Archive for March, 2009

the-alchemistFor book club this month we read The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo. An interesting read, it examined the core unity of the earth and all things upon it and the ability to achieve one’s greatest potential. While I was disappointed in the ending (which I thought a little too material for the metaphysical vein of the novel), one curiosity came to my mind while at book club tonight and that seems to be worth keeping me up late. It all boils down to a name… …or a lack thereof. Reading the book, I began to wonder if the main character, who the author always refers to as “the boy” even had a name. It would have been a fascinating study if he did not. But, I was wrong. He has a name. Apparently my close reading rusted over more than I thought because the book begins thus, “The boy’s name was Santiago.” This caught my attention. I’ve yet to discern if there is anything special in the name itself being Santiago (which means Saint James in case you were curious…), but the concise statement of the name as such immediately reminded me of another novel, as well it should. If it hadn’t, I would have worried about myself. There are a few books whose first lines are forever memorable. One knows that when they hear about single men of good fortune being in want of a wife that we are referring to Pride and Prejudice. The first line of Moby Dick perhaps stands even more memorable in the pantheon of remembered phrases, and this was the line brought into my memory tonight. “Call Me Ishmael.” Authors rarely do anything on accident, and even when they do, they cannot remove the consequences of that accident. However, I think it no accident that Coehlo echos the structure of the line penned by one of the cannonical English authors. Such a similarity at the inception of the novel begs for the entire book to be read compared to, or perhaps in opposition to, Moby Dick. The Alchemist does not fail in this respect. Both stories are strikingly similar in the desire to achieve something greater than ourselves, to fulfill a destiny the characters believe is uniquely theirs to fulfill and the lengths they will go to achieve it. Most know Ahab’s story: a whale obsession that ultimately leads in the obsessed’s death while the obsession itself goes unfulfilled. Santiago’s is similar. While it may not be an obsession to an Ahab-ian (okay, I just created that word…but it really suits) extent, the idea pervades that achieving this ultimate goal is the only key to happiness. Yet, Santiago and Ahab are so very different. Santiago’s quest enlivens him and creates in him a being he never dreamed he was capable of becoming. Ahab’s destroys not only him, but many around him as his purpose becomes an addictive drug. So similar yet so very different, too interesting to be a coincidence. I once had a professor who loved stomping to the floor and yelling questions to dead authors. It sounds so – odd – in print, but it was actually pretty funny. I will probably never speak to Coehlo and be able to ascertain if the parallels to Moby Dick stem simply from the influence of a great work of fiction or were completely intentional. But, then I’m used to that as most authors I’ve studied in the past are dead. And, perhaps that is why I love literature so much for I can take parallels I see and run with them and as long as I make a good argument I’m not really wrong. In the study of literature there is very little that is “right” or “wrong”. It’s fabulous that way. So, Santiago and Ahab. Both pilgrims on their own journeys to fulfillment. I think I was wrong before when I said that the ending was too material for such a metaphysical book. When seen in opposition to Moby Dick, The Alchemist isn’t about the end result at all. It’s about the journey and what you allow the journey to make you. Sigh. I think I now need to go read a book about a whale…


Read Full Post »