Home » Alchemist Book Discussion: Part 2

Alchemist Book Discussion: Part 2

@failspy and I both finished reading The Alchemist over the weekend, so we reconvened today for philosophy part two.

Right away, Javair found the line that evokes ALC/alt.ed. philosophy: “There is only one way to learn and that’s through action” (p 125).

Ummmm….yes. Were we both newer to this actually-thinking-about-industrial-schooling business, we would probably have had a long and excited discussion about the implications of such an approach to learning. Instead, we smiled to see thoughts we share woven into the story, and then we moved on.

We discussed the nature of Personal Legends. The king teaches Santiago that all humans have them. The alchemist teaches that entities like the wind and objects like lead have them. We looked at the line on page 138 about the sea living in a shell in the middle of the desert until the sea returns, and we questioned whether the sea had a choice–like humans do–to abandon its quest in favor of comfort or riches or other distractions (though not love, since love is never an obstacle to the lover’s quest to achieve his or her personal legend…more on that later).

On a side note, I’ve joked for years that I’d like to come back to Earth as a jellyfish when I finish being a human, assuming that jellyfish always just are jellyfish. With all the thinking and choosing that being a human entails, I sometimes get tired and guess that after 80ish years jellyfishing will feel like a refreshing break. This is only half sincere…I’m happy to be a human and I’d love to donate my carbon to a tree someday. But determining that jellyfish have Personal Legend quests as fraught with danger-of-chasing-the-wrong-things as human quests would mean that I have to reconsider my half-joke. Jellyfish-Me is safe for now: we hesitatingly decided that objects don’t have a choice to reject their quests. But we cut the discussion short before we could really prove or disprove either side, and I’m not ready to stand behind our answer.

We cut the discussion short to take a tangential conversation path–to talk about whether humans actually have free will (the book says yes) and other kinds of power. When the Monk protests that the gold the Alchemist offers him is more than he deserves, the Alchemist replies that he shouldn’t say such things because “life might be listening,” hear that the Monk doesn’t want good fortune, and change the future to give him less (p 155). We extrapolated that this means Life conspires to help us, but also that our words and thoughts tell Life (a literalist apparently) what “helping us” means. So our words and thoughts have power (so if plants and rocks think then we might have to revisit our previous point…).

So what is Alchemy? The magic of turning non-gold into Au? On page 150, Santiago tells the sun that Alchemists strive to transform themselves for the better, knowing that when they do so everything around them will do the same. This leaves room for turning non-gold into Au and turning other non-golds into metaphorical gold (since the Alchemist shares that tradition holds gold to be the ideal state of metals). This definition of alchemy made much more sense to us as the title of the book than the more pedestrian definition did.

Then we started talking about love. Sort of. We quick-compared RomeoAndJuliet “love” to SantiagoAndFatima “love,” but then there were ghost chilies so the conversation fragmented before it got as juicy as I’d hoped. Even so—since it’s been on my mind // we have nifty blogs where the conversation could potentially continue // I learned recently that @themadhatter and @hatninja both just finished reading the same book and may have some thoughts—I’m going to quickly write up what struck me. We discussed how Romeo and Juliet “love” is immature and codependent. We talked a little about how their refusal to each live without the other implies a perspective in which each person’s Personal Legend consists completely of finding the other, so without the ability to share life with this one person there is no value in living. We talked a little about Rosaline (why doesn’t anyone remember she exists!?!); we didn’t get to talk about Romeo’s decision to kill himself being based in jealousy/possessiveness (he speculates that Death wants Juliet as a mistress and so…).

Can you tell it’s not a model of romantic love that I aspire to? We don’t really know how Santiago understands romantic love before he meets Fatima. He does talk about marriage as a primarily economic exchange, and then he seems surprised by how not-Juliet Fatima is. He worries about love being an obstacle to his quest, and he worries about how she will cope if he dies. Fatima teaches him that love is never an obstacle to fulfilling our Personal Legends (though what we do in the name of love might be). She also explains that the logical take on his death, following their shared belief that all life is connected and indestructable, would be that it means she sees him in everything and keeps living her life. She’s confident in herself, so her love is not possessive or fearful.

Of course, it’d be cool if her role as the-one-who-waits (a “woman of the desert” as she says) and his role as the-one-who-journeys were interchangeable and less gender-based.

In all, I’m really glad that we read this book and got to talk about it. Synchronicities abounded, Javair’s analysis’ were insightful, and now I’m thinking about what other fictional works have ALC values tucked into them. Quite satisfying.

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