The Alchemist (Coelho)

The Englishman and Santiago. The alchemist

According to the Englishman, what are the parallels between reading and alchemy? How does the englishman's search for the alchemist compare to Santiago's search for a treasure?

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In Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist, the boy (Santiago) and the Englishman see their quests very differently.

It seems that the Englishman believes that reading is necessary in order to understand alchemy, though Santiago finds flaws in this logic, and even the Englishman doesn't seem to believe what he tells Santiago.

In one of the books [Santiago] learned that the most important text in the literature of alchemy contained only a few lines, and had been inscribed on the surface of an emerald.

"It's the Emerald Tablet," said the Englishman...

"Well, then, why do we need all these books?" the boy asked.

"So that we can understand those few lines," the Englishman answered, without appearing really to believe what he had said.

This really makes no sense, and Santiago sees little value in this information. Santiago believes that understanding the world is simply a conscious decision to study man and nature (including omens) to discover the secrets of the universe.

The Englishman seems to equate reading the books with learning the secrets of alchemy, though after reading them, he is really no closer in being able to turn common metal into gold, which is why he seeks the alchemist. However, because he believes the answers must come from the interaction of the books and science, never considering the part the world (omens, man, etc.) plays, he cannot discover the secret: for the secret is hidden within him, and can only be discovered by interacting with the world of nature around him.

The Englishman believes that books can open one's mind to the mysteries of the universe (even if one cannot understand the books...). He also believes that alchemy can unlock a world of mysteries (especially regarding the transfiguration of metal to gold) with the proper understanding. Whereas these two things parallel each other in the Englishman's mind, they are not mutually exclusive of each other: both are necessary to achieve success: and none of it is working for the Englishman.

Santiago, once again, cannot make the logical connection between book and alchemy, for it is not the written language where he believes true knowledge lies, but in learning the Universal Language, or the language of the world.