canyon and "create" this view is just mind boggling to me.

And that is how I felt when I read this book. Just standing on a ledge looking out at this breath-taking view. I love how Coehlo blended nature and God and personal destiny into this breath-taking viewpoint. It touched me on such a basic level. I've never read a book like that before.


Sera | 195 comments First of all, Meghan, excellent job with the posts. I appreciate your getting us started with some very interesting questions. You rock!

Question 1 - By telling the story of Narcissus with the alternate ending, Coehlo is telling us that one of the themes of his book will be man's relationship with nature. Interestingly, it's not man versus nature, but his relationship with nature. It's Coehlo's way of beginning to explain how everything is connected and that when we recognize that and begin to work with nature, that we will achieve great things. He supports this point through the Narcissism story, because the lake also benefited from the actions of Narcissus by providing him with the reflection, whereby Narcissus could see himself. If harmony between man and nature can be achieved, then he will be well on his way to finding his Personal Legend.

There is an element of narcissism in the book and one's following her own Personal Legend. Narcissism is self-love, which is required for success in all that we do, from excelling at our jobs to building successful relationships. The tale of Narcissus is about self-love gone extreme. Narcissus spent so much time adoring himself that he accomplished nothing else.

As a side note, I've found that the happiest and most well-adjusted people are those who like themselves. They recognize that they are flawed, but they believe themselves to be fundamentally good and loving, both of which provide an excellent foundation for success in many areas.



message 5: by Sarah (last edited Jan 25, 2008 05:52PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sarah (songgirl7) | 284 comments Mod
Because I'm a Christian, my "conversation with nature" is usually more on the spiritual side. There have been times when I've seen a beautiful sunrise or a breathtaking landscape and I just pause to reflect on how awesome God is to have created such wonders and how I can't personally imagine how any of it could have come into being by accident. It always makes me feel closer to God.

Sera, I totally agree that a person can not be truly happy until they learn to love themselves, flaws and all.


Sera | 195 comments Sarah, I agree that part of being connected to everything includes some form of spirituality. There is some psychologist (I can't remember his name, something like Medlivin) who developed a pyramid of needs that begins with food, then shelter, all the way up to spirituality. I am surprised as to why spirituality is so high on that on that pyramid, because there some of the most spiritual people haven't mastered the food/shelter part. Any ideas on why that could be?

Question 2 - I have one vivid memory of connecting to nature. We lived in TN for a time in a condo on Lake Chicamagua. To go to work, I had to go down this hill and then loop around to get on the highway to travel to work. One day, as I came around the bend, a flock of about one hundred birds all lifted up at once and flew above my car into the sky. It remains one of the most beautiful things that I had ever seen, and as silly as it sounds, it brought tears to my eyes, because it moved me so much. My immediate thought was "thank you so much God for connecting me to nature like that". It remains one of the most beautiful feelings that I have ever had.

I also connect to nature through planting things. I am not a very good gardner, but I am trying to learn about flowers and plants. One of my goals for 2008 is redo our backyard by planting various plants. I've been reading about flowers, and I've started to sketch a design of how I want things to look. I love to look at blooming flowers, and believe it or not, I don't mind weeding, because it is a gift to the flowers to not have to compete for nutrients in the soil with other unnecessary plants. Gardens that are neglected in this way make me sad.

Lastly, and which brings us back to another theme of the book, is my connectiveness with the wind. It's funny, because with a cold, arctic wind, like we've been having these last weeks, makes me feel that I am fighting nature, because it is not comfortable for me to walk in this type of wind. Instead, my favorite wind is that warm wind, which to me, feels like a soft, comfortable blanket. I love just sitting in that wind, enjoying it, especially when the sun is shining.

Ah, just telling these experiences brings me an inner peace.


Meghan | 423 comments Mod
Aw, Sera, Thanks! I read this book 2 years ago during a huge changing period in my life and I just couldn't believe how much this book touched me. I've always wanted to discuss it, so I'm just uber excited that now I can!

I've been thinking about the prologue and it made me think about why he chose a Greek mythology to start things out. And then I was thinking about his whole story and the Personal Legend and it sort of had a "mythological" quality. And then (because there are some religious aspects to this story as well), I was thinking about how the Jesus often tuaght by telling parables. And I wonder if we, as humans, are just better able to grasp a lesson when told in story form? I like that this book had a "fairytale" feel to it. It reminded me a lot of Life of Pi.


Sera | 195 comments Good point, Meghan. Stories are often used to convey behavior that people should emulate. It's also interesting that you made the point about parables. Coehlo's books focus on many different teachings ranging from faith to hope, and I'm wondering if he uses the same approach with these books as he did with The Alchemist. Have you, or anyone else, read any other Coehlo books? I've seen some comment on his other books on goodreads, but they all seem to think that this book is his best one. I wonder why - maybe it's the one that most inspirational?


Meghan | 423 comments Mod
I saw in the back of my book they have a tree and it's suppose to be "Experience the Journey - Live the Books by Paulo Coelho". The Alchemist is suppose to be about wisdom. I nominated Eleven Minutes (over in the Rory Gilmore Book Club) because it's suppose to be about love. But they've listed his other books under various headings:

Temptation - The Devil and Miss Prym
Obsession - The Zahir
Faith - The Fifth Mountain
Hope - The Valkyries
Courage - Warrior of the Light
Redemption - Veronika Decided to Die
Forgiveness - By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept

It seemed like they put some thought into this. I'm not sure if he deliberately wrote each book with the corresponding theme in mind or if it just worked out that way.

I have not read any others although it's on my "wish list" (I'd like the box set). I was looking at The Valkyries and it's about him and his wife and a trip they took. So I'm wondering if people relate to this book the best because this one seems more like a parable rather than a biography?


Sarah (songgirl7) | 284 comments Mod
Huh, that's really interesting, Meghan. Thanks for posting that. I think I might some of these on my list too.


message 11: by Sera (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sera | 195 comments Meghan, my book has an interview with Coehlo in it and he comments on some of these books.

Veronika Decides to Die is about taking risks before one dies. Veronika is stuck in a rut and needs to break out of it, or she will be "dead".

Eleven Minutes is about sexuality and spirituality in that sex is healthy and a blessing from God so long as it is not harmful to others, such as rape or pedophilia. I didn't realize that your book was Coehlo's in the GG club or I would have definitely voted for it.

Did you know that they make a movie of The Alchemist? Laurence Fishborne is directing it. Coehlo said that he will never have another one of his books made, because the director of a book should be the reader, who see the books play out in her mind as she reads it.

It's interesting that books have become more like DVDs in that they are filled with all of these extras. I don't watch them on the DVDs, but I do like reading them in books.


message 12: by Dini (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dini | 25 comments Sera, I love extras at the back of books. It can "enhance your reading experience", so they say ;P

I think a lot of people like this book and can relate to it because it's about following your dream and believing that it's destined for you. So many people don't, or can't, follow their dream for lots of reasons. This is the kind of the book that I'd like to re-read whenever I need the nudge to go and pursue a goal.


Meghan | 423 comments Mod
Doh! I should have put the author with the title. Laziness foils me again!

And Dini - I agree. I think we're all too much like the Crystal Merchant in some respects. But I'll expand more in that thread.

But I think I'm going to have to up his other books on my to-read list. I really want to know what the differences are.


message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

I think that their is something to be said in the direction of what other people get from the person you are when you live or strive toward your Personal Legend.
Of course again Narcissus was extreme but the river saw something in itself long once Narcissus was gone. I feel like so many times in life we're warned against all of those who will be put off and angered by a person standing up and stepping toward who they are supposed to be and in turn its forgotten that their are so many people who love and understand and support and thrive from seeing the ones who they love succeed. I believe that through out the story we see examples of both of those types of influences.


message 15: by [deleted user] (new)

I will say and though it may sound offensive to some I don't mean it to be at all, I've never considered myself a tree hugging, granola whole foods eating type person EVER.
Nevertheless, there have been countless times old and young when I've stepped away and stretched out in the grass and took a deep breath, or I've climbed a tree, or went on a walk to cool down, or stared at an ocean or the sky or let the sand sift through my fingers and either prayed or just took some deep breaths in silence. I've sat on my balcony and watched sun come up or go down and just sat in silence; whether it be in awe of God or in comfort that there is something bigger than me and my circumstance or for the realization that it all keeps spinning or just whatever it is I need to realize. I feel like whenever I've talked or breathed or sat in silence I've somehow gotten what I needed and that's not to say I don't get down on my knees for a good rug burn at home but definitely there is a connection and a calm and truth that comes with nature for me.


Meghan | 423 comments Mod
Ninabeena - I really appreciate your comments (#14). I think it's so true. We have a certain perception of who we think someone SHOULD be, so if they go and try to change that or are someone that we're not expecting it does upset or anger us. It's difficult to accept someone for who they really are, but if you truly love them, you can appreciate them so much more if you do.


Meghan | 423 comments Mod
Ask anyone who knows me, nature is not my second name. "Roughing it" means going without room service and in-room movies! But I do think there is something inherently human in every one of us when we connect to nature. And I do like how Coelho tries to show us that we do need to find our connection. This society we live in now is so focused on the future and on material goods, we lose sight of what is around us in the now. I'm not new age-y, but I agree that I need to stop a little more often and take a deep breath and enjoy life as it is.

This makes me think of the perfect snowfall. We get one at least once every year. The snowflakes are so big and fluffy and twinklely. It looks like you're living in a snowglobe. And at night, when the world is sleeping and the ground is blanketed with it. It looks like glitter. And there is a peace that you can't describe enveloping you.

Makes me want more of those moments.


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