The prologue of Coelho's The Alchemist tells how the alchemist finds a book that tells the story of...
...Narcissus, a youth who knelt daily beside a lake to contemplate his own beauty. He was so fascinated by himself that, one morning, he fell into the lake and drowned.
This section of the novel has proven to be somewhat confusing for me in the past. The story goes on to report that the lake where Narcissus contemplated his image for so many hours (and in which he died) weeps for him. The lake does not weep for the death of Narcissus or the loss of his beauty:
I weep for Narcissus, but I never noticed that Narcissus was beautiful.
In fact, the lake seems to be very much like Narcissus in that she cries because now she will no longer be able to see how beautiful she is.
I weep because, each time he knelt beside my banks, I could see, in the depths of his eyes, my own beauty reflected.
In my belief that the lake was also narcissistic, I could not understand how the alchemist could conclude that it was a "lovely story." However, in looking a second (or third) time, I have found (as is often the case with literature) that my first response to the story may not have been Coelho's attempt to illustrate narcissistic behavior—that makes no sense in light of the rest of his story. Perhaps (and this is what would make it lovely) sometimes we are too close to ourselves to be able to see what makes us special. Perhaps it is only when others see us from a distance that they can see what we miss: that we are unique and wonderful—beautiful in that we are not like anyone else.
It is easy, then, to see how perspective is such an important motif in Coelho's story. When Santiago meets Melchizedek, he hears wisdom from the old man that speaks to his heart. Inevitably, it gives him direction and the impetus to move forward into the unknown. He hears things that he must ponder, which allow him to see his life and what might lie ahead in a brand new way:
“Everyone believes the world's greatest lie..." says the mysterious old man [...] that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what's happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate...”
This information presents the concept of choice to Santiago (the boy). Instead of feeling that the world is deciding his future, Melchizedek explains that it is Santiago's choice to believe otherwise. Instead of feeling that life is hindering him or working against him, he can feel much more optimistic if he believes that while one door has been closed, a window somewhere else has been opened.
Another quote infers to Santiago that he is not alone in his quest:
When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.
This perspective is tremendously positive: the idea that something greater than himself is trying to help him.
Perspective also comes to Santiago from people who do not see the wisdom in pursuing his Personal Legend as he does. The Englishman believes Santiago needs books to succeed. This does not hinder the boy, but rather inspires him to accept that there is more than one way to reach one's Personal Legend. When the crystal merchant speaks of his own disappointments in life, the boy is not discouraged—rather it motivates Santiago to move forward.
The prologue introduces the idea of seeing one's self and the world through a unique lens. It's about seeing life from another, more positive perspective—which can make all the difference.