Summary and Analysis
Part 2: Alchemist Episode
Walking back to his tent, Santiago encounters a black-clad horseman with a falcon on his left shoulder. The horseman wears a turban, and a black covering across his face leaves only his eyes visible. He sits atop a huge white horse that rears up on its hind legs. The horseman pulls a sword from its scabbard and demands, "Who dares to read the meaning of the flight of the hawks?"
The horseman presses the sword against Santiago's forehead, drawing a small drop of blood. Santiago has no fear of dying, however, as doing so would allow him to join the Soul of the World. Santiago explains that he is only following his Personal Legend, which pacifies the stranger. He puts his sword away and tells Santiago, "I had to test your courage . . . the quality most essential to understanding the Language of the World." Santiago has just met the alchemist.
The following day, the Al-Fayoum oasis is invaded by five hundred mounted tribesmen. At first they appear to be unarmed, but their weapons are hidden under their robes. They converge on the tribal chieftain's tent and attack it. But the tribal leaders, having heeded Santiago's warning, have abandoned the white and gold tent.
They surround the desert horsemen and kill all but one of the invaders. That man, commander of the warriors, says that his men were starving and attacked the oasis only so they could eat its food and drink its water before returning to their tribal war. The tribal chieftain tells the commander that he violated a sacred tradition, and is therefore sentenced to death. The next day, Santiago is presented with fifty pieces of gold and asked to be the counselor of the oasis.
The alchemist says that the wind told him Santiago was coming and would need help. He instructs Santiago to sleep well, trade his camel for a horse, and remember that his treasure will be where his heart is. The alchemist tells Santiago not to think about what he's leaving behind, explaining that "Everything is written in the Soul of the World, and there it will stay forever." The alchemist describes the Emerald Tablet, drawing in the sand with a stick to show Santiago what is written on the tablet. "The Emerald Tablet is a direct passage to the Soul of the World," he says. "The wise men understood that this natural world is only an image and a copy of paradise . . . a guarantee that there exists a world that is perfect." Santiago chooses not to accept the offer of the tribal chieftain; instead, he and the alchemist ride their horses across the desert.
The two men set out the next night. The alchemist tells Santiago to show him signs of life in the desert, since "Only those who can see such signs of life are able to find treasure." Santiago lets his horse run free, allowing the animal to gallop for almost thirty minutes before it finally stops near a hole inside which is a cobra. The alchemist pulls it out by its tail. He says it is an omen and decides to lead Santiago to the pyramids.
Santiago arranges a meeting with Fatima. He tells her that he loves her, and they embrace. Fatima instinctively understands Santiago and his quest; her unconditional love enables her to allow him to follow his dream, as Fatima knows he will return. Fatima's generosity will be a source of strength for Santiago as he journeys onward, attempting to accomplish his Personal Legend.
Santiago and the alchemist continue silently to cross the desert towards the pyramids. The alchemist advises Santiago to listen to his heart, despite the fear that Santiago's heart often expresses. Santiago learns to understand what his heart is telling him, and to listen to it patiently, despite the fact that the heart is often fearful.
Three armed warriors approach them, asking what they are doing in the area. The alchemist answers that he is hunting with his falcon. The tribesmen look through their belongings for weapons and, finding none, they let Santiago and the alchemist pass.
Later, two ominous-looking men appear on horseback and tell the alchemist and Santiago that they may not go any further. The alchemist stares them down, and the tribesmen let them pass. Soon, however, Santiago senses danger, and when he looks into the distance, he sees an army of blue-veiled men. Santiago and the alchemist are taken to a military camp, where they are thought to be spies. The alchemist says that they are just simple travelers and introduces Santiago as an alchemist, saying, "He understands the forces of nature. And he wants to show you his extraordinary powers."
The tribal commander says that he wants to see Santiago perform alchemy. The alchemist answers that in three days, Santiago will transform himself into the wind. "If he can't do so," the alchemist tells them, "we humbly offer you our lives, for the honor of your tribe."
When Santiago first sees the black-clad horseman, an image comes to his mind of Santiago Matamoros, the Christian saint and slayer of Moors. Moors were the Muslim conquerors of the Iberian Peninsula, which includes Andalusia, the shepherd boy's home.
But in contrast to the classic image of Santiago Matamoros, in which St. James sits atop a horse, a Moor beneath its hooves, here Santiago the shepherd boy, a Christian pilgrim, occupies the Moor's place. In another twist, the terrifying man atop the white horse is none other than the alchemist for whom the novel is named.
The notion of this world as a poor copy of another, perfect world, comes from the philosophy of Plato, in his famous parable of the cave.
The alchemist identifies the cobra in the desert as a symbol of life. Traditionally, snakes also are emblematic of male potency. The cobra's power may give Santiago the strength to return to Fatima and declare his love for her.
The alchemist's ability to face down various threats that emerge from the desert — the cobra, the three armed warriors, the pair of ominous looking men — demonstrates his strength and influence. Not only have the alchemist's studies made him wise; they also have made him powerful.
The desert warriors to whom the alchemist promises that Santiago can transform himself into the wind are probably based on the Tuareg, a tribe of warlike nomads the male members of which really do wear blue veils that cover their faces.
By telling these blue-veiled warriors that Santiago can change himself into the wind, the alchemist is testing Santiago. At the same time, he is demonstrating his faith in the former shepherd boy, indicating that he believes Santiago has learned enough to begin performing alchemy himself. Mainly Santiago is angered by the alchemist's promise, and fearful of being unable to fulfill it, but he should be flattered and honored.