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In Paulo Coelho's novel, The Alchemist, two characters are on a path to discovery. One will realize his destiny and the other will not.
Santiago wants to travel so he becomes a shepherd. He learns many lessons from the sheep that help him on his journey. He leaves Spain, based upon recurring dreams he has had, and meets some interesting people that propel him towards his Personal Legend—[which is] "what you have always wanted to accomplish."
Along the way he meets those who give him guidance that he cannot at first understand. The old man he meets will help Santiago, for one-tenth of his herd, but gives him essential advice: not to believe in "the world's greatest lie," which is that people have no control over their destiny. The gypsy will help him find his "treasure" if he promises to give her one-tenth of its value, and she advises him based on his dreams to visit the pyramids. Some of the "help" he receives does not make sense at first.
With each step of his journey, Santiago is challenged in his faith—in what he knows—and his willingness to surrender to the signs ("omens") of the universe, found in nature, that will lead him on the right path...if he will only have faith. It is not easy, and he is robbed once, and waylaid another time, but each experience teaches him valuable lessons.
While on his journey across the desert to the Al-Fayoum Oasis where he believes the alchemist lives—who can provide him guidance in seeking his Personal Legend—Santiago meets an Englishman. He, too, is on a journey, looking also for the alchemist. His desire is to learn the secrets of "alchemy," turning common metals into gold, etc. The Englishman learns from books; he does not know to listen to the desert or watch for omens. He believes that books will teach him all he needs to know. As they travel, Santiago encourages the Englishman to try to learn the ways of the desert by observation—and the Englishman gives Santiago a book; in this way, they experiment with the way each one collects knowledge of the world.
Then one day the boy returned the books to the Englishman. "Did you learn anything?" the Englishman asked, eager to hear what it might be...
"...above all I learned that these things are all so simple that they could be written on the surface of an emerald."
The Englishman was disappointed...He took back his books and packed them away again in their bags.
"Go back to watching the caravan," [the Englishman] said. "That didn't teach me anything, either."
When the Englishman meets the alchemist, the alchemist knows that he is searching for worldly treasure and that the Englishman knows nothing that holds any true value. The only information the alchemist gives him is to "Go and try"—to change lead into gold; though he has tried repeatedly, with the same results, he asks no questions, but goes about starting again.
However, Santiago's relationship with the alchemist is much different. First the alchemist listens to the boy's words regarding the omen he saw foretelling of an attack; he is also searching to see if the boy has courage, which he does. The alchemist accepts Santiago's pursuit of his Personal Legend—this is language the alchemist understands, and so Santiago and the alchemist work together, and Santiago ultimately finds his "treasure."
Books have no answers for the Englishman, and he cannot find omens around him, but the world—nature—provides Santiago with what he needs to succeed. Perception here is everything.
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