The alchemist is presented as rather a mysterious and magical figure in this novel, who possesses the knowledge and resources necessary to enable thim to transform any metal to gold. The alchemist's role in this story is mainly as a teacher or a guide to Santiago, though much of the advice that he gives his youthful charge is in riddles, as he expects Santiago to work out the meaning of his teachings for himself.
Focusing on the teachings of the alchemist allow us to consider how the overarching metaphor of this story of alchemy, which means the transmutation of one element into another element that is more valuable, applies to Santiago's own development and journey. The wisdom of the alchemist gives him a connection to the Soul of the World, which in turn gives him his mystical abilities and qualifies him to lead Santiago on in his own search to gain understanding of the Soul of the World. The hands-off, facilitatory teaching of the alchemist enables Santiago to learn from the world in which he is placed and to discover his own mystical powers. Santiago is the catalyst of his own transformation, and the role of the alchemist is to make Santiago realise that he has to be his own agent of change. Note the final piece of advice that the alchemist bestows upon Santiago:
What you still need to know is this: before a dream is realized, the Soul of the World tests everything that was learned along the way. It does this not because it is evil, but so that we can, in addition to realizing our dreams, master the lessons we’ve learned as we’ve moved toward that dream. That’s the point at which, as we say in the language of the desert, one ‘dies of thirst just when the palm trees have appeared on the horizon.’ ... Every search begins with beginner’s luck. And every search ends with the victor’s being severely tested.
These words clearly point towards the importance of the journey in itself and not just reaching the goal. Learning through action, the alchemist stresses, and Santiago eventually learns, is just as valuable and vital as achieving one's goals in life.